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Why you should go
The mighty Altamaha, clocking in at 137 miles, is Georgia’s largest river and one of the most important rivers in the southeastern United States. The Altamaha also provides some of the best outdoor recreation opportunities in Georgia. On the Altamaha, you can paddle the wide, winding river between large sandbars and beautiful oak trees near the confluence of the Ocmulgee and Oconee rivers. You can dart through side channels and sloughs of cypress swamps in the wilderness of protected forests that make up the last 60 miles of the river, or dodge shrimp boats and fisherman in the coastal marsh as you pull into historic Darien, GA.
It’s wild, beautiful and a great resource for outdoor enthusiasts looking to paddle a day, or even weeks, on the river!
Our favorite places to visit on the river
Towns Bluff Park and Heritage Center (near Hazlehurst)
Altamaha Regional Campground (near Everett)
Downtown Darien, GA (near the coast)
Our favorite outfitters
Three Rivers Outdoors (near Hazlehurst)
Jaycees Landing Bait and Tackle (near Jesup)
Altamaha Coastal Tours (coastal)
SouthEast Adventures (coastal)
Rules for camping on the river
According to the standard interpretation of the river laws, the land on the river below the high water mark is considered public property and, by rights, you can camp there. This means that the sandy beaches along the river are up for grab
Use this tidal chart for the last section of the river:
Use this chart to gauge water depth:
Use these maps, provided by Paddle Georgia, to plan your trip down the Altamaha:
Read before you go - Drifting into Darien
Georgia writer Janisse Ray has penned the seminal book about paddling the Altamaha River. Part river journal, part biography and part love letter to the river, Drifting into Darien is a work of literature that anyone interested in paddling this river should read first.
Description from UGA Press:
“Janisse Ray was a babe in arms when a boat of her father’s construction cracked open and went down in the mighty Altamaha River. Tucked in a life preserver, she washed onto a sandbar as the craft sank from view. That first baptism began a lifelong relationship with a stunning and powerful river that almost nobody knows.
“The Altamaha rises dark and mysterious in southeast Georgia. It is deep and wide, bordered by swamps. Its corridor contains an extraordinary biodiversity, including many rare and endangered species, which led the Nature Conservancy to designate it as one of the world’s last great places.
“The Altamaha is Ray’s river, and from childhood she dreamed of paddling its entire length to where it empties into the sea. Drifting into Darien begins with an account of finally making that journey, turning to meditations on the many ways we accept a world that contains both good and evil. With praise, biting satire, and hope, Ray contemplates transformation and attempts with every page to settle peacefully into the now.
“Though commemorating a history that includes logging, Ray celebrates ‘a culture that sprang from the flatwoods, which required a judicious use of nature.’ She looks in vain for an ivorybill woodpecker but is equally eager to see any of the imperiled species found in the river basin: spiny mussel, American oystercatcher, Radford’s mint, Alabama milkvine. The book explores both the need and the possibilities for conservation of the river and the surrounding forests and wetlands. As in her groundbreaking Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, Ray writes an account of her beloved river that is both social history and natural history, understanding the two as inseparable, particularly in the rural corner of Georgia that she knows best. Ray goes looking for wisdom and finds a river.”
Watch before you go – Georgia Conservancy’s 2012 Altamaha Video
Shot by our extraordinary volunteer Jamie Higgins, here is a video from our 2012 Altamaha Paddle hosted by the Georgia Conservancy and the Georgia Canoeing Association.
The Altamaha River Partnership is a coalition of state, regional and local representatives that was formed in 1998 to promote nature-based tourism and associated economic development opportunities within 11 counties bordering the Altamaha River.
Participating counties include Appling, Glynn, Jeff Davis, Long, McIntosh, Montgomery, Tattnall, Telfair, Toombs, Wayne and Wheeler. Included are the cities of Alamo, Baxley, Brunswick, Darien, Hazlehurst, Jesup, Ludowici, Mount Vernon, Reidsville, and Vidalia.
Part of the responsibility that the Altamaha River Partnership takes on is providing valuable information about where and how the public can access the Altamaha, what supplies are available and if camping is provided.
