When I was in college, my friend’s family had a mountain house in the North Georgia mountains near Helen, Georgia. “It’s the Charm of Bavaria in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains”. I absolutely loved it up there, and fell in love with the charming, alpine themed “village”. What I remember most about driving around the area were the beautiful rolling rivers that lined the roads, and the incredible Blue Ridge Mountains. This was all I knew of North Georgia up until now.
“The Toccoa River and Ocoee River are the names in use for a single 93-mile-long (150 km)river that flows northwestward through the southern Appalachian Mountains of the southeastern United States. It is a tributary of the Hiwassee River, which it joins in Polk County, Tennessee, near the town of Benton. Three power generating dams are operate rated along it.” From Wikipedia.org
Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia, the Toccoa River Canoe Trail is a beautiful 14 mile run. We went and ran it over a weekend last July and had a great time.
The town of Blue Ridge, Georgia is a great place to stop and grab groceries as it’s the last town you come to before heading up the mountain. There’s a nice Ingle’s Market grocery store, and we stopped there to get everything we needed for the next few days.
As we brought our own boats, we needed to find an outfitter who could provide a shuttle. We called one Shannon had heard of before, Jon Ron Toccoa River outfitters. They’re located in Cherry Log, Georgia and as their office was right on our way to the campground we stopped by. The owner has an interesting collection that is something of a museum in the main office. I felt it would be rude to take photos of all of his treasures. What I remember seeing were some old shoes from the 1800’s, a huge Native American headdress, some Native American antique looking moccasins, lots of vintage toys, an old typewriter, a taxidermy snake, and some old army medals. There was ever so much more to take in! I could have stayed and looked at it for hours!
We drove strait to the town of Suches, Georgia which is where the Cooper’s Creek Forest Service Campground is located. Jon Ron Outfitters would be coming to meet us there in the morning and pick up the truck and trailer and drive it to the take out. There is a put in at the campground so we’d launch from there the next morning. As it was early afternoon, we did some trout fishing in the river near the campground, and when it proved to be slow going, we drove a couple miles back to where we’d seen a good spot
Side note – we had a few interesting encounters at the CCUSFS campground. You always expect raccoons to come in and raid your food and you never leave anything where they can get to it. We had some un-opened, vacuum packed black eyed peas that somehow got left on the table as it was well after dark when we cleaned up. Even with headlamps to help us see, it had started raining and we were in a bit of a hurry to get it all cleaned up so we could get out of the rain and into the tent. The pet dog at the site next door went nuts barking at our bandit, and he kept at it for what seemed like hours. The owner came and hushed him once or twice, but ultimately gave up. I doubt anyone in the entire campground slept through it. We found our package of peas the next morning had been chewed and destroyed right on the picnic table. This was no doubt the cause of the dog’s barking. Shannon reported also, that there had been a booze soaked shouting match between an angry couple across the way. Someone had revved an engine in a truck and screeched away in the wee hours. I slept right through that one. Needless to say, we didn’t have a peaceful night’s sleep.
The Jon Ron Outfitter van showed up around 10:30am as promised. They brought a full load of people who were renting boats for the day, and we hung back and let them clear out before we launched around 11:30am. Shannon looked over at me and said, “the water is too low, it’s probably not going to be any fun”.
They’d mentioned at Jon Ron that there was a “tricky” class II rapid just past the swinging bridge where “people have a lot of trouble”. They suggested we get out and check it out before we decided whether to run it on the “fun side” on the right, or the safe/boring left hand side. There were lots of people at the swinging bridge. It’s a short hike from a parking lot, and is easily accessed by those not floating the river. There were also many camp sights around it and they were mostly all occupied. The swinging bridge itself is about 50 feet (at least) in the air, and spans the width of the river. It’s a fun stop.
I almost chickened out, but decided to go for it in the end and ran it on the right-hand rapid side. Shannon led the way and I followed behind. It’s not easy to tell from the photo (above) , but as you get well past the bridge, there are a few drops and small waterfalls. It was SO much fun! We both took on a lot of water and had to stop just past the run to bail it out. As it was July, the break to cool off was welcomed.
The second night, we planned to find a spot along the river to camp. As we hadn’t set out until mid-day, we were only planning to float about 5-6 miles that first day, and that’s probably about how far we went. We usually try to get out of the river with enough daylight to enjoy ourselves and spend time fishing, swimming, and cooking dinner before dark.
Our camp was a good way back from the river. We had to make a few trips to and from the boats to un-load the gear, and on one of the trips Shannon discovered a big pile of fresh bear scat. He waited until we were fully set up to point it out to me, and he fully expected me to want to leave because of it. The fact of the matter is that moving a mile down the river wasn’t going to remove the inhabitants of the forest.
We brought hobo meals and cooked them in the fire (hamburger Pattys, potatoes, onion with Dale’s seasoning) . We added some sourdough bread, which we toasted over the fire with some butter and it was fantastic.
We had gotten to swim, fish, and enjoy dinner and just as we were finishing up, it started pouring down rain. We’d just gotten fully dry by the campfire, so we dashed into the tent and realized that we’d left one of the unfinished hobo meals right on the fire, (which was being doused by rain and would soon be put out completely). We were concerned about this attracting the bear and had planned to get up and move it up in the tree with the rest of the trash as soon as it stopped pouring rain. Meanwhile we laid down and rested our eyes having missed a good night’s sleep the night before. MANY times as I was falling asleep did I hear things that sounded like bears. We yelled out “hey bear” and “get out of here” a few times. Once I even sat strait up and swore up and down I heard a bear breathing and grunting right outside the tent. If it hadn’t been for the beer and the lack of adequate sleep the night before, I’d never have fallen asleep.
The next morning we woke up to no signs of any actual bears having been around. The leftover hobo meal was still sitting on top of the wet ashes from the campfire.
The float on the 2nd day was beautiful. In spite of the water being low, there were plenty of incredible fishing spots, and some fun rapids. Shannon caught a handful of trout. There are rainbow, brown, and brook trout all in this river.
We reached the Sandy Bottom take-out in late afternoon, and it was packed with people. Evidently it’s a popular spot to launch for “tubing” and there were several groups launching as we were packing up the boats. Shannon had to navigate some traffic in what was a small parking lot, but as usual, he got it done. We had a great float in spite of the low water levels, and caught some nice fish. On the way back through Blue Ridge, we stopped and ate some Mexican food in the same shopping center as the Ingles grocery store before driving home to Alabama. A fun float and we’ll probably do it again soon!