Never Winter – Family Whitewater Adventures in Columbus, Georgia

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It’s winter and for most people the kayaking season has been over for a few months. For those in the northern hemispheres that are still paddling, you are likely wearing a lot of layers to ward off the chill. Time to think about heading SOUTH for warm water and warm weather…

Most people think that they can’t go off on a winter kayaking trip unless they are solid class 4/5 paddlers, and you definitely can’t go with kids! This is absolutely not the case! Over a series of four posts, we are going to lay out our experiences and recommendations for heading south as a kayaking family.

Destination #4 is Columbus, Georgia which is located in the southern United States. It’s not what you traditionally think of in terms of warm water paddling but compared to the rest of North America – it is warm and is fairly easily accessible. The water runs all winter long and the temps are rarely below freezing. The average high in the coolest months of December and January is a balmy 59 F (15c)! November and March are great times to either extend your season or kick off your season, with temps almost hitting 70f (20c).

The Chattahoochee River runs right through town and acts as the border between Columbus, GA and Phenix City, Alabama. Columbus has a small airport but flights may be more economical landing in Atlanta, just a few hours away.

We have always travelled there in our RV however there are 2 hotels that are right on the river and within easy walking distance: Columbus Marriott and Courtyard by Marriott (Phenix City). There are also 2 great outfitters in Columbus that can help get any trip organized – Outside World Columbus and Whitewater Express. You can also rent boats/paddles from the outfitters if you don’t want to fly with your gear. If you will be travelling by RV, be sure to message us and we can give you tips and suggestions.

The Chattahoochee River is a 2.5 mile stretch of river that runs from the dam through to the whitewater park. It is anywhere from class II – class IV depending on the level of the river and the feature you are on. It is dam controlled with traditionally lower flows in the morning and higher flows in the late afternoon/evening as the power company needs to make hydro. One of the best parts is that there are lights in the play park at night so you can paddle when it’s dark out – that is an adventure in itself!

The Chattahoochee is big water, which makes things a bit pushy. At the same time, it’s warm and a great place to learn. Lots of room to roll up after every feature. Any rapid on the river run has an easy line and a hard line and the park and play whitewater park right in town allows you to play at the spot that best lines up with your skills. There is a big flatwater pond for smaller kids, trailing small waves off the back of the island to practice your ferrying, small and medium surf waves and then the big bouncy “Good Wave”, which definitely packs a punch at 3 generators! It is considered on par with Garb wave on the Ottawa.

Things to think about when considering Columbus:

  • Consider what your normal temperature threshold is when packing. We are northerners so what is considered “cold” in Columbus was still quite warm for us. On our last visit in late November we were wearing swim tops and shorty dry tops while the locals had switched to full dry tops.
  • Both Outside World and Whitewater Express are amazing ambassadors for kayaking – check in with them before you go to get some beta and drop by when you are in town to see about getting shuttles to the dam so you can run the river
  • There are many affordable restaurants in Uptown Columbus, which is only 2 blocks from the river. Our favourites are the pizza place and the burrito place.
  • Chat with the local paddlers and they will give you lots of great information
  • Take time to check out the fabulous museums and science centres in town – they are amazing resources and lots of fun for kids. The riverwalk runs right along the river and is an easy walk or bike to most sights and locations

The Vincent Family ( // // // )

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