Noteworthy Paddle in TAG: Toccoa River, Fannin County, Georgia
Activities: Paddling, swimming, fishing, wildlife observation, camping
Rating: Moderate to Difficult
The Toccoa / Ocoee River is a 93 mile long, north flowing, high mountain river that is very popular for kayaking, canoeing and fishing. The river begins its headwaters in Union County, Georgia in the Chattahoochee National Forest as the Toccoa River, which is the Cherokee term for where the Catawbas lived. The river flows for 56 miles until it reaches the Tennessee border where its name changes to the Ocoee. However, before it reaches the Tennessee border it flows into Lake Blue Ridge and exits the dam to continue its route northward. The portion of the river that runs from the dam to the Tennessee state line is considered some of the best fly fishing in north Georgia. Once crossing into Tennessee, the river continues for another 37 miles before joining the Hiwassee River in Polk County. The Ocoee River is very popular for its
white water rafting and kayaking and was home to the first Olympic whitewater event on a natural river during the Centennial 1996 summer Olympics.
The Toccoa River trail begins at the Deep Hole Recreation area and flows 13.8 miles to Sandy Bottoms Recreation Area with a gradient of 14.5 fpm. Please note there is a $4 fee for parking at the Deep Hole Recreation Area. You can add an additional 1.5 miles to your trip by taking out at the Stanley rapid. The river is class I-II with numerous opportunities to camp along the way so it also makes for a great overnight trip. Not far after you put in at Deep Hole, you will cross into a 2 mile section of the river that is privately owned. In 2003 a land owner disputed paddler’s access but thankfully courts ruled paddlers have rights to float the river. This section of river boasts a lot of private homes and it is posted no fishing.
Once you are in the forest section, continuous Class I rapids will keep you moving and you will reach a half mile of Class II below the Rock Creek Junction. The Benton MacKaye Trail, which is a loop of the Appalachian Trail, crosses the river via a suspension bridge at this point. This is a good spot to stop and check out what is the largest rapid on this float before entering it. Portaging this rapid can be difficult and time consuming.
There is no easy access via roads once you are in the wilderness segment of the river. It is possible to float it as low as 250 cfs but it does become shallow and increases your opportunities for mishaps. Deadfall can also be problematic and force a portage. The river is more enjoyable above 400 cfs.
On May 12th 2018, Jason Hardy, Myself, Alan Camp, Mark Medlen and Jennifer Denton put in at the Deep Hole Campground in Suches, Georgia and floated for approximately 15 miles to the Stanley Rapids. It took us about 6 hours and it was a fun and enjoyable trip. I would highly suggest this paddle trip to friends. Pay camping is available at both Deep Hole and Sandy Bottoms with free primitive camping along the river. There is no shortage of great campsites along the river once you are in the Chattahoochee National Forest.
Alan Camp at the Stanley Rapid
Jason Hardy at the Stanley Rapid
Mark Medlen at the Stanley Rapid
(Photo by Alan Camp)