Weekend Backpacker: Atlanta
The Chattooga River is one of the most primitive free-flowing rivers in the southeast. The river is extremely popular with kayakers and rafters, who enjoy paddling through such rapids as Sockem Dog, Corkscrew, and Seven-Foot. The river gained national attention in the 1970s when the movie Deliverance used the Chattooga's fierce rapids to depict the an ill-fated paddling trip down the Cahulawassee River.
The Chattooga River Trail shares its footpath with the Bartram Trail, which follows the route taken by eighteenth-century naturalist William Bartram while touring the what is now the southeastern United States. In 1773, he traveled through North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina compiling one of the first comprehensive guides to American botany. Bartram's writings are often very spiritual in their portrayal of nature, and many readers today view him as something of a literary forefather to John Muir and Henry David Thoreau.
Recommended trip: Chattooga River Trail/Bartram Trail. The 10.7-mile Chattooga River Trail follows the Georgia side of the river upstream to meet the Bartram Trail near Sandy Ford Road. Here the Bartram Trail continues another twenty-seven miles to the Georgia-North Carolina border. Most of the hike is within the corridor protected by Wild and Scenic River status, but the first half of the trail occasionally loops out of the corridor onto roads where you may find jeep traffic.
If you are looking for a trail that parallels the river, this isn't it. Only 1.6 miles of this trail directly follow the river; the rest passes through mixed evergreen-deciduous forest as it winds along Lion Mountain. It does cross Chattooga tributaries and passes several good swimming holes. The trail continues northward toward the North Carolina border, crossing Rabun Bald, the second-highest mountain in Georgia at 4,696 feet. An observation tower offers excellent views.
Getting there: From Atlanta, take Interstate 85 north to Interstate 985. Continue to follow this road north when it becomes US 23 all the way to Clayton. In Clayton, go east on US 76 until you reach the parking lot at the river (about eight more miles).
Permit information: A permit is not required to hike the Chattooga River Trail.
Maps: A map is available from the district ranger's office or from most outdoors stores in the Atlanta area.
Practical information: This is a nice trip if you want to combine some rafting with a backpacking trip.
Recommended guides: The Hiking Trails of north Georgia by Tim Homan (Peachtree) is an excellent reference for this hike and others in the state parks of north Georgia.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication