The Chattooga rises as a sparkling mountain stream near Cashiers, NC, in the vicinity of Whitesides Mountain. It flows 10 miles before leaving North Carolina, and continuing on for some 40 miles as the boundary line between South Carolina and Georgia, before entering the impoundment at Lake Tugaloo. In this 50 miles the river drops 2,469 feet, for an average drop of 49.3 fpm.
The river cuts down the magnificent Chattooga Gorge, providing many rugged whitewater cascades through an area that is almost totally wild and natural. Upon reaching Nicholson Fields, above Rt. 28, it becomes a more pastoral area and continues as such to Turn Hole. Beyond there, it slowly begins to revert back to its wild and rugged characteristics and is accessible at only five points within the next 24 miles
It is one of the longest and largest free flowing rivers in the southeast and is the only mountain river in a four state area without substantial development along its banks. Its outstanding scenery and unspoiled wilderness will now be protected with its inclusion as the second National Wild and Scenic River, under Public Law 90-542. With this protection the river hopefully will be preserved in a natural state for generations to come, so that they may see what their forefathers saw a wild and free flowing river. In order to continue this preservation, certain conditions must be followed:
- Each float party leader must register.
- All floaters, including inner-tubers, must wear a life jacket rated"Coast Guard Approved."
- All persons in decked craft, and ALL floaters below Woodall Shoals, must wear a helmet.
- Minimum party size: Above Earls Ford-2 persons, 1 craft Below Earls Ford-2 persons, 2 craft.
- Inner-tubes are prohibited below Earls Ford.
- Rafts must have a minimum of two air chambers.
- All floating is prohibited north of SC 28.
- Air mattresses, motorized craft, or other craft deemed unsuitable by the US Forest Service, are prohibited.
The following conditions have been established for camping:
- 50 feet from river, stream, or hiking trail.
- 1/4 mile from a maintained road.
- 200 yards from any other occupied site.
- Fifteen persons maximum occupancy.
It should be noted that the stretch from Burrels Ford to SC 28 bridge, usually referred to as Section 1, has not been included because of the extreme gradient of the upper part of the section. Also, floating above Rt. 28 is prohibited at this time by the Forest Service.
The stream that heretofore had been known to a few trout fishermen, backpackers, and canoeists has been made famous by the film Deliverance. It brings many canoeists and rafters to the river who know little of what to expect and who quite often are ill equipped to handle what they find. Hopefully knowledge imparted here will persuade the unprepared adventure seeker to reconsider and arm himself with the skill that the Chattooga demands of those who seek her unspoiled beauty.
Rt. 28 bridge (Russell Bridge) to Earls Ford
Distance: 7 miles
Time: 3.5 hours
Water Quality: A
Gage: Metal gage on Georgia side of Rt. 28 bridge. A minimum reading of .72 and a maximum of 2.23 indicate the optimum levels.
Difficulties: The water is generally shallow and slow to the mouth of the West Fork where the current picks up.
Long Bottom Bridge, about 2.5 miles downstream, must be carried, so the novice paddler should approach with care.
Turn Hole is the first rapid of any consequence. Here the water pushes the canoe into the left bank and a strong pull to the right is necessary in order to stay out of the branches. Following Turn Hole is a series of rapids which require one to maneuver back and forth across the streambed.
Big Shoals, the Class 3, can be recognized by the big rock ledges that appear to block most of the center and left side. The run is to the far right through an open chute which twists slightly to the left at the bottom. The drop is about 5 feet. Scout from the ledge in the center and carry over there if necessary.
Small riffles and shoals continue on down to just above Earls Ford where passage becomes a little more complex. Beginners and novices should not attempt to continue beyond here.
Put-in: SC-GA 28 bridge.
Take-out: From Mountain Rest, SC on SC 28 go southwest on Rt. 258 which becomes Rt. 196 to the first 4-way stop intersection and bear right to the end of pavement and beyond on graded road to the river and Earls Ford. There is a 1,400 feet carry from the river to the parking area.
Earls Ford to US 76 Bridge
Distance: 12.5 miles
Time: 6 hours
Water Quality: A
Gage: USGS gage 75 yards downstream from US 76 bridge on the SC side. A reading of 1.3 to 2.0 is considered a minimum and maximum for open boats.
Difficulties: The second rapid below Earls Ford should be entered on the left side of the river, then turn hard left dropping over a 3-foot ledge which in lower water levels puts the bow on a rock just under the surface at the bottom. This gives the paddler a quick idea of whether he should be here or not. If trouble occurs here it is not too late to head back, for several rapids follow that are much more difficult.
