National Wild and Scenic River
Few rivers live up to their reputation. The difficult, 19-mile
Chattooga National Wild and Scenic River in South Carolina’s
northwest corner does. Steeped in history and Hollywood, this gush of
whitewater churns along the border of South Carolina and Georgia for
40 miles. Most river aficionados know it best as the backdrop for
James Dickey’s classic novel, “Deliverance,” and the subsequent
1972 movie starring Burt Reynolds. At one time, local paddlers
considered it the final exam for “expert” status, but today,
several other Southeastern rivers overshadow it. Still, the lower 31
miles of this 40-mile river, including the vaunted Section IV, (which
is only for experienced paddlers) remains among the best whitewater
trips anywhere. Even the relatively tame Section II (open to tubers
and boaters and thus better for inexperienced paddlers) contains 20
rapids. The Chattooga thunders through the Sumter National Forest, a
mountainous woodland of red and white oak, birch magnolia, and profuse
mountain laurel thickets. And while the landscape may suggest
tranquility, the Chattooga doesn’t cooperate. The river has many
dangerous hydraulics and undercuts. Because the river is so powerful,
the Forest Service imposes regulations for its use. Among the
considerations: (1) Float parties must register at access points. (2)
All boating is prohibited north of SC 28. (3) Air mattresses,
motorized craft and other craft deemed unsuitable by the Forest
Service are prohibited. (4) Rafts must have a minimum of two air
chambers. (5) Each rafter, canoeist and kayaker above Earls Ford must
have a lifesaving device available. (6) All persons using watercraft
below Earls Ford must wear life saving jackets rated “Coast Guard
Approved.” (7) Inner tubes prohibited below Earls Ford. (8) A
minimum party size of two people and two craft is required below Earls
Ford. (9) All persons using decked craft (kayaks) and all floaters
below Woodall Shoals must wear helmets.
A water-resistant map that
describes the river in sections is available from the Forest Service.
Plan the sections you travel with a critical assessment of your skills
and equipment. Float time for the Chattooga from Section II to the US
76 bridge is approximately eight hours.
The trail described here is 23 miles one way, although 30 miles of the
Chattooga is open to paddlers.
Mileage is approximate and for reference
0 - Overflow Creek Bridge - This is an entry to the West Fork, or Section I on
the Forest Service map of the Chattooga River. This section is small
and suitable for beginners and inner tubing. From Walhalla, drive west
on SC 28 and cross into Georgia. Turn left onto Morsingills Creek Road
(GA 884), then right onto Overflow Creek Road (Forest Service Road
86). You can access the river at the bridge or 0.2 mile downstream at
a parking area.
4 - Highway 28 Bridge - Also known as Russell Bridge, this is the beginning
of Section II, which has 20 rapids and is open to boaters and tubers.
From Walhalla, drive west on SC 28 to the bridge. Access is at the
bridge, or at the Forest Service parking area a bit downstream. Be
sure to register at the self-registration station.
11 - Earls Ford - This is the beginning of Section III and for experienced whitewater
boaters only. Access is .2 mile from the parking area. From Walhalla,
drive west on SC 28 and turn left onto Whetstone Road (Oconee County
S-193). Continue on Whetstone Road (Whetstone changes to FS 721) to
the parking area.
Sandy Ford - A put-in here cuts 3 miles from Section III, and also
bypasses two major rapids. From Walhalla, drive west on SC 28 and turn
left onto Whetstone Road (Oconee County S-193). Approximately 3 miles
from the junction of S-196 turn left onto Forest Service Road 721A and
continue to the parking lot.
23 - US 76 Bridge - Also known as Rogue’s Ford Bridge, is a recommended take-out, since
this is the beginning of Section IV and is only for advanced paddlers
with good equipment. From Westminster, drive west on US 76 to the
Camping is allowed anywhere in the Chattooga River corridor as long as
campsites are 50 feet from any stream or trail and quarter-mile from
any road. Several designated campsites with fire rings are located
along the river on the Chattooga Trail.
Stump House Ranger Station, Andrew Pickens Ranger District, 112 Andrew
Pickens Circle, Mountain Rest, SC 29664.
Updated: October 21, 2005
South Carolina State Trails Program
South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism
1205 Pendleton Street :: Columbia, SC 29201 :: 803-734-0173
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