Paddling the Chattooga River

Chattooga River at a glance

Price: $
Class of Rapids: II-I!
Trip Miles: Section 3: 5 to 14 miles, Section 4: 6 to 8 miles
Trip Duration: 1 day
Season: March-November
Raft Type: Paddle Raft
River Sections: Sections 3&4
Nearby Towns: Clayton (GA), Long Creek (SC)
Driving Times: Atlanta (GA): 2 hours; Knoxville (TN): 3 hours

advertisement

Paddling the Chattooga River
The Chattooga River is one of the few remaining free-flowing streams in the Southeast. The setting is primitive. Dense forests and undeveloped shorelines characterize the primitive nature of the area. Floaters, hikers, and fishermen can all enjoy this protected river corridor.

The river begins in mountainous North Carolina as small rivulets, nourished by springs and abundant rainfall, high on the slopes of the Appalachian Mountains - the start of a fifty-mile journey that ends at Lake Tugaloo between Georgia and South Carolina. From its origin, it flows southward for ten miles in North Carolina, and then continues for forty miles as the state boundary between South Carolina and Georgia, dropping almost one-half mile in elevation.

On May 10, 1974, Congress designated the Chattooga a Wild and Scenic River. Few rivers possess the special characteristics to qualify. This protection is reserved for rivers possessing not only outstanding scenery but also recreation, wildlife, geologic, and cultural values. No motorized vehicles are permitted within a corridor about one-fourth mile wide on either side of the river. Human-made facilities are minimal, consisting primarily of hiking trails and primitive camping facilities.

However, Wild and Scenic River designation and protection of its corridor are not all that the Chattooga needs to stay healthy. Pollution of a river's tributaries along with careless development in the river's watershed threaten the river. A group of tour outfitters, including the Nantahala Outdoor Center, have teamed up with concerned citizens to protect the river, conserving it for future generations.

The River by Sections
Headwaters to State Highway 28 Bridge: Through the Chattooga River Gorge. Waterfalls & impenetrable rapids. No boating.
Floating Section I: West Fork to Main River: Trout fishing and gentle canoe ride
Floating Section II: State Highway 28 Bridge to Earl's Ford: Medium excitement - one class 3 rapid
Floating Section III: Earl's Ford to U.S. 76 Bridge: Where the banjos pick up speed. For experts only.
Floating Section IV: U.S. 76 to Tugaloo Lake: The most challenging rapids of all.

Headwaters to State Highway 28 Bridge -- No Boating
Under the shadow of Whiteside Mountain, the highest sheer cliffs in the East, the Chattooga headwaters spill over small ledges and waterfalls. Much of the first six miles is privately owned with limited public access. The waters then enter the narrow Chattooga River gorge. In the next twenty miles the river gathers momentum through remote country, following a narrow, twisting route over continuous rapids, huge boulders and self-cut rock flumes, slowing only occasionally in quiet, deep pools.

At the end of this stretch the River breaks free from the gorge, flowing relatively wide and smooth for six miles through an area bounded by old fields.

Only three bridges, Grimshaws, Bullpen and Burrells' Ford, cross the River on this section. Below the Bullpen Bridge at the state line is the Ellicott's Rock Wilderness, named after a famous surveyor who determined the western boundaries between North Carolina and Georgia.

Burrells' Ford Campground, located just below the bridge on Burrells' Ford Road, is a 350-yard walk from a parking lot. It can be enjoyed by people who camp in areas where cars are prohibited.

Floating Section I: West Fork to Main River
The merging of three streams at Three Forks of northeastern Georgia forms the West Fork of the Chattooga River. The 3 miles (5.3 km) above Overflow Bridge provides good fishing for native trout. Because of the extremely rough terrain and lack of access, at least 1/2 day is necessary to view this segment. The use of floating equipment is impractical. The southeastern (lower) four-mile section (6.4 km) of the River is a slow moving, gentle stream which is suitable for the novice canoer.

Average floating time for this section is based on the gauge on the west end of the State Highway 28 bridge.

Floating Times
Water Level at 0.5 feet

- Inner Tube: 4 hours
- Raft: 3 hours
- Canoe or Kayak: 2 hours

Water Level at 1.0 foot
- Inner Tube: 3 hours
- Raft: 2 hours
- Canoe or Kayak: 1.5 hours

Water Level at 2.0 feet
- Inner Tube: 2 hours
- Raft: 1 hour
- Canoe or Kayak: 1 hour

Floating Section II: State Highway 28 Bridge to Earl's Ford
The Chattooga River is relatively calm for about 7 miles. Shelf-like rapids and only one Class 3 rapid (Big Shoals) make this portion of the river an excellent area for novice whitewater boaters.

The major put-in point is at State Highway 28 where a 30-yard portage is required. Most boaters take out at Earl's Ford and carry their equipment 1/4-mile (420 meters) to reach vehicles. Average floating times for Section 11 are based on the gauge on the west end of the State Highway 28 Bridge.

Floating Times
Water Level at 0.5 feet

- Inner Tube: 8 hours
- Raft: 4 hours
- Canoe or Kayak: 4 hours

Water Level at 1.0 foot
- Inner Tube: 3 hours
- Raft: 2 hours
- Canoe or Kayak: 1.5 hours

Water Level at 2.0 feet
- Inner Tube: 5 hours
- Raft: 3 hours
- Canoe or Kayak: 2 hours

Floating Section III: Earl's Ford to U.S. 76 Bridge
At Earl's Ford, Chattooga River again gathers momentum as it plunges over ledges, around boulders, and through steep gorges. This section requires expertise. Scouting of rapids is necessary. Numerous deaths have occurred along this segment of the river. To enter this 1 4-mile section at Earl's Ford requires a 1/4-mile walk in.

A good test of your boating ability is at Warwoman Rapid (the second rapid), located about 1/4-mile (400 meters) below Earl's Ford. This rapid requires an S-shaped maneuver near the left bank. If you have problems here, turn back, as much more difficult rapids lie ahead.

At the Narrows, vertical rock walls constrict the river to a dangerous 1 5-foot wide channel which is nearly impossible to portage. Bull Sluice, a Class 5 rapid, is encountered in a blind curve about 400 yards (370 meters) before the U.S. 76 Bridge. Scouting Bull Sluice is mandatory; portaging is recommended for all but expert boaters. Persons familiar with the river can recognize it by the large exposed rock dome on the Georgia side.

U.S. 76 Bridge Gauge Floating Times
Water Level at 1.0 foot
- Raft: 8 hours
- Canoe: 6 hours
- Kayak: 6 hours

Water Level at 2.0 feet
- Raft: 6 hours
- Canoe: 5 hours
- Kayak: 4 hours

Water Level at 3.0 feet
- Raft: 5 hours
- Canoe: 4 hours
- Kayak: 3 hours

Earl's Ford Gauge Floating Times
Water Level at 1.0 foot
- Raft: 8 hours
- Canoe: 7 hours
- Kayak: 6 hours

Water Level at 2.0 feet
- Raft: 6 hours
- Canoe: 5 hours
- Kayak: 4 hours

Water Level at 3.0 feet
- Raft: 5 hours
- Canoe: 4 hours
- Kayak: 3 hours

Floating Section IV: U.S. 76 to Tugaloo Lake
To enter this 7-mile (11 km) section one must carry-in 225 yards (200 M) from the parking lot on the South Carolina side of the river.

The River flows quietly under the U.S. 76 Bridge, then around the bend it begins to drop rapidly. The rapids are closer together and far more treacherous than encountered in earlier sections. Two miles below U.S. 76 is Woodall Shoals, a massive rock extending from the South Carolina side which appears to block the channel . This is the most dangerous rapid on the River. Portaging around the first drop of this rapid is recommended as the river hydraulic often"captures" boats and people holding them for indefinite lengths of time.

The road and parking areas located 350 yards (325 meters) from Woodall Shoals, offers an opportunity for boaters to leave the River. The River below Woodall Shoals approaches the limit of open canoes, and only expert boaters should attempt this final portion. The River narrows to half its width before Seven Foot Falls. It contains numerous class 3-4 rapids before entering the most difficult section of the river - Five Falls. Undercut rocks, hydraulics, and five rapids of varying intensity (Class 3 to 5) occurring within a 500-yard distance make this area very dangerous. A short distance below Five Falls, the Chattooga River is stilled by the waters of Lake Tugaloo. Boaters must paddle two miles (3 km) across the lake to the take-out boat landing.

U.S. 76 to Woodall Shoals Floating Times
Water Level at 1.0 foot
- Raft: 1.5 hours
- Canoe: 1 hour
- Kayak: 0.75 hours

Water Level at 2.0 feet
- Raft: 1 hour
- Canoe: 0.75 hours
- Kayak: 0.5 hours

Water Level at 2.5 feet
- Raft: 0.75 hours
- Canoe: 0.5 hours
- Kayak: 0.5 hours

U.S. 76 to Lake Tugaloo Floating Times
Water Level at 1.0 foot
- Raft: 8 hours
- Canoe: 7 hours
- Kayak: 6 hours

Water Level at 2.0 feet
- Raft: 7 hours
- Canoe: 6 hours
- Kayak: 5 hours

Water Level at 2.5 feet
- Raft: 6 hours
- Canoe: 5 hours
- Kayak: 4 hours

Regulations Of Use

  1. Each float party leader must register.
  2. All floaters, on sections 111 and IV, must wear a life jacket rated "Coast Guard Approved." On sections I and 11, boaters must have life saving device.
  3. All persons in decked craft, and ALL floaters below Woodall Shoals, must wear a helmet.
  4. Minimum Party size: Above Earls Ford - 2 persons, 1 craft; Below Earls Ford - 2 persons, 2 craft.
  5. Innertubes are prohibited below Earls Ford.
  6. Rafts must have a minimum of two air chambers.
  7. All floating is prohibited north of State Hwy. 28.
  8. Air mattresses, motorized craft, or other craft deemed unsuitable by the U.S. Forest Service are prohibited.
  9. Motorized vehicles are prohibited on all closed roads.
  10. All commercial trips on the River must be under a special use permit issued by the Forest Service at Walhalla.
  11. Camping is permitted at any location within the corridor (not closed by signs) that is more than 1/4 mile from a road and that is at least 50 feet from a trail, stream, or the river.

Information
For information on the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River, contact the national forest offices: in South Carolina, the Andrew Pickens Ranger District of the Francis Sumter National Forest. In North Carolina, the Highlands Ranger District of the Nantahalla National Forest. And in Georgia, the Tallulah Ranger District of the Chattahooche National Forest. In case of emergencies call the Sheriff's office. They will contact the appropriate rescue teams.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 26 May 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

advertisement

park finder
step one
Where are you going?


step one
What do you want to do?

+ More Activities


GEARZILLA: The Gorp Gear Blog

Receive Gear Reviews, Articles & Advice

Email:
Preview this newsletter »

Ask Questions