Take it from those who know it best - the Altamaha River Partnership’s description of the Altamaha:
A Natural Treasure
“Winding for 137 miles, the great Altamaha is a wetland wilderness. Crossed only five times by roads and twice by rail lines, the Altamaha's natural beauty is largely undisturbed. The soils, plants and trees of its floodplain filter and extract chemicals and pollutants, while the banks of the river, accentuated by a multitude of creeks, sloughs and oxbow lakes, are refuges for alligators, wood ducks and wild turkey
“At least 125 species of rare or endangered plants and animals exist along the Altamaha River. Birds such as the bald eagle and swallow-tailed kite, soar above its banks. The shortnose sturgeon and the manatee swim through the Altamaha's lazy meanders. The gopher tortoise and the eastern indigo snake coexist among its sand ridges, and the sandbars and sloughs are home to seven species of pearly mussels that live nowhere else in the world.
“Among species native to the river basin perhaps the most fascinating case is Franklinia alatamaha. Named in honor of Benjamin Franklin and the Altamaha River, the rare flowering shrub was originally discovered in 1765 by naturalist and artist William Bartram. Although he is the only person known to have seen and described the plant in its natural state, some think it may still survive within the depths of the Altamaha ecosystem. A wealth of rare plant populations has been found along the Altamaha and more await discovery. Radford's dicerandra grows nowhere on earth but along the Altamaha's sand ridges. The only known Georgia population of the Florida corkwood thrives in the Altamaha basin.”
Altamaha River Partnership Map
Who keeps the Altamaha safe?
The chief guardian of the Altamaha River is the Altamaha Riverkeeper. Incorporated in 1999, ARK has done the best grassroots work to protect the Altamaha River and its tributaries.
Notes from a river voyage: Georgia Conservancy member Don Ream paddles from the confluence of the Ocmulgee and the Oconee all the way to Darien
Don Ream’s Altamaha Trip Report: June 13-16, 2012
Ramp under US221/Uvalda Highway Bridge between Hazlehurst and Uvalda.
River Mile marker 135
Ramp at Skipper’s Fish Camp Restaurant in Darien (actually on the Darien River).
River Mile Marker 13
Approximate readings day of trip: .5’ at Charlotte, 62.5’ at Baxley, 2.5’ at Doctortown, all rising.
We camped on sand bars each of the three nights, the last two were really islands. The sand bars appear on almost every bend, but we like to be a fair distance from a boat ramp so as to lessen the chance of encountering strangers.
Night 1 was a few bends up from the Carter’s Bight landing, about 37 miles from put in.
Night 2 was about 3 miles south of Jesup; about 34 miles paddled that day.
Night 3 was just past the Fort Barrington boat ramp; about 30 miles paddled that day.
At this point and below the tidal forces affect the river levels, so care should be taken when choosing a campsite.
Gear and Supplies
Four guys were in two 16’9” Old Town Discovery canoes, so we did not have to be too economical with our gear, typical camping stuff…backpacking tents and stoves, but here are some specifics:
1 gallon of water per person per day.
Plenty of a trusted brand of Sunscreen and a good sun hat.
Bug Repellent was necessary only at sunset and sunrise. I also used a Thermacell.
You can buy more ice and water at Jaycee’s landing at River Mile 67. They close at 5:30pm. They also have soft drinks and candy, but no beer.
Our 55qt Igloo MaxCold cooler kept ice very well in 90 degree heat. I took the extra step of putting some frozen water bottles in the cooler. I also used a small soft side cooler during the day so as to keep the big cooler closed as much as possible.
Print out and study maps, boat ramp guides and Google Earth to get an idea of each day’s travel goals.
The Altamaha River Canoe Guide is helpful in providing landmarks at defined distances. Paddle Georgia event maps provide great information as well.
Plan your last day around the tide schedule in Darien. You don’t want to be fighting a rising tide at the end of the trip.
We arrived at 12:30 pm and low tide was at 1:50 pm that day….just about perfect.
Advice for First Timers on the Altamaha
The river is big and broad in many places. Be ready for what I call some “demoralizing straightaways”.
Know how to handle your canoe/kayak in the presence of motorized watercraft. Not everyone is courteous with their wake. Include as many weekdays as possible to avoid heaviest boat traffic.
Use Rifle Cut to get over to the Darien River.
Why I would recommend paddling the Altamaha
I paddled it because I wanted to finish my journey from Jackson Lake to the sea. Darien is close enough to the sea for me. I also find it intriguing to paddle a river that was once a major transportation route.
The prodigious flow of the Altamaha is as advertised. Our trip was after some good rains, but it was still at or below normal water levels.
Most stretches are extremely remote and there is lots of wildlife: alligators, bald eagles, swallowtail kites, jumping mullet, etc.