About 400 yards beyond, the river passes through Rock Gardens, where great slabs of angular rock stick up out of the river. Several scenes in Deliverance were filmed here.
The next rapid of any consequence is Dick's Creek Ledge, which is recognized by Five Finger Falls cascading down on the Georgia side. Scout on the right center, which is also the best place to portage. For those wishing to run this, an "S" turn is required. The first drop should be entered with the bow angled to the right as the canoe slides down the ledge and drops into the small pool above the next ledge. Do not attempt to enter from the left side at the top.
The next two rapids should be run to the right of the respective islands. Below these rapids is Sandy Ford, which is the last place to take out for those who find the river more than they can handle. There is a very rough road negotiable only by four-wheel-drive vehicles, on the Georgia side.
Mild rapids follow, and then a calm pool before the river bears left. Around the bend is the Narrows, where three concentric ledges funnel the river into a constricted canyon. Enter toward the left. Two more drops follow as the river narrows down even more. Beware of the turbulent cross currents below these drops. It is very difficult to get through the entrance ledges without swamping if paddling tandem. A beautiful cliff overhangs the river below the last drop. This makes an excellent lunch stop.
Second Ledge is around the next bend. Scout or portage it on the right. This can be run on the left side by sliding down across the face of the falls, not too easy by any means. At higher levels, a run down right center, if possible, with a hard right turn into the pool, eddy turn, then drop through a small slot in the bottom ledge.
Eye of the Needle, about 1.5 miles beyond Second Ledge, is entered on the extreme left. A rock ledge extends about halfway across the river from the right, forcing most of the water through a twisting chute dropping to the right. Don't lean to the right and you'll arrive upright. Note to decked boats: there is a good spot for "pop ups" at the bottom.
There are some four miles of easy rapids before arriving at Fall Creek Falls, entering on the left. Just below the falls is the Roller Coaster, a delightful ride through a series of big waves, and also a very good place for the unwary to fill the craft.
The next rapid is a large ledge called Keyhole. Scout on the left. Enter on the right center and cut to the right. A very large boulder sits on the left center in the bottom. If entering to the left, a mishap can push a boat square into the rock.
There are several interesting ledges and shoals in the next 3 miles, before arriving at a bend to the left. A huge rock formation extending from the right bank is just beyond. This marks the entrance rapid to Bull Sluice, a series of two falls totaling 10 feet in height. The rock formation and large boulders block the "Sluice" from view, so immediately upon spotting the bend and the rocks pull out on the right. Portage on the right also.
The entrance rapid to Bull Sluice is a Class 3, which can splash a great deal of water into the canoe before ever arriving at the first falls. The hydraulic below the first falls can easily hold a body or a boat, so give it all due respect. The second has a rock just under the surface which is generally well hidden. What appears as a fast open chute isn't. The author broke a rib bouncing off this rock, and on another occasion saw a swamped 17-foot Grumman do an end over end when the bow met with said rock. So if attempting to run Bull Sluice, don't assume that it's been made if one makes it beyond the hydraulic. Keep in mind that several drownings have occurred here.
US 76 bridge is about 300 yards downstream around the bend. For those who wish to see the "Sluice" before or without running the river, a trail leads up along the SC side.
Put-in: From US 76 bridge, go east approximately 2 miles to the first paved road on the left (SC 196). Proceed north approximately 6 miles to the first 4-way stop intersection. Bear left there on SC 193, which becomes a graded road, until reaching the parking area, some 1,400 feet above Earls Ford and the river. You guessed it, neighbor, you get to warm up before you reach the water.
From SC 28 go west on SC 193 (2 miles south of the intersection of 28 and SC 107), and proceed to the river on SC 193.
Take-out: From the put-in, backtrack on the above directions. (Take the first two paved roads to the right, coming from Earls Ford Parking Area). Hopefully, you've got a little energy left, for now you get to "cool down" with your second 1,400 feet hike of the day, to the parking area at the US 76 bridge.
US 76 bridge to Tugaloo Lake
Distance: 7.5 miles
Time: 5 hours
Water Quality: B
Gage: See Section 3 gage. A reading of 1.1 is a minimum level.
Difficulties: This section offers the paddler some of the most beautiful and challenging whitewater in the east. There are many rapids throughout the stretch which an intermediate would find difficult, but only the major falls and rapids will be discussed. In other words, only those rapids that will prove difficult to even the advanced canoeist will be mentioned.
The first, Surfing Rapid, is entered from the right after coming around the first bend of the river below the put-in. Some distance downstream, a large sandbar appears on the Georgia side. About 200 yards below is Rock Jumble, a single drop which is dotted with rock. Scout to determine the best place to run.
About .5 miles downstream, where the river bends left, a large rock ledge extends out from the SC side, forcing the water to the right. Pull out on the ledge before the current does the same to the canoe, and scout. At the end of this ledge is the entrance falls to Woodall Shoals. It forms a strong, dangerous hydraulic at the bottom, which has kept boats, rafts, people, or anything else that floats, for extended periods of time. Due to the power of the hydraulic, this is probably the most dangerous spot on the river. It definitely is not the place to play. A slanting ledge on the far right might be run without the danger the hydraulic presents at levels above 1.4, though this hole can get sticky above 2 feet.
The rest of the Shoals is a twisting turning ride for another 60 yards before ending in a quiet pool. A forest road enters into Woodall on the SC side.
Below the Shoals the river enters a gorge containing two fairly long rapids with standing waves. Let this be the warning of Seven-Foot Falls coming up. Scout it on the right, where instead of the abrupt drop of the left, a slanting drop can be run.
Following several rapids, the river widens and Stekoa Creek drops in from the right, indicating the beginning of Stekoa Creek Rapids, a quarter mile of constant whitewater. The creek is the source of the pollution that has prevented the rest of the section from qualifying in the Wild, Scenic, or Recreation River class, but hopefully this will soon be remedied by a new sewage treatment plant. It has been listed in a Conditional Scenic River class.
Long Creek Falls, a beautiful waterfall which was shown in "Deliverance," enters on the left into the pool at the end of Stekoa Creek Rapids.
Following several ledges the river runs into a house-size boulder. It has become known as "Deliverance Rock" due to several scenes in the movie having been shot here.
A beautiful cliff, Raven Rock, rises on the left high above the river, as one paddles beyond "Deliverance Rock." Just above the cliff is Raven Rock Rapid, which should be scouted on the left and run on the far left across the face of the slanting rock.
For a little over a mile, the river courses over small rapids which appropriately enough have been called "Calm Before the Storm." Below here the river pulls out all stops as it enters The Five Falls, one of the most exciting stretches of water to be found anywhere.
The first, Entrance (or First Fall), is entered down a long stubblefield running diagonally left to far right into a small pool. At this point it is best to scout, perhaps the rest of the falls, before continuing. Entrance should be run on the right and angling to the left. If trouble develops upon attempting Entrance, get to shore immediately, because 100 feet downstream is Corkscrew, which is the toughest rapid for an open boat on the river, and is a mass of surging cross currents.
Crack-in-the-Rock, which in reality is 3 cracks, follows. The 5-foot crack on the right is the safest of the three, although it can be dangerous as it sometimes becomes partially clogged by logs and debris. Scout on the right. There is a good pool for rescue below the crack. Avoid "left crack" at all costs. Two boaters have drowned there in recent years.
Jawbone comes up next. Scout on the left. It should be entered from right center. Drop left into the eddy on the far left, make an eddy turn, and then cut back into the main chute to be flushed out at the bottom. To the right and two-thirds of the way down the diagonal curler, there is a badly undercut rock to avoid. Below here Hydroelectric Rock bisects the current. Go left or right, but be aware there is water flowing through this boulder.
The final falls, Sock 'Em Dog, is a 7-foot, vertical drop on the far right. Jawbone in itself isn't terribly difficult, but with Sock 'Em Dog awaiting to chew up a swamped craft, one must consider carefully before attempting the run. The eddy on the left is the best spot to get out from to scout or to carry. The run is to the far right over a slight rise at the very top of the falls. For those who can't resist the temptation, there is a long pool to reassemble whatever needs be.
The last rapid of any consequence above the lake, Shoulder Bone, is at the end of the pool. Run it at left center. After that one can relax somewhat before the fun beings-a 2 miles paddle down Lake Tugaloo.
Put-in: At the US 76 bridge.
Take-out: Go east on US 76 to the community of Longcreek and take a right on Orchard Road. Go until it ends, then turn right onto paved road (Battle Creek Road) Stay on pavement until Damascus Church is passed on the left. Take the next right (Bull Sluice Road) and on to Tugaloo Lake. Parking can be a problem here, so be considerate. Be wary of outfitters' buses coming up the narrow road.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication