Every time I go on a trip, I research the heck out of it, especially if I’m bringing kids. This time was no different, but I still got a big surprise, which I will tell you about later. In this case, the information on the internet was outdated and just plain wrong. The Etowah River Trail is still new and volunteers are still working with cities and land owners to improve access to the river with boat launches and take out spots. I chose the Etowah because it’s the closest river to me and I drive over and past it all the time.
I wanted to do a kayak camping trip to test my gear, see if all my stuff is waterproof, and see how my kayak handled while loaded down. The plan was to kayak to the campsite, spend the night, and have my husband pick me up the next morning.
I used the Etowah River interactive trail map to determine my route. I decided to leave from Allatoona Dam and camp at a private property owned by Henry Floyd, a very generous local man who owns a big farm supply store. I’ve been there many times for horse feed. According to the website, the Etowah River is not meant to be done all in one go, like a thru hike, because most of the riverbank is private property and doesn’t allow camping. However, according to the website, camping is allowed on Mr. Floyd’s property thanks to his generosity. The ability to camp was the whole reason I chose this route. This route covered 10 miles and included a portage around the Thompson Weinman dam in the town of Cartersville.
My husband dropped off my 9 year old son and me at Riverside Day Use Area in Cartersville, right next to the dam. It costs $5 to park. You have to call 706-334-7213 to find out when the dam is generating. You can’t be in the water near the dam when it does, unless you like tidal waves. We saw two snakes at the boat launch, so that was cool!
When the dam isn’t generating, the river barely moves. I had to paddle the entire time to get anywhere. If you tried to float it and not paddle, it would take HOURS. It was more like being on a lake most of the time. There are occasional shallow spots where it moves more quickly, but most of the time it felt like we were on a lake.
In the first 3 miles of the trip, you cross under Interstate 75 and Highway 41.
Once you start heading into Cartersville, you have to be on alert for the Thompson Weinman dam, which is really more of a spillway. In other words, it’s a huge drop off that you CANNOT go over in a kayak unless you’re some kind of whitewater professional. If you try it in a regular recreational kayak, you will die. The bottom is concrete and there is re-bar sticking up to catch debris. You would think that, on a river commonly used by recreational kayakers, there would be some kind of sign telling you that the dam is coming up, but nope. Nothing. That’s probably because both sides of the river are private property and the land owner doesn’t care to put a sign up.
You can barely even tell where the dam is as you approach it, because it blends into the horizon. You hear it before you see it. You have to be vigilant in this section, especially if you’re like me and you have a kid along. I tied Hunter’s kayak to mine for extra security. I used 18 feet of rope, which turned out to be a good length. He was far enough away from me to prevent running into me, but still very much attached.
I researched the portage around the dam on Google Earth because I wanted to know what I was getting into. There was a clearly visible trail made by other kayakers doing the same thing, so I decided it wouldn’t be too big of a deal to portage. I found this video as well. It ended up being a big pain in the ass.
You have to haul your kayak up a steep bank, and down the other side, and there isn’t a nice beach area to put back in. There’s a rocky drop off, so we slid our kayaks off the edge and into the water. I hear the fishing is excellent in this spot, but we didn’t bring a pole.
There were some pretty sections of the river with beautiful homes on the bank, but overall I did not think the Etowah River is the best of what Georgia has to offer. We did see one otter and some nice sized fish in the water, but a lot of the water is murky and not very pretty.
There are a couple spots where you go over teeny tiny rapids, but it’s barely a blip and then you’re back to hardly moving at all. After paddling the entire 10 miles, by the time we arrived at Mr. Floyd’s property, I was tired.
When we finally arrived at the boat launch at Floyd’s, we were met by Private Property and No Trespassing signs everywhere. Turns out Mr. Floyd passed away and whoever owns this property now is not amenable to strangers camping there.
The new land owner charges a yearly fee of $165 to use the boat launch and facilities, which include some shelters and a covered picnic area. I am a strong capitalist and I fully support the land owner’s right to charge, but it annoyed the heck out of me that the website was wrong. I had just paddled for 4 hours straight, and I was ready to pitch a tent and relax. Luckily, I was only about a 30 minute drive from my house, so I called my husband to come rescue me. I had a nice shower and slept in my own bed that night!
You may ask why I didn’t just stealth camp. The answer is simple. This is the South and you will get shot if you get caught sleeping on someone’s land!
Even though the trip did not turn out how I planned, I discovered that I really enjoyed paddling a long distance. I was definitely tired, but it’s the good kind of tired where I felt a sense of accomplishment along with my sore muscles. I definitely want to do more kayak camping, but next time I’ll choose a different river. The Etowah is all right, but there are prettier spots in Georgia, especially up north.
My kayak handled just fine, my cheap Wal-mart dry bags worked to keep my stuff dry, and tying my son’s kayak to mine was a great idea. He was able to paddle when he wanted and take a break when he got tired. I didn’t find it difficult to tow him. Maybe the slow current was helping me more than I thought.
If, like me, you live close to the Etowah and you’re interested in getting a different perspective on the river you drive over all the time, then it’s worth kayaking it. If you live farther away, I wouldn’t bother with this section. There are prettier places to kayak.
Next on my list is the Toccoa River in Blue Ridge, Georgia, so stay tuned!