Coosa River System
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Creating one of Georgia's 14 major watersheds, the Coosa River is formed by the merging of the Oostanaula and Etowah rivers at Rome, Georgia. It flows westward 30 miles in Georgia before reaching the Alabama state line and then merges with the Tallapoosa River 18 miles northeast of Montgomery to form the Alabama River. The Alabama merges with the Tombigbee north of Mobile to form the Mobile River and reaches the Gulf of Mexico at Mobile Bay. (The map pin is located in Rome where the Oostanaula and Etowah rivers merge to form the Coosa.).
Download a 4-color poster of the Coosa watershed in PDF format (10-11 MB files). Download posters for all of Georgia’s 14 major watersheds. These posters can be examined in detail using Adobe Acrobat, printed in small format on a desktop printer or downloaded to a local print shop and printed in full-size 24” X 36” format.
The Coosa River System
The junction of the Oostanaula and Etowah rivers at Rome, Georgia form the Coosa River. Their headwaters, which rise in the Blue Ridge Mountains, include the Conasauga, Coosawattee, Cartecay and Ellijay rivers as well as scenic mountain streams flowing along steep, narrow, forested valleys among high, rounded mountains. The Oostanaula River is 47 miles long and has a relatively flat slope. The Etowah River is 150 miles long; rising in the Blue Ridge Mountains, it falls steeply for about 60 miles, then more moderately for the remaining distance to its junction with the Oostanaula. Allatoona Dam, completed on the Etowah in 1955, impounds Allatoona Reservoir. From Rome, the Coosa flows southwesterly about 286 miles to join with the Tallapoosa River in forming the Alabama River. The Alabama River flows 314 miles to join the Tombigbee River and become the Mobile River north of Mobile. The Mobile River flows 45 miles to enter the Gulf of Mexico at Mobile Bay. Total distance from the beginning of the Coosa in Rome to Mobile Bay is approximately 645 miles.
How the Coosa River Got Its Name
Coosa was the name of a number of Creek Indian towns throughout northern Georgia and Alabama and was also the name given the Upper Creeks by the Cherokees. The exact meaning is unknown, but it may have come from the Choctaw kusha, meaning cane or canebrake.
The Coosa River Basin Initiative is a 501c3 grassroots environmental organization based in Rome, Georgia with the mission of informing and empowering citizens so that they may become involved in the process of creating a clean, healthy and economically viable Coosa River Basin.
Listed below are locations where you can see or experience the Coosa River or its tributaries.
Amicalola Falls State Park
Amicalola, a Cherokee Indian word meaning “tumbling waters,” is an apt name for these 729-foot falls, the highest in Georgia. An 8-mile approach trail leads from the park to Springer Mountain, the southern end of the 2,150-mile Appalachian Trail; however, numerous other trails are available for shorter journeys. A beautiful lodge is popular with guests who prefer hotel-type comforts over cottages and camping, while a 5-mile hike leads to more remote accommodations at the Len Foote Hike Inn. The park office has nature displays, live exhibits and a gift shop.
The Watershed Connection: From its source in the North Georgia mountains near the beginning of the Appalachian Trail, water from the 729-foot Amicalola Falls flows into the Etowah River via Amicalola Creek. The Etowah forms Lake Allatoona near Cartersville in the Georgia Piedmont region. Below Allatoona Dam, the Etowah runs west to Rome where it merges with the Oostanaula to form the Coosa River. Continuing west, the Coosa merges with the Tallapoosa at Montgomery to form the Alabama River. Above Mobile the Alabama is joined by the Tombigbee. Those two rivers become the Mobile, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico at Mobile Bay.
Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site
Visit the fortified aboriginal center that was the home to several thousand people more than 400 years ago. Walk among the mounds, the largest standing 63 feet tall and covering 3 acres. Tour the museum where artifacts and exhibits interpret daily life in this once self-sufficient Native American community. The Etowah Indian Mounds symbolize a society rich in ritual. Towering over the community, these flat-topped earthen knolls were used between 1000 and 1500 AD as platforms for temples, mortuaries and homes of the village’s priest-chiefs. In some mounds, nobility was buried in elaborate costumes and accompanied by items they would need in their afterlives. Although the Etowah people left no written records, artifacts help explain their lives and culture. Many artifacts at the museum show that the natives of this political and religious center decorated themselves with shell beads, tattoos, paint, complicated hairdos, feathers and copper ear ornaments. Well-preserved stone effigies and objects made of wood, seashells, stone and copper are also displayed.
The Watershed Connection: This historic Native American village sits on the Etowah River and provides visitors with a dramatic illustration of the intimate interconnectivity between Native American life and rivers. The Etowah has its origins high in the North Georgia mountains near the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. A few miles east of the park it forms Lake Allatoona. West of the mounds, the Etowah joins the Oostanaula in Rome and forms the Coosa. Its waters eventually make their way to Gulf of Mexico via the Coosa, Alabama and Mobile Rivers.
Fort Mountain State Park
Fort Mountain derives its name from an ancient 855-foot-long rock wall that stands on the highest point of the mountain. This mysterious wall is thought to have been built by Indians as fortification against more hostile Indians or for ancient ceremonies. Situated in the Chattahoochee National Forest, close to the Cohutta wilderness area, this park offers a variety of outdoor activities. Hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders will find some of the most beautiful trails in northern Georgia, most of which wind through hardwood forests and blueberry thickets, occasionally crossing streams and providing spectacular vistas. During the summer, children will enjoy the sand beach located on the clear mountain lake.
The Watershed Connection: The small mountainous creeks and streams in Fort Mountain State Park soon channel their way into the Connasauga River. The Connasauga joins the Coosawattee near Calhoun to form the Oostanaula. The Ostanaula and the Etowah meet in Rome to form the Coosa. The Coosa finds its way to the Gulf of Mexico at Mobile via the Alabama and Mobile Rivers.
James H. (Sloppy) Floyd State Park
Surrounded by rural countryside and the Chattahoochee National Forest, this quiet park in Northwest Georgia offers good fishing on two stocked lakes. Visitors can hike along 3 miles of lake loop trails. The trailhead to the scenic 60-mile Pinhoti Trail is only a 1.6-mile hike from the park. The park was named for Representative James H. “Sloppy” Floyd who served in the Georgia House of Representatives from 1953 until 1974.
The Watershed Connection: The park is on Taylors Ridge, which runs north-to-south in the Chattahoochee National Forest. An intricate network of tributaries drains the rain falling on James H. Floyd Park into the Coosa River, where it eventually reaches the Gulf of Mexico at Mobile Bay via the Coosa, Alabama and Mobile Rivers.
Red Top Mountain State Park
This park on 12,000-acre Lake Allatoona provides opportunities for swimming, boating and fishing. Visitors can bring their own boats or rent from nearby marinas. Several hiking trails wind through the wooded park, offering a chance to look for wildlife and explore a reconstructed 1860s homestead. The park’s lodge, restaurant and meeting facilities make it attractive for family reunions and business groups. A paved trail behind the restaurant is suitable for wheelchairs and strollers. Named for the soil’s rich red color caused by high iron-ore content, Red Top Mountain was once an important mining area for iron.
The Watershed Connection: The Etowah River, the main stream filling Lake Allatoona, begins at an elevation of some 3,560 feet on Hawk Mountain in North Georgia’s Lumpkin County just a few miles from the southern end of the Appalachian Trail. Below Allatoona Dam, the Etowah continues to Rome where it merges with the Oostanaula to form the Coosa River. The Coosa joins the Tallapoosa in Montgomery, Alabama to form the Alabama River. Just north of Mobile, the Alabama River is joined by the Tombigbee and becomes the Mobile River, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico at Mobile Bay.
Confluence of the Etowah and the Oostanaula Although the merging of two rivers to form one river is common in Georgia, it’s unusual to have the opportunity to witness such an occurrence without being in a boat on the water. In winter, when trees are bare, the highest point in Rome’s Myrtle Hill Cemetery is a good vantage point to see the Etowah and Oostanaula rivers merge to form the Coosa. (Take Broad St to South Broad St and the Cemetery entrance.) A closer view of the same merging of rivers is available from the 2nd Avenue pedestrian bridge (take Broad St to 2nd Avenue).
Lock and Dam Park
In addition to being a good place to enjoy both the outdoors and water, the Lock and Dam Park illustrates the region’s (and all of Georgia’s) early river history. During the mid-1800s, before the lock and dam were built, the Coosa was busy with steamboats and barges carrying freight, passengers and mail between Rome and Greenport, Alabama. The boats had difficulty navigating some parts of the river, one of the worst points being Horseleg Shoals. Occasionally, temporary “dams” were devised by local citizens along the sides of the Coosa to create deeper water for navigation. Because of such problems, it was decided to make the Coosa River completely navigable. Six locks and dams were completed, the first in 1880. Construction of the lock and dam at what was known as Mayo’s Bar began in 1910 and opened for navigation in 1913. The lock was officially closed in 1941. Today a 730-acre regional park serves as a popular campground and fishing area while remaining one of Floyd County’s early historical landmarks.
Tagged with: Rivers Streams and Creeks in Georgia
The Conasauga leaps to life high on the pristine slopes of the Cohutta Wilderness of northwest Georgia. Adventuresome paddlers with the favor of the rain gods smiling upon them can catch the adrenaline rush through the upper section, a steep Class III - IV+ descent through an isolated forest wilderness. After bounding to its meeting with the Jacks River, the Conasauga ratchets down a notch as it veers north into Tennessee and takes a serpentine course along the Tennessee-Georgia border before turning south into Georgia for good, transformed into a meandering valley river that becomes increasingly burdened with the by-products of human activity as it approaches its junction with the Coosawattee near Calhoun.View an Interactive Map showing the locations of start points for shuttles.
The Jacks River is a spectacularly beautiful "steep creek," which drains a high mountainous area of northern Gilmer and western Fannin Counties, and flows northeast to join the Conasauga River just north of the Tennessee BOlder. Two sections totaling over 17 miles drop at an average rate of90 feet per mile, and are runnable by advanced and expert boaters after heavy rains. The Jacks flows almost entirely within the 36,977-acre Cohutta Wilderness of the Chattahoochee National Forest, and offirs some of the finest whitewater in the Southeast. Its wilderness designation protects the river's pristine beauty and excellent water quality, but presents major access problems, since all of the roads which lead to its most navigable parts have been closed to vehicles 3.5 or more miles from the river, since 1975.
The Cartecay is one of the most popular whitewater rivers in the mountains of northern Georgia. The first 3 miles of scenic paddling are a placid prelude to 7 miles of outstanding whitewater. Many people live on the banks of the Cartecay; lawns that stretch down to the edge of the river are common below Lower Cartecay Road. Paddlers and area residents maintain a generally amicable relationship that becomes strained from time to time. Be on your best behavior as you play alongside their backyards.
The Coosawattee River is the lost gem of North Georgia's whitewater streams. Said to have rivaled the Chattooga River, the most dramatic portions of the Coosawattee now lie stilled beneath the surface of Carters Lake. A sense of what the Coosawattee was and what it has become is masterfully conveyed by James Dickey's poem "On the Coosawattee. " It has been suggested that Dickey's experiences on the river before it was dammed were a major influence on his novel Deliverance. The Ellijay and Cartecay Rivers meet in Ellijay to form the Coosawattee; 9.3 miles of pleasing Class I and II rapids remain of the upper section. Below the dam, the Coosawattee snakes along a sedate course across Gordon County before it merges with the Conasauga River to become the Oostanaula River.
Located west of Ellijay, Mountaintown Creek is a delightfol stream that moves at a good clip through many Class I and II rapids that build in frequency and intensity before the creek ends 6 miles below the put-in. Paddling Mountaintown Creek commits you to an additional section of easy whitewater on the wide Coosawattee and a paddle down the still waters of Carters Lake to reach the nearest take-out point. Although the lake paddling portion is less than exciting, Mountaintown Creek itself never bores.
Catching the elusive Talking Rock Creek is a bit like sighting a rare and beautifol bird. Its watershed is narrow, making it difficult to find the creek at a navigable level that will hold out for the two days normally required to paddle it. Journeying through a small gorge environment that remains mostly wild and remote even by today's standards, Talking Rock after a good rain serves up a rollicking fost Class II ride that is worth the wait.
The name Oostanaula is a derivation of the Cherokee phrase for "Shoal River. " The inspiration behind the name is a mystery, since the gradient of the stream averages less than 1 foot per mile. There are occasionally ripples, but rapids are nonexistent as the river loops lazily across Gordon and Floyd Counties on its way to Rome, where it combines with the Etowah to form the Coosa River. Less than 50 miles in length, the Oostanaula is formed by the union of the Coosawattee and Conasauga rivers.
The Amicalola gets its name from the Cherokee phrase for tumbling water. It's called a creek on most maps, but if it is merely a creek, it is an awesome one. The scenery is spectacular, and the rapids are sometimes stupendous. It is hard to describe this stream without superlatives, so if it really is just a creek, it is simply the best whitewater creek in the state. Located entirel]y in Dawson County, its upper east fork, Little Amicalola Creek, contains the famous Amicalola Falls.
Fortunately for those seeking wooded solitude, few paddlers frequent the shy Tallapoosa. Despite the periodic bridge crossings, the river offers seclusion and serene beauty. Rolling hills stretch in all directions, but dense streamside flora and high banks usually block the view. The current is moderate; infrequent small shoals and rocky bluffs add spice. The most enjoyable sections are located due west of Atlanta on the Alabama border in Haralson County.
Tumbling out of the southern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Etowah is a strikingly beautiful stream suitable for beginners during most seasons of the year. Only after nearly 140 miles of navigable river does the Etowah change names, becoming the Alabama-bound Coosa as it meets the Oostanaula in Rome. In the upper sections, the Etowah delights paddlers as a pristine whitewater stream surrounded by primitive woodlands, then it winds through forests and valley farmland, making a brief subterranean plunge through a mining tunnel. After being impounded by a dam, the lower Etowah emerges as a larger river that curls through the barely rollingfarmland spotted with industry east of Rome.
Located approximately 40 miles west of Rome, Georgia, the Little River Canyon is an impressive sandstone-granite gorge through which a sparkling clear stream runs. The Little River has deep mirror-surfoced pools, gentle ripples, and boulder-smashing, highly technical whitewater. The water is usually clear, with deep, shimmering, turquoise pools. Cedars, pines, hardwoods, and, in spring, a profosion of wildflowers adorn the cliffi on either side of the river. Small tributaries plummet to merge with the primary flow, creating many intimate coves with excellent photographic potential. Paddlers shouldn't become too enthralled with the scenic vistas, however, becauser the river demands your foIl attention at times. Rapids are numerous and good boat control is essential. If dependable eddy turns, ferrying skills, and good judgment are not part of your paddling program, then do not venture here. Boaters should have at least intermediate skills before attempting the easier Chairlift section.
The Coosa River is formed as the waters of the Etowah and the Oostanaula merge in downtown Rome. As it chugs along toward Alabama, the river largely leaves the industrial development of Rome behind and the surrounding land reverts to gentle form land hills. The flow of the river is extremely sluggish through its straighter sections. Upon reaching the Weiss Lake backwaters near the state border, the current stops altogether and the river adopts the meandering habit of a Coastal Plains stream.
Georgia's other Chattooga River snakes between the Armuchee Ridges in the northwestern corner of the state. Docile in character, the river gurgles gently through the towns and industry of Trion, Summerville, and Lyerly on its way to the Coosa River in Weiss Lake. Sandstone ridges including Dirtseller Mountain and Taylor Ridge rise on either side of the river, making for visually engaging scenery without generating any significant rapids.
Big Cedar Creek, tucked into the hills southwest of Rome, pleases with a seemingly incongruous slice of central-Tennessee scenery mixed with Class I and II shoals. The glades of large eastern red cedar that inspired the creek's name are mostly gone, supplanted by longleafpines and mixed hardwoods. Flowing to the northwest out of Polk County, the creek ends as a Coosa River tributary in Weiss Lake on the Georgia-Alabama border.