Savannah River: Little River Branch

A relaxing, 6-mile day-trip around Germain Island

Just a few minutes north of Augusta, GA is a cozy paddling spot known as the Little River, a scenic 3-mile branch of the Savannah River as it wraps around Germain Island. To get there, simply drive north out of Augusta on Hwy 28. Turn left at Hardy McManus road, drive approximately half of a mile, and turn right into Riverside Park and Recreation Area (at Riverside Elementary School). At the end of the road, you will find a boat ramp, parking area, fishing dock, and restroom facilities.

Launch from the muddy bank to the right of the ramp and paddle straight ahead (follow the marked channel). About 100 yards from shore, you will enter the Little River. Turn left to circumnavigate Germain Island clockwise: traveling up the Little River about 3 miles, back down the Savannah River along the outside of Germain Island, then returning back up the Little River about half of a mile to Riverside Park. Turn right, to circumnavigate the island counterclockwise.

Both routes will expose you to the same scenery and mileage (approximately 6 miles); however, if you prefer to avoid the wider, less intimate main channel of the Savannah River (and its occasional boat traffic), you can simply travel up the Little River and back down the same way (reducing the trip distance to about 5 miles). Whichever route you choose, expect to see several herons, hawks, turtles, and fish.

With its fairly shallow depth (often as little as 1 to 3 feet deep) the Little River affords enjoyable underwater scenery much like a gigantic fresh-water aquarium: green algae, colored rocks, submerged stumps, patterns of sand and clay, and fish or turtles darting about. There is also a pleasantly-landscaped golf-course along part of the shoreline which breaks up the otherwise dense foliage for several hundred yards. And, at lower water levels, expect to see a charming little waterfall or shallow rapids flowing in from a small reservoir near the middle of the Little River also.

On the outer (eastern) side of Germain Island, the main channel of the Savannah River becomes noticeably less scenic, but, at the right times and seasons, still offers attractive views of foliage and open sky. Deeper and wider than the Little River, the main channel may also expose paddlers to stronger winds, choppier water, and more frequent powerboat traffic. And, of course, it bears more visible signs of "civilization," including a long row of houses and a well-traveled highway bridge near the southern end of Germain Island.

During two separate visits to the Little River—both at mid-day on perfect-weather weekends—I encountered very mild currents, very little powerboat traffic (2 fishing boats), and very little "urban noise" except for traffic sounds from the highway below Germain Island and the sound of a lawnmower on the golf course. Otherwise, I was delighted by the tranquility and scenery of the Little River—especially considering its close proximity to downtown Augusta. For quick day-trips in close driving distance, this trip is hard to beat, and one I'm sure I'll repeat often when I'm craving a quick paddling-fix. Many river routes are either too short or too long to make for convenient day-trip, but at 6 miles, this trip is just long enough to feel satisfying without eating up your entire day.

Reasonably fit paddlers should expect to set aside 3 hours to circumnavigate Germain Island. The 6-mile trip can be completed much quicker, but the Little River is most enjoyable when you paddle it slowly, trying to sneak up on herons and turtles, or watching for fish swimming under your hull. Physically-challenged paddlers, paddlers with young children, bird watchers, or paddlers who need to take frequent rests may want to set aside up to 5 hours to complete the circumnavigation, or may want to confine their trip to the Little River instead of the more exposed and traveled channel of the Savannah River.

In warmer weather, the Little River offers plenty of nice, shallow, sandy-bottomed areas that would be ideal for wading and swimming, but keep an eye out for snakes and be sure to keep lifejackets on younger swimmers, as currents can change abruptly due to releases from Thurmond Dam, which is only a few miles upriver. Since the water is fairly cool (much cooler than a few miles upstream, on Clarks Hill/Thurmond Lake), some paddlers will also want to bring along a light rain-jacket or windbreaker in case they get chilled.

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© 2007, Wesley Kisting

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