If you’re looking for a place in the United States with numerous paddling locales for kayakers of any skill level, look no further than Georgia. The Peach State offers rivers ranging from calm flatwater to raging class V rapids, coastal salt marshes, serene lakes and reservoirs, and secluded swamps. There are at least 18 water trails currently in existence with more in development.
With so many options from state parks to popular Atlantic coastal destinations, you’re sure to find the perfect place for kayaking in Georgia.
Best places to kayak
If you’re looking for a relaxing solo trip or leisurely family paddle, Chattahoochee River kayaking is a good option. The river is located on the Alabama-Georgia state line near Columbus and is home to a 48-mile water trail. The trail is mostly made up of calm, slow-moving waters, but there are a few spots with class I rapids and one class II rapid located at the northern end of the river.
The Chattahoochee River National Water Trail is easy to navigate with its mile markers along the banks. With 17 access points, you can make your trip as long or short as you like. However, don’t plan for any overnight trips here as camping is not allowed anywhere along the NPS-controlled river. As far as interruptions, it should also be noted that you will need to portage your boat around Morgan Falls at mile marker 312.5.
The Broad River in Georgia, located near Athens in the northern part of the state, has similar waters to that of the Chattahoochee. You’ll find mostly easy-going waters along this 70-mile stretch; however, like any river, there are some faster-paced areas as well (up to class II rapids, though during high water times these can get as high as class III or IV). Other than around possible downed trees, you shouldn’t need to portage anywhere as it is one of the few free-flowing rivers left in Georgia.
Even if you don’t want to practice whitewater techniques in the quick areas of the river, the Broad is also a great place to visit if you enjoy kayak fishing and wildlife viewing. You can expect to find blue herons, kingfishers, osprey, bald eagles, numerous species of turtles, beavers and otters. For fishing, bring your gear for bass, catfish and redhorse. If you just enjoy taking in nature in general on your paddling trips, one particularly scenic section you may wish to check out runs for 6.5 miles, starting at SR 281 and ending a half-mile south of SR 172.
At 13.8 miles, Toccoa River kayaking makes for a great weekend paddle and camp trip. The river is rated with class I to II rapids, with a small class III near the midpoint of the trail. Many people report the entire length taking five to six hours to paddle, but there are plenty of opportunities to shorten your trip.
This is another fun trip if you enjoy fishing, wildlife viewing and some fun rapids mixed in to keep things interesting. Float past thick forests and pastoral lands while you try to catch some mountain trout for dinner. You might consider bringing extra provisions if you’re planning on paddling the entire way as there is no access for five miles between Margaret and Butt Bridge.
For the ultimate Georgia kayaking trip, you can’t beat the 138 miles of the Altamaha River. Known as “Georgia’s Amazon” or the “Little Amazon,” the Altamaha is one of Georgia’s other undammed rivers and houses the second-largest watershed on the east coast of the United States.
Being such a large river, there are no rapid areas to note, so you can truly enjoy the wildlife viewing along the way. You may catch glimpses of bald eagles, mink, otters and even the endangered west Indian manatee as you paddle through tidal swamps and bottomland forests on your Altamaha River kayaking trip. If you care to do some kayak fishing, you may have some luck catching catfish, sunfish, crappie, bluegill and bass.
Access points are available in each county along the water trail, making it easy to plan the perfect length of trip for you. If you plan on fishing, you will be happy to know there are bait and tackle shops along the way. You can also stop for a picnic at numerous sites and even go for a hike in some spots on marked trails.
Being located on the coast of the Atlantic and near the confluence of several rivers, it comes as no surprise that there are plenty of places for kayaking in Savannah, Georgia.
A popular tourist spot, Tybee Island offers three miles of beaches and salt marshes for kayakers to explore. Be sure to get an early start to catch a beautiful sunrise.
Part of the Atlantic Intracoastal Highway, this 8.4-mile tidal river begins at the southern end of the Wilmington River and passes by Skidaway, Dutch Islands and the Isle of Hope.
Located 40 minutes north of Savannah in Effingham county, Ebenezer Creek offers a unique look at the swamps of the south. Paddle through a cypress- and Spanish moss-lined waterway that flows slow enough to be paddled both ways.
For some remote paddles through the wilderness or challenging sea adventures, head downstate for kayaking in South Georgia.
