Hike 10.7 miles on the moderately difficult Chattooga River Trail in Rabun County, Georgia, to see the Wild and Scenic Chattooga River and reach sandy banks that provide easy access to the river.
By TIM HOMAN
Designated in 1974 as a National Wild and Scenic River, the Chattooga has its origins in the North Carolina mountains and flows southwest into Tugaloo Lake on the border between Georgia and South Carolina. Many scenes in the movie Deliverance were filmed from the banks of the Chattooga in the early 1970s.
The Chattooga River Trail may not be what you would expect or want from a trail bearing such a famous name. The trail does not lead you to the wild, colorfully named rapids – Painted Rock, Roller Coaster, Eye of the Needle, The Narrows – along Floating Section III of the river. In fact, it closely parallels the river for only 1.6 miles, from mile 6.3 to mile 7.9.
Starting from US 76, the trail heads northeast along the Georgia side of the Chattooga River. The first half of the trail frequently loops outside of the blue-blazed river corridor, where motorized vehicles are allowed on jeep roads. The last half of the trail, however, remains inside the protected corridor and provides solitude. Alternating from constructed path to old road, the trail winds along the sloping strip of land from the river up to its enclosing ridge. Although the terrain is steep and frequently cut by streams, the trail’s numerous grades are all easy or moderate. And most of the moderate grades are short.
At the southern trailhead, the white-blazed Chattooga River Trail begins behind two sets of vehicle blocking boulders, at an elevation of about 1,200 feet. One of them now serves as the trailhead sign. The path follows an old jeep road through mixed deciduous-evergreen forest to 0.7 mile, where it curls down and left to cross Pole Creek, the first of many streams. From this point, the treadway winds along the lower slopes of Lion Mountain for several miles, often crossing rivulets above their steep-sided coves. Occasionally, you can hear the roar of powerful rapids below; the loudest emanates from Bull Sluice, a Class V rapid.
At mile 4.1 and mile 4.4 the trail crosses unnamed Chattooga tributaries that are nonetheless big enough for bridges. Beyond the second, a slow-moving stream with a floodplain, the footpath curves right then passes within 40 yards of the river. After allowing a quick glimpse of the water, the trail climbs to the ridge on an old road. Once on top, it rises and dips with the road along the protected corridor to mile 5.9, where it bears right onto a path and descends to the river.
At mile 6.3 the path swings parallel to the Chattooga, usually green and always beautiful. For the next 1.6 miles, occasionally through dense stands of eastern hemlock, the trail heads upstream above the river’s low shoals and long, calm pools. At mile 6.8 it crosses a bridge over Licklog Creek, then continues alongside deep green swimming holes before crossing Buckeye Branch at mile 7.4. Sandy beaches and boulders make great spots to enjoy lunch or watch the rafts float by.
At mile 7.9 the trail bends backward to the left and away from the river onto an old road. It climbs a hill then turns 90 degrees to the right. A moderate grade leads to the ridge, where the path gently undulates on or near the ridge line to mile 9.8. Following a 0.2-mile downgrade, the Chattooga River Trail crosses Rock Creek and Sandy Ford Road in quick succession. Another inscribed boulder marks the trail’s crossing of Dicks Creek Road. The remainder of the footpath is easily walked to its Y -shaped junction with the Bartram Trail. This junction (approximately 1,640 feet) is designated with a small rock sign inside the Y.
Officially, the Chattooga River Trail overlaps with the Bartram Trail north of Sandy Ford Road and continues into both South and North Carolina. This narrative describes only the lower portion of the Chattooga River Trail in Georgia.
Mile 4.8: The trail meets the river at a spot with many small pools and rushing shoals. Sandy banks provide easy access to the river.
Miles 6.3-7.9: The trail meanders beside the river with many opportunities for boulder scrambles out into the water.
To the southern trailhead: From Clayton, follow US 76 East from its intersection with US 441. About 9.0 miles from Clayton, US 76 crosses the Chattooga River. Park in a small gravel lot on the left, just before the bridge. The trailhead is located behind the two boulders in the back of the lot. .
To the northern trailhead: In Clayton, where US 76 turns west, turn east onto Rickman Street (locally known as Warwoman Road). If you are traveling north on US 441, the turn will be to your right near the Hardee’s, which is the second building to the right on Rickman Street. Continue a short distance on Rickman Street, then turn right onto Warwoman Road at its sign.
After turning off US 441, travel approximately 6.0 miles and turn right onto unpaved Sandy Ford Road (also known as Dicks Creek Road to locals) immediately past the house with the A-shaped roof over its door. Inside the entrance to Sandy Ford Road, bear right with the main dirt road, continue approximately 0.7 mile from the pavement, and then turn left across a road-level bridge. After this left turn, proceed approximately 3.7 miles to the Bartram Trail sign – an engraved rock to the right of the road.
The northern end of the Chattooga River Trail ties into the Bartram Trail near Sandy Ford Road. If you end your hike at this junction, turn sharp left onto the Bartram and walk the 100 yards to Sandy Ford Road at the Bartram sign. If you wish to walk the Chattooga River Trail north to south, park at the Bartram Trail sign, walk the Bartram to the left (from the way you came) 100 yards, then turn right onto the Chattooga River Trail.
In addition to being fairly rough and rutted, Sandy Ford Road fords the creek twice before reaching the Bartram Trail sign. The second ford may be too deep for low-to-the-ground conventional cars.
This hiking guide to the Chattooga River Trail is adapted from The Hiking Trails of North Georgia by Tim Homan and is published in cooperation with the publisher Peachtree Publishers. With his meticulous attention to detail and accuracy, Homan has long been recognized as the authority on North Georgia hiking trail by serious hikers. His other books include Hiking Trails of Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock and Citico Creek Wilderness, Hiking the Shining Rock and Middle Prong Wilderness and others. For a complete inventory of his books see his Amazon Author Page.
For an inventory of Peachtree Publishers books including its Nature books for children, go to the Peachtree Publishers website.