The Coosawatee River in NW Georgia begins in Ellijay, GA at the confluence of the Ellijay and Cartecay rivers and flows in Carters Lake (a US Army Corp lake) about 13 miles downstream.
The Coosawatee River was the inspiration behind James Dickey's 1970 Novel "Deliverance" which was made into a movie in 1972 starring Burt Reynolds and Ned Beatty. The movie is loosely based on Dickey's experiences on the Coosawatee River prior to the building of Carters Lake which flooded most of the whitewater sections of the river including some spectacular class 4 rapids. It is said that the class 4 sections of the Coosawattee rivaled the much heralded Chattooga River in NE Georgia which is well known as THE whitewater river in Georgia. What is left of the Coosawattee is still a wonderful paddle through 13 miles of class 1 and quite a few class 2 shoals.
I was fortunate to be invited to join a trip down the Coosawattee with a group of paddlers who were scouting the river for the upcoming "Paddle Georgia" event in June. "Paddle Georgia" is an annual 7 day paddle trip down a Georgia river and attracts about 300 paddlers. The scouting trip was to the select best routes through the rapids and the most important places to station safety boats.
The day we paddled, the river was running 1.8 feet which is a good flow for this section of the river. Much higher and the shoals / rapids would wash out and much lower would create a fair amount of dragging. Our group had 6 boats; three solo canoes, two tandem canoes and one kayak.
Our put-in was at Gilmer County Park in Ellijay, GA and our take-out was at Ridgeway Recreation Area on Carters Lake. After setting up our shuttle, we got on the river about 11:00am.
For the first several miles, there is a combination of moving flatwater and minor class 1 shoals that are easily navigated. There are lots of houses along this part of the river so be respectful of the homeowners.
The first rapid of consequence comes about 4 miles down the river and it is a solid class 2 with multiple small drops / ledges across the entire river. I was last through and all in front of me chose a path just right of the middle and got through fine. I chose more to the right as the water flow looked a little more robust and made it through 2 drops but the 3rd had a haystack that caught the bow of my canoe, flipped me to the right and I went swimming. No big deal but it took a few minutes to recover the swamped boat and get moving again. I was humbled by this unsuspecting class 2.
There is a take out about 6 miles from the start and, with the exception of the class 2 that sent me swimming, only class 1 shoals to this point. Beyond this point, there is no takeout until you complete the full 13 mile run ending in Carters Lake. There are 5 or 6 class 2 rapids on this section and all were easily navigated and I managed to stay in my boat for the rest of the trip. Mountaintown Creek joins the Coosawattee about halfway into the second section and the river flow picks up quite a bit.
After Mountaintown creek, keep a lookout on river right for a really pretty waterfall about 30 yards back into the woods where a stream enters the river. Shortly after this waterfall, the river enters Carters Lake and you have about 3 miles to paddle to the take out.
The take out is at Ridgeway Recreation Area which has a boat ramp and a bathroom. The takeout is on the right of the river but not marked so you must pay attention to enter a cove on the right of the river and look for a small "No Wake" sign that signals you have arrived at the take out.
I really enjoyed this paddle and highly recommend it. Once you pass the 6 mile take out, the river becomes very remote and it heads for Carters Lake. Make sure you are prepared.
Gilmer County Park has good parking, clean bathrooms and easy access to the river to put-in.
The take-out at Ridgeway Recreation Area has two boat ramps, good parking and a bathroom.
There is a $4 parking fee at Ridgeway Recreation Area.