George L. Smith State Park
For something slow-paced, but scenic, check out George L. Smith State Park. Take in the signature Spanish moss-covered cypress and tupelo trees, covered bridge, and gristmill while angling bass and bream.
Looking to put in at any spot that strikes your fancy? The 200-mile Ocmulgee River Water Trail should suit. This river is great if you’re planning an overnight trip as it has several spots to stop for the night (no reservations or fees required). The Ocmulgee is mostly flatwater with some class I rapids to keep your attention.
Okefenokee Wilderness Canoe Trail System
This canoe trail system provides multiple paths for kayakers of all skill levels and options for one- to five-day trips through the cypress swamps of Southern Georgia. If you’re really into remote wilderness, this is the trip for you with the chance to view alligators, black bears, sandhill cranes and more.
Georgia Coast Saltwater Paddling Trail
Intermediate and advanced paddlers with sea kayaking experience won’t want to miss out on sections of the Georgia Coast Saltwater Paddling Trail. Here, you can enjoy paddling through plenty of salt marshes and past wild barrier islands. It is worth mentioning, though, that Georgia experiences the greatest tidal amplitudes along the east coast, so be aware of tidal changes and take your charts.
If your idea of the perfect vacation involves sightseeing and paddling, stick to the Atlanta/Augusta area for some kayaking in North Georgia.
For something a little more fun, check into a Savannah River trip from the Savannah Rapids Park to the North Augusta Boat Landing for some class II and III rapids. Rentals can be had at Savannah Rapids Kayak Rental.
Sweetwater Creek State Park
If you’re interested in doing some sightseeing in Atlanta as well as spending time in nature, head over to Sweetwater Creek State Park. Located just 15 miles from downtown, here you can unwind from the city scene and set out for a relaxed paddle or some fishing on the 215-acre lake.
Head to the Chattooga River Gorge, near Clayton, for some excitement. Ranging from class II to IV rapids with features such as Seven Foot Falls and Five Falls, you know you’re in for a fun whitewater time. For guided rafting trips, check out Wildwater White Water Rafting.
Located between Atlanta and Augusta, this 15,000-plus-acre man-made reservoir offers a peaceful place to do some kayak fishing and calm waters to get your family accustomed to kayaking.
Don’t feel like bringing your kayak along or don’t have your own? Not to worry. Here are just some of the kayak rentals in Georgia to get you started on your Southern paddling adventure.
Sea Kayak Georgia
- Tybee Island
Broad River Outpost
Savannah Rapids Kayak Rental
Blue Ridge Mountain Kayaking
- Morganton (Toccoa River)
Three Rivers Outdoors
- Uvalda (Altamaha River)
Shoot the Hooch
- Roswell (Chattahoochee River)
Altamaha Coastal Tours
- Carlton (Southeast coast)
Kayak fishing has become very popular in Georgia over the past several years. There are even several kayak-only bass fishing tournaments held around the state each year.
Having a multitude of lakes and rivers to choose from as well as over 100 miles of coastline, you can catch an array of both fresh and saltwater fish on your Georgia kayak fishing trip. Whether you’re into the thrill of the catch or more focused on catching a tasty dinner, here are some great angling spots around the state to try out and what you can expect to catch there.
- Jekyll Island: redfish and trout
- Tybee Island: flounder, Jack Crevalle, tarpon, trout, Spanish mackerel
- Ocmulgee River: striped bass, channel and flathead catfish, sunfish
- Chattahoochee River: bass, trout, perch, pike
Georgia kayak laws are pretty standard as far as laws in the United States go:
- Children age 13 years and younger must wear a PFD at all times.
- Although you don’t have to wear it, people age 14 and older must have a Coast Guard-approved PFD on their vessel at all times (though we still recommend wearing a PFD at all times on the water).
- A marine whistle (or any sound-making device) is required for travel on federally regulated waters.
- You must use a light at night.
- While it does state that you can be charged with BUI (Boating Under the Influence) in Georgia while helming a motorized boat, including personal watercrafts, it doesn’t explicitly state anything about smaller, non-motorized boats, such as canoes and kayaks. Regardless, it is always wise to err on the side of caution and use good judgment.
No matter what you enjoy—offshore kayak fishing, calm lake paddles or whitewater adventures—you are guaranteed to find a kayaking trip you’ll love in Georgia.