By Suzanne Welander
Georgia’s most extensive riverine sandhill formation stretches for 65 miles along the eastern edge of the Ohoopee. Deposited over time by prevailing western winds during the last glacial era, today the dunes host a unique ecosystem that’s concentrated upstream along the Little Ohoopee river. The Ohoopee is also recommended for overnight camping trips.
Burgundy-red waters run sparklingly clear over the starkly contrasting white sand bottom and banks on the Ohoopee. A tributary of the Altamaha River, it is the western and northernmost river sporting this Coastal Plain combination. A shading canopy of mossdraped cypress and hardwoods combines with the Ohoopee’s natural tranquility and remote, pristine setting to set it apart as an exceptional showplace of nature and one of the most exotic and beautiful streams in southern Georgia.
Ohoopee River from US 1 to the Altamaha River
Length: 58.8 mi
Time: 5 days
Gauge: USGS gauge at Reidsville
Level: 190 cfs
Gradient: 1.6 fpm
Runnable in wet periods downstream of the US 1 bridge in Emanuel County, the stream’s width in this section starts at 30–45 feet, widens to between 50–65 feet at GA 292 west of Collins, and culminates at 80 feet as it approaches the Altamaha. The current is moderate throughout, and the level of difficulty is Class I, with sharp bends and trees growing in the stream keeping it interesting. The surrounding terrain is mixed lowland swamp forests of bald cypress, willow, pond cypress, swamp black gum, Ogeechee lime, ash, red maple, water oak, and sweet bay, rising gradually to a low upland plateau.
At lower water levels, prolific white sandbars and beaches lend themselves to swimming, picnicking, and canoe-camping. The banks, also of white sand, are 2–4 feet high and slope at approximately 30–45 degrees. Why all the sand? During the end of the last glacial period, prevailing westerly winds blew sand up from the riverbed where it collected into huge dunes. This ridge of riverine sand hills—known as the Ohoopee Dunes—is one of the most unique ecosystems in the state. Over thousands of years, plant and animal communities have adapted to this habitat. The Ohoopee Dunes State Natural Area, Ohoopee Dunes Preserve (managed by The Nature Conservancy), and the Ohoopee Dunes Wilderness Management Area (WMA) are all located west of Swainsboro on the Little Ohoopee River, upstream of the paddleable sections of the main Ohoopee. The WMA includes two miles of educational trails and a boat ramp.
The upper reaches of the river make for an easy high-water trip when the level is over 3,000 cfs/11 feet. Between Griffin Ferry Road (B) and GA 152 (C), the black water floods the inside bends of the oxbows. The channel in this section remains obvious even when the water is out of the banks. At the same high water level, below GA 152 to County Road 464 the river stays within its well-defined banks most of the time, though the flood plain forests can still be flooded near oxbow bends.
Wildlife is varied and plentiful throughout the wide bottomland swamp corridor that cradles the Ohoopee along its serpentine course. Small islands, meandering bypasses, and oxbows are not uncommon, particularly below Pendleton Creek, which enters the river above US 280 (E). The river feels private and remote despite its proximity to the town of Reidsville near GA 56 (G) and the Georgia State Prison near GA 147 (H).
Hazards consist primarily of occasional deadfalls and a dam that must be portaged above the GA 56 bridge outside Reidsville.
If paddling to the confluence with the Altamaha, the last take-out is the Tattnall County Landing on river left. To get there from Reidsville, take GA 147 South and turn left on GA 178. After crossing the Ohoopee, turn right on CR 296 and follow it to the boat ramp. Upper access points are reached from GA 86, US 280, GA 56, and GA 147 out of Reidsville.
Using USGS website data for the gauge at Reidsville, the minimum is 190 cfs. Sandbars are still present at 750 cfs below GA 147.
Suzanne Welander is the co-author, with Bob Sehlinger, of the definitive Georgia guidebook, Canoeing and Kayaking Georgia published by Menasha Ridge Press. New for 2015, the completely updated 2nd edition adds five new waterways, including the new urban whitewater course in Columbus, with all new maps and data for all 771 access points. Canoeing and Kayaking Georgia is available from Menasha Ridge Press.
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