Engage with the Resources of the Savannah River, one of GA’s 14 Major Watersheds

savannah watershed
The Augusta Canal on the Savannah River

The Savannah Watershed is one of Georgia’s 14 major watersheds. The Seneca and Tugaloo rivers come together near Hartwell, Georgia, to form the Savannah River. From that point, the Savannah flows 300 miles southeasterly to the Atlantic Ocean. Read a Paddling Guide to Broad River, one of the major tributaries of the Savannah watershed. Read a Paddling Guide to Brier Creek in the Savannah watershed

See all of Georgia’s 14 Major Watersheds

Altamaha, Chattahoochee, Coosa, Flint, Ochlockonee, Ocmulgee, Oconee, Ogeechee, Satilla, Savannah, St Marys, Suwannee, Tallapoosa, Tennessee

The Savannah Watershed System

The headwaters of the Savannah River are on the high, forested slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. The Tallulah and Chattooga rivers, which form the Tugaloo River on the Georgia-South Carolina state line, and the Whitewater and Toxaway rivers, which form the Keowee River in South Carolina, start in the mountains of North Carolina. The Keowee River and Twelve Mile Creek join near Clemson, South Carolina, to form the Seneca River. The Seneca and the Tugaloo, the two principle headwater streams join near Hartwell, Georgia, to form the Savannah. From that point, the Savannah – the boundary between Georgia and South Carolina – flows about 300 miles to the Atlantic Ocean.

How the Savannah River Got Its Name

Savannah means “River of the Shawnees,” so named for a remnant of that tribe who lived on the middle waters of the river in early Colonial days.

Experiences in the Savannah Watershed

Listed below are locations where you can see or experience the Savannah watershed.

A.H. Stephens State Historic Park

This quiet site combines the recreational opportunities of a state park with the educational resources of a historic site. Named after the vice president of the Confederacy and governor of Georgia, A.H. Stephens State Historic Park features a Confederate museum with one of the finest collections of Civil War artifacts in Georgia, with articles such as uniforms and documents. Stephens’ home, Liberty Hall, has been renovated to its original style and is fully furnished and open for tours. Beautiful outdoor facilities make this park attractive for both nature lovers and history buffs.

The Savannah Watershed Connection: The park is closely connected to two rivers, the Ogeechee and the Savannah. Just south of the park, the North and South Forks of the Ogeechee, Beaverdam Creek and several other unnamed creeks come together to form the Ogeechee River, which then flows south to the Atlantic. The outflow from the park’s lake is joined by the North and South Forks of Little River, Kettle Creek and several unnamed streams to form Little River, which flows into Clarks Hill Reservoir. That water also eventually reaches the Atlantic, but via the Savannah River. It’s a small but interesting irony of Georgia history that the home of Stephens, a man who was closely involved in the beginnings of the Civil War, is at the headwaters of the Ogeechee while the Battle of Richmond Hill, a Civil War battle whose Union victory hastened the end of the War, occurred at the end of the river.

Black Rock Mountain State Park

Named for its sheer cliffs of dark crystalline rock (biotite gneiss), Black Rock Mountain State Park encompasses some of the most scenic landscape in Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. At an altitude of 3,640 feet, it is the highest state park in Georgia. Numerous scenic overlooks provide 80-mile vistas of the southern Appalachians and several hiking trails afford close-up views of wildflowers, streams and forests.

The Savannah Watershed Connection: Black Rock Mountain State Park is on the Eastern Continental Divide. As a result, rain that falls on the north side of the mountain flows into the Gulf of Mexico and rainfall on the south side of the mountain flows into the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, Black Rock Mountain is a “triple divide,” meaning that rainfall on the mountain flows into each of Rabun County’s three rivers: the Little Tennessee, the Tallulah and the Chattooga. Water flