Kayaking the Chattahoochee River from Johnson Ferry through Cochran Shoals to Paces Mill
Many decades in progress of cleaning up the Metro Atlanta section of the Chattahoochee River were successful in their goal: to restore the river once described as glorious and beautiful by early Georgia explorers to its original beauty.
We’ve found their efforts successful, and have found a close paddling destination that we (admittedly) visit maybe too often during the summer months. We’ve found ourselves smitten by the beauty of the Chattahoochee enough to find ourselves kayaking the river every weekend during the summer, relaxing through its slow flow in the Northern sections that run South of the Buford Dam at Lake Lanier, and slightly more challenged by the flows of the lower sections running South of the Morgan Falls Dam.
This 6.5 mile paddle stretches South of the Dam, putting in at the Johnson Ferry Park (click for Johnson Ferry directions), traveling through the Cochran Shoals area and taking out at the Paces Mill area (click for Paces Mill directions). Traveling through mostly protected park area (the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area flanks both sides of the river during most of the trip), the scenery ranges from sandy banks to large, steep bluffs along the shores. Hiking trails flank the right side of the river in the Cochran Shoals recreation area.
The Chattahoochee flows lazily as you put-in at Johnson Ferry Road. The river is nearly 100 feet wide in this area of the Chattahoochee, and is banked by the affluent homes along Riverside Drive to your left and Columns Drive to your right. Sope Creek flows into the Hooch at a little over 2 miles, flowing over a small concrete dam into the Chattahoochee River.
The Chattahoochee River begins to pick up speed as rocks begin to appear, waking you up after the easy navigation for the first part of your paddle. As larger stretches of trails in the park become visible on your right, the river picks up speed in this section, named Cochran Shoals, before passing under the I-285 and Akers Mill Road bridges. Heed the warnings of the signs – especially during low flow – and stay between the middle bridge pillars to pass under the highway and road.
Rocky bluffs rise on your left after passing through a corridor of townhouses on your right and a new mixed use development on your left. Several small islands precede another set of shoals which provide some more fun in Class 1+ rapids as you pass through Thornton Shoals and Long Island shoals.
After passing the dammed entrance of Rottenwood Creek on your right, you’ll pass under I-75, again heeding the signs to stay in the middle of the river between the bridge pillars. The takeout for this paddle is on your right, and is easy to spot - a full size boat ramp leads to the parking area of Paces Mill.
The basics before you plan your trip: in order to address water quality concerns, the USGS tests the water quality of the Chattahoochee at two points along the river and publishes the quality data daily on their site. Check the water quality the day before you plan to paddle – click here to visit the site. Turbidity levels below 200 are desirable in order to come in contact with the water – and while kayakers aren’t generally submerged along this mild stretch of the river, we don’t like to take our chances.
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