Chattooga River: An Overview

The Chattooga 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.

The 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.

Because of the difficulty of keeping camping equipment dry in boats on the Chattooga, most camping is done by hikers. More than 50 miles of hiking trails traverse three states. Additional trails are planned; hikers should contact a Forest Service office for the latest trail information.

Trails in North Carolina are short, passing steep cliffs near the headwaters: Sandbars and quiet pools between cascading falls provide ideal spots for picnicking and swimming.

Trails in South Carolina are longer, extending from Ellicott's Rock to State Highway 28. The hiker is exposed to every facet of the river environment; deep coves, rapids, and ridge lines. It takes about 2 days to hike the 19 miles of trail in South Carolina.

About 3.7 miles above Highway 28 bridge, the Chattooga River Trail and the Bartram Trail join to continue southward along the River and across the West Branch. At Sandy Ford, the Bartram Trail branches off westward; the Chattooga River Trail continues southward for 10 more miles, terminating at U.S. Highway 76.

The Foothills Trail runs between Spoon Auger Falls and a point just north of Big Bend Falls, connecting at both points with the Chattooga River Trail. This trail runs alongside the river at some points, and high above along the ridge crest at others. This trail requires 2-3 days to hike comfortably. Additional trails are in the vicinity.

Some people enjoy the challenge of hiking cross country in areas where there are no trails. Large areas within the Chattooga River Corridor have been left undeveloped to provide a sense of solitude.

Hikers frequently try to cover too many miles per day, and therefore lack the time to enjoy the natural surroundings. Many find 6-8 miles per day is a good distance with a backpack on a good trail.

When traveling cross country, five miles may require a full day where vegetation is thick and rock outcrops numerous. Steep terrain often requires hikers to search for level spots in which to pitch a tent.

Opportunities for wildlife observation and fishing abound within the Chattooga Corridor. State and Wildlife agencies control hunting and fishing. Since the regulations and seasons vary between the states, contact the proper agency for information and license requirements.

The best brown and rainbow trout fishing on the Chattooga is above State Highway 28 Bridge. Brook trout are also present in most tributaries. Trout stocking is done at the bridges. Redeye (Coosa) bass are plentiful in the lower areas.

The climate in the river corridor is cooler than the surrounding area. July temperatures in the lower portions may reach 90 degrees; the upper areas are about 10 degrees cooler. Summer nights are a comfortable 65-70 degrees. During the winter, temperatures may drop below freezing most nights. Temperatures below 10 degrees are fairly common on the upper mountainous areas. Hypothermia, killer of the unprepared, occurs when a person's body loses more heat than it can generate. It strikes boaters, hikers, hunters, or anyone in the outdoors. Hypothermia is most likely to occur between October and April. Warmth should be provided by clothing layers which can be removed or added to meet the needs.

Annual rainfall varies from over 80 inches on the headwaters to about 50 inches on the lower end. Rains are heavy during the winter. Short duration thunderstorms occur frequently during the summer.

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


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