Sweetwater Creek - Sweetwater Creek State Park to Chattahoochee River

Sweetwater Creek, Georgia, US


Sweetwater Creek State Park to Chattahoochee River

Usual Difficulty III-IV(V) (for normal flows)
Length 4 Miles
Avg. Gradient 50 fpm
Max Gradient 180 fpm

Middle Channel - Mill Shoals

Middle Channel - Mill Shoals
Photo of Will Vandeberg Jim Strickland by Brad Roberts taken 11/09/03 @ 7.3 feet

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-02337000 1.60 - 8.20 ft III-IV(V) 00h41m 7.97 ft (running)
After the Floods of 2009 a new gauge was installed. Min. 2.4 Max. 9.00 are the old flows. The new levels validated with several frequent local paddlers.

River Description

Gauge Description: Class III at low flows below 4 feet. Class IV above 5 feet on the gauge.
The falls are Class IV+. At 7 feet the falls are a Class V drop.
The river has been run a few times over 10 feet and possibly as high as 13. Floodstage Class 5 at these flows. LOCATION.--Lat 33°46'22", long 84°36'53", Douglas County, Hydrologic Unit 03130002, on right bank 100 ft upstream from bridge on Interstate Highway 20, 400 ft upstream from Blair Bridge, 3 mi southeast of Austell, and 5.5 mi upstream from mouth. More gauge info in text below. Sweetwater's drainage area is nearly 250 square miles, so it usually holds its water for a couple of days after a heavy rain. The first thing you should know is that this run is seriously polluted. It's not a good place to be upside down or to be swimming. There used to be warning signs at the put-in not to eat the fish due to heavy metals contamination (lead, mercury, etc). With that said, Sweetwater Creek has the best whitewater in metro Atlanta.  User Comments: Brad Roberts 2001-03-21 16:17:07

Description: The Put-in for this run is in Sweetwater Creek State Park. Walk down the nature trail until you hit water.
A general rule of thumb is run down the left side channels from the first ledge until you get to the falls.

Below the put-in the river goes around a bend to the left. Just around the bend is a small riverwide ledge with some good surfing potential. Below this little wave hole is an island. Run to the left side of the island. Just past the island the gradient will start to pick up and the river will drop over more small bedrock ledges.
Take out on the left above the obvious horizon line.
The first major drop encountered is a riverwide ten foot tall sloping ledge. This is generally scouted and run on river left.
There is also a route on river right. Its a good idea to scout this ledge as wood tends to gather at its base.
At higher flows a nasty low head dam type hole develops on this ledge in the center of the river.

In October 1995 a pair of novice boaters swam out of this hole at high flow and ended up spending the night on one of the islands. One of the local TV station's helicopters was used to drop food and blankets to the stranded boaters. Following this incident the park rangers were not particulary fond of kayakers. At the moment the Ranger/Boater relationship appears to have improved.
After the ledge the rapids thru Mill Shoals are pretty continuous for about a mile until the falls. From the ledge to the falls there are multiple channels and multiple routes. Our usual route is down the left channel. Above 6 feet this is one long class 4 rapid that would not be out of place in West Virginia. Be aware that every time the water comes up, all the wood in the stream relocates. Keep your eyes open.
According to the topo maps this stretch of river drops more than 80 feet in less than half a mile.

"The Falls" - When you get to the downstream side of the islands, start working back to river right.
When you see the observation decks past the ruins, and an obvious horizon line, contemplate scouting.

Take out to scout on river right above the falls.
The falls are not really a vertical drop, but a big convoluted broken ledge. It's the biggest rapid on the river.

At low flows the usual route thru the falls is down the middle.

At medium to high flows drop over the first ledge into the eddy on river left. Then bust the move across the big curler from river left to right. From there, peel back out to midstream and thread your way between the center hole, the big hole on river left, and another smaller hole midstream.

At flows above 5 feet you can sneak the drop by boofing down the ledges on river right, or just use the nice trail beside the river to portage the whole thing.

Around 7 feet on the gauge the falls bumps up to Class 5.

Park & Play boaters have the option of boating down to the falls, then hiking back up to the put-in via the river right nature trail. There is detailed trail info below. The hole below the falls is pretty sweet in the 2.5 to 4 foot range. There is another hole on river left just below.

Below the falls are Four more rapids of note and some good play.

There is a good wave at high flows below the Powerline.

Take out is at the bridge on river right.

Gauge Info: The USGS gauge is on the north side of I-20 and does not readily correspond with the old bridge gauge.

You can no longer access the original gauge painted on the Blair Bridge piling just north of the park on the south side of I-20. There is a Douglas County water intake at that location with the usual homeland security fencing. The gauge is on the downstream river left side of the bridge piling. Two feet should be considered low, 4 feet good, and 6 feet would be high. The creek has been run upwards of 13 feet.

2500 cfs equals about 8 feet on the bridge gauge.

More Gauge info: 850cfs = 4 ft bridge gauge = 3.5 ft USGS gauge.

Put-in: Exit off I-20 to Thornton Road southbound. Take a right at Blairs Bridge Road, the first light next to the Toyota dealership. After about 2 miles take a left onto Mount Vernon Road and follow the signs to Sweetwater Creek state park.
After crossing the lake make a left into the main entrance of the park. Follow the signs to the Nature trail parking lot.

Take out: Thornton Rd south to the last traffic light before you cross the Chattahoochee River.
Turn right on Riverside Pkwy. The takeout is the bridge over the river about 2.5 miles down the road.

Hike out: Hop out of your boat just below the falls on river right where the wooden stairs hit water level. Grab your boat and go up the stairs to the top of the hill. At the crest of the hill, take a left on the trail that keeps going up the hill, don't follow the riverside trail back down to the falls observation deck. When that trail ends, take a right on the Blue trail. Follow the very nicely groomed Blue trail back to the Mill Ruins. At the ruins veer right to the Red trail. Staying on the blue trail will take you on a scenic three mile hike. The red trail will stay by the river back to the put-in. From the put in take the obvious trail back to the parking lot. The hike out takes between 30 and 45 minutes.

You can also hike out by following the riverside trail all the way back to the put in. This is much more difficult than the blue trail option.

Georgia DNR Sweetwater Website.

NGeorgia.Com page on Sweetwater.

Friends of Sweetwater Creek Website has more good info including some good photos of the park.

Last updated May 2006

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Last Updated: 2015-04-29 15:06:54


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Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.2Warm up ledge.II+Playspot
0.3First LedgeIV+Photo
0.3Mill ShoalsIVPhoto
1.0The FallsIV+Portage Hazard Playspot Photo
1.0The Hole below the FallsIV+Hazard Waterfall Photo
1.2Creek RightII+
1.92nd Island - Surf right, play leftIII
2.3Powerline WavesII+Waterfall Photo
2.3Big Island Rapid, aka Last Ruin RapidIVPhoto
3.5Pumping StationIIIHazard Playspot Photo
4.0Take-out : Riverside ParkwayTakeout

Rapid Descriptions

Where one gets in the river. Most of the descriptions below are for water levels in the 5 to 6 foot range.

Warm up ledge. (Class II+, Mile 0.2)
A nice little river wide surfing ledge. Short boats can get cartwheels, long boats can 360 spin. There is an island below, run left of it.

First Ledge (Class IV+, Mile 0.3)

Sneaking the first ledge

Sneaking the first ledge
Photo of Amy Conger by Brad Roberts taken 01/15/02 @ 7 feet

A sloping 10 foot tall ledge. It might be class 3 at low flows. At flows above 4.5 feet the middle part of the ledge makes a nasty low head dam type keeper hole. Best place to scout and run is on the left. This one should definately be scouted before you run it. The logs in this drop move every time the water comes up.

The sneak is just below the island on the left that is immediately above the drop. Be aware this sneak turns into a nasty hole above 7.6 feet.

There is also a far right line, but it is hard to scout and ends in a log pile. At flows above 8 feet consider the channel by the jogging trail on the river right bank.

Mill Shoals (Class IV, Mile 0.3)

Mill Shoals - Sweetwater Creek

Mill Shoals - Sweetwater Creek
Photo of Ted by Brad Roberts taken 11/09/03 @ 7.3 feet

From the first ledge to the falls is nearly a mile continious class 3 plus or 4 rapids depending on the water level. Above 5.5 feet its one sweet long rapid. Normally run to the left of the islands, but there are also right and center lines. There is always badly placed and hard to see wood in the drops.

The Falls (Class IV+, Mile 1.0)

Sweetwater Creek Falls

Sweetwater Creek Falls
Photo by Brad Roberts taken 11/09/03 @ 7.2 feet or 2300 cfs

Big riverwide ledge with multiple routes, depending on the water level.

The Hole below the Falls (Class IV+, Mile 1.0)

Sweetwater - The hole below the falls

Sweetwater - The hole below the falls
Photo of Jim Strickland by Brad Roberts taken 11/09/03 @ 7.3 feet

Being out of control thru the falls at high flows means you are going into the meat of this beast. There is a tongue around the left, and a sneak on the right.

Creek Right (Class II+, Mile 1.2)
Fun narrow creek around the right side of the island. Fun waves on the left.

2nd Island - Surf right, play left (Class III, Mile 1.9)
Good waves on the right of the island, not so good waves on the left.

Powerline Waves (Class II+, Mile 2.3)

Powerline Wave

Powerline Wave
Photo of Amy Conger by Brad Roberts taken 03/15/03 @ 3.6

Nice riverwide surf wave/hole at some levels. Higher flows make for a better hole. There is a huge eddy river right under the rope swing that feeds you back onto the wave.

This one is best in the 5 foot range. It starts to wash out about 7.5 feet.

Big Island Rapid, aka Last Ruin Rapid (Class IV, Mile 2.3)

Big Island Rapid

Big Island Rapid
Photo of Amy Conger by Brad Roberts taken 03/15/03 @ 3.6

More open on the left, but with some big holes. The right side of the island has some cool routes, but usually has some badly placed wood in it. Look before you leap. At the bottom left of the rapid are more old Civil War era ruins.

Pumping Station (Class III, Mile 3.5)

Surfing my brains out at Pumphouse

Surfing my brains out at Pumphouse
Photo of Brad Roberts by Jim Strickland taken 10/09/02 @ 5.5 feet

During the summer of 2006 the dam at the pumping station was rebuilt. It is now a dangerous low head dam. The left side is particularly deadly. There was a sneak around the hole up against the river right bank.

Pre 2006 description:
The wave, or hole, or ledge at the pumping station is a whole lot of different rapids depending on how high the hooch is and how far it is backing up into sweetwater and how much water sweetwater is sending downstream.

If the hooch is really high, it backs up and covers the entire rapid.

Take-out : Riverside Parkway
The take-out is a pain in the neck. The normal take-out is on the right, under the bridge. The bank is slippery. The mud is nasty, and there is some re-bar waiting for someone to impale themselves on it.

Just above the bridge on the left is a cement culvert. At higher flows the culvert makes for a much better take-out. From there, carry up the trail to the road. Watch for snakes, poison ivey & broken glass.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
December 23 2012 (2179 days ago)
Chuck KirkDetails
12/22/12 - Right side of island just below the power lines there is a tree down around the blind
turn. Beware as we had 4 paddlers get trapped by it. All ended up okay. Two flipped and went under
it. One got his body stuck for a bit on it then flushed out under it and then one boat had to be
z-dragged off of it. We will try to get in and cut it out. Also at the Falls, a tree is blocking
the middle right and far right lines. The park rangers said they will cut this out. We removed a
lot of wood and opened up some routes that have been blocked since the flood in 2009.
December 23 2012 (2179 days ago)
Chuck KirkDetails
12/22/12 - Right side of island just below the power lines there is a tree down around the blind
turn. Beware as we had 4 paddlers get trapped by it. All ended up okay. Two flipped and went under
it. One got his body stuck for a bit on it then flushed out under it and then one boat had to be
z-dragged off of it. We will try to get in and cut it out. Also at the Falls, a tree is blocking
the middle right and far right lines. The park rangers said they will cut this out. We removed a
lot of wood and opened up some routes that have been blocked since the flood in 2009.
April 27 2012 (2418 days ago)
Chuck KirkDetails
The gauge has been updated to reflect the level changes since the floods of 2009 took out the old
gauge and the new one was put in a downstream location.
February 6 2011 (2865 days ago)
Duncan CottrellDetails
The right-of-island line at Powerline Rapid is blocked by a tree completely across the channel.
Still there on Feb. 6, 2011.
February 7 2010 (3228 days ago)
fishman027 (151029)
There is a new tree across the right entrance to Sweetwater Falls. This new tree is directly above
the older tree and extends almost halfway across the rapid. Be careful! This is a must-scout rapid
above 6 feet in my opinion, anyway. Scout on right but be careful not to get swept into this new
hazard Follow the links for video and pictures: http://www.flickr.com/photos/7549607@N07/4335386699
http://www.flickr.com/photos/7549607@N07/4335393523/ http://vimeo.com/9262933
November 14 2009 (3314 days ago)
blakegt (149721)
Ran it today at around 7' I would agree that the gauge is off. It felt much higher than it has the
other couple of times I've ran it at that level. I would say it seems about 1' low, so 7' felt more
like 8'. Also, several of the rocks have definitely moved. It felt a good bit easier between the
first ledge and the falls because its not nearly as junky as it used to be. Hiked out on the red
trail it wasn't a problem, but note that the observation deck above the falls is gone, so don't
count on seeing that to indicate when the falls is coming up. Also there is a tree in the right
line at the falls.
October 18 2009 (3340 days ago)
x (1)
From the 2009-10-07 post about a tree on river right after the power lines: the tree is below the
rapids laying across the recovery pool. Very easy to pull out before the tree. Higher levels may
make eddying out more urgent. We had to walk around at 3.09 guage (seemed more like 4ish- see Chuck
Kirk's comment 2009-10-17).
October 17 2009 (3342 days ago)
Chuck KirkDetails
Just ran Sweetwater and Hiked out the Blue Trail after running the falls. The trail is in decent
shape except for the staircase down at the river. The steps were ripped away so you have to climb
up beside the first platform to get up there. Also the water level is way off. The new guage read
about 3 foot but the water level was more like what it was when it read 4 foot or even a little
higher. I noticed this a week or so ago as well when the guage read 4.3 but it seemed more like 5
foot. The rapids have had rocks move around in them and seem to be cleaner actually.
October 7 2009 (3351 days ago)
x (1)
The Sept 2009 floods destroyed all the bridges in Sweetwater Creek State Park. The park officials
have roped off all trail access to the river. The usual run here is from the top of the rapids down
to the falls, then you drag/carry your boat back up to the parking area at the park. This is no
longer possible as all the bridges are gone and some of the trail has washed away. There is also
raw sewage coating almost everything. If you do want to brave this run you will need to put in
above the park, which is almost impossible as all the roads crossing Sweetwater Creek are closed
all the way up to Thornton Road due to bridge damage. You will then need to take out at Riverside
Parkway. I spoke with Park staff yesterday and they don't have any dates set for repair of the
trails and bridges. When they are rebuilt, the staff will need to rely on volunteer efforts to help
complete the project. If you are a fan of Sweetwater Creek I suggest watching the park website for
posting of upcoming workdays and please go volunteer.
October 7 2009 (3352 days ago)
mrKellis (149710)
the red trail is open to hike down to the water.we made a run on 10-6-09. the flood washed out
almost all the islands in the river. lots of big rocks have been moved around.at the time there
were no trees in any of the rapids we scouted.the red trail was washed away along with several foot
bridges and the overlook deck at the falls, it looks pretty bad. there was a tree down on river
right just below powerlines blocking the right channel.
September 21 2009 (3367 days ago)
x (1)
that low head damn thing isn't there at levels between 25 and 30 ft. Don't know below.
March 4 2008 (3933 days ago)
x (1)
In the description for the pump house rapid it says that there is a sneak on the river left bank
but this is WRONG.... the sneak is on the far river right bank. It can still be pretty sketch if
the water is high though. If you drive the bow up and right as go go over the dam you'll slide down
a little ramp into some out flow (far far right) . If it is high water and you F it up you CAN get
stuck in the hole..... and that would really suck (the water is nasty and the hole will keep you,
with or without a boat). Also.... if you decide to portage go river right and you can do a really
fun 45 degree 50 ft long seal launch down what looks like chain link fence holding the soil in
place. Super fun and super fast. Dallas Shaw
February 27 2008 (3940 days ago)
jim leuteneggerDetails
According to Shannon Herford there is a new low head damn at the East Point pumping station. This
is about 1/2 way between the falls and the takeout bridge. There used to be a little wave train
there, but now, at 1500cfs, it is a serious hole.
January 10 2008 (3987 days ago)
x (1)
I did not like the red trail or the mess hall or the restrooms It was terrible
May 15 2006 (4592 days ago)
Trails at Sweetwater Creek State Park

Factory Ruins Trail: 1.2 miles one way. Blazed red. Rated moderately difficult. The toughest part
is downhill to the creek; the rest of the trail is easy. Trail follows Sweetwater Creek past the
1840s mill ruins to the falls (a large rapid). After the falls, pick up the Blue or White trail to
return. A trail guide is available at the Visitor Center, in the brochure box in front of the

Blue Trail: 2 miles one way. Blazed blue. Rated easy to moderate, with one steep climb down to the
falls deck. Visits ruins and then the falls (a large rapid) via a trail up the ridge side rather
than along the creek. At the falls, return via the red-blazed Factory Ruins Trail or Blue Trail

White Trail: 3 miles one way. Blazed white. Connects the ends of the Red and Blue trails back to
the parking area. Remember to add the 3 miles to the distance already traveled on Red or Blue
trails. Follows Sweetwater Creek downstream, turns up into the hills past a small lake, then up
through an area of early 20th century farm fields.

Yellow Trail: 3-mile loop. Blazed yellow. Rated easy to difficult. Follows Sweetwater Creek to
Ferguson's Crossing, crosses the creek on a metal frame bridge, climbs the ridge on the east side
to the top of the ridge, then loops back to the bridge leading back to the parking area.
June 2 2005 (4940 days ago)
Shayne DayDetails
We ran sweetwater yesterday, 6/1/05 when the guage said it was around 2.6 ft. Our visual check on
the painted gauge was 4 ft. Is this acurate? Any one having info on this please post here. Thanks,
November 20 2003 (5500 days ago)
When the Hooch has more than 10,000 cfs the last rapid is completely underwater. The good news is
that you can take out really easily on the left where the culvert comes in.
July 24 2003 (5618 days ago)
Chris GormanDetails
At levels of about 3.5 and lower there are 2 awesome holes right below the falls. The best being
the one that is kind of on the falls, it is an extremely shallow L shaped hole at the bottom of the
slide. It is a really fun surf, And the next one is right below it, it is really good for 360's and
maybe cartwheels.
March 12 2003 (5752 days ago)
Two kayakers stranded in Sweetwater Creek
Author: From staff and news services Date: October 8, 1995 Publication: The Atlanta Journal and The
Atlanta Constitution Page Number: F/2 Word Count: 628

Two experienced kayakers were stranded on a small island on Sweetwater Creek inside Sweetwater
Creek State Park in Lithia Springs for more than 24 hours after their small craft was swept away.
Robbie Martin and Scott Dalton, both of Lithia Springs, huddled together all of Friday night and
most of Saturday as they waited for rescuers. Rescue attempts were thwarted several times because
Douglas County firefighters and volunteers could not get across the rain-swollen creek to the small
February 23 2003 (5770 days ago)
Chris GormanDetails
The takeout road is no longer called lower river road. I am not sure what the name of it is now but
i believe it is somthing to the tune of riverside pkwy? There is a sign that says this and points
to it. Sorry about not knowing the exact name
October 29 2002 (5886 days ago)
At 5.5 feet on sweetwater, and 4000 cfs in the hooch, the wave at the pumping station was
unbelieveable. 4 feet tall, 15 feet wide, good eddy access, it was incredible!!!! Unfortunately the
river was dropping fast and the wave dissappeared as the river dropped below 5 feet.

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