Hike the 10.7-Mile Chattooga River Trail on and around the Chattooga River

chattooga river trail
Chattooga River Trail. Photo by Mark Oleg

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.

Chattooga River Trail Summary

Location: Chattooga River, Chattooga National Wild and Scenic River; Features: Chattooga River; Distance: 10.7 miles; Difficulty Rating: Moderate; County: Rabun; Nearest City: Clayton; Maps: Rainy Mountain Quad GA-SC, Chattooga National Wild and Scenic River map; Blazes: White diamonds; Water Sources: numerous tributary rivulets and streams; Ranger District: Tallulah

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 Chattooga River 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 Sandy Ford 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.

Highlights of the Chattooga River Trail

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.

Directions to the Southern Trailhead

To the southern trailhead: From the US 441-US 76 East intersection in Clayton, travel US 76 East toward Westminster, South Carolina, for approximately 8.1 miles to the small (10 to 12 vehicles), paved, trailhead parking area to the left of the highway just before the bridge over the Chattooga River. This parking area is fee-pay, three dollars at present. A much larger parking lot, also fee-pay, is located to the left of the highway across the bridge in South Carolina. Chattooga River’s unmistakable beginning is marked with a trail-sign boulder.

To the northern trailhead: In Clayton, where US 76 turns west at a traffic light, turn east (right if you are coming from the south) onto Rickman Street. Follow Rickman Street for approximately 0.5 mile to its end at signed Warwoman Road. Turn right onto Warwoman Road and follow it approximately 5.4 miles to the signed right turn onto paved Sandy Ford Road.

Travel Sandy Ford Road for approximately 0.7 mile before turning left across a road-level bridge. After this left turn, proceed approximately 3.7 dirt-gravel miles to an obvious pull-in parking area to the left of the road. Look for this parking spot approximately 0.3 mile beyond where the road fords Dicks Creek. When the creek is running high, you may not want to risk the ford with a low-slung, conventional vehicle. To the left of the road just before the ford, a small opening offers limited parking.

From the parking area 0.3 mile beyond the ford, walk 60 yards further down the road to the Bartram Trail, marked with a prominent trail-sign boulder. Turn left off of the road onto the Bartram Trail and continue 100 yards to the Bartram-Chattooga River Trail junction and its trail-sign rock. If you want to walk the Chattooga River Trail from north to south, turn sharply back to the right at the Y-shaped junction.

Read Section III of Chattooga River Paddling is One of the Country’s Top Whitewater Experiences

Read Paddle the West Fork as an Introduction to Section II of the Chattooga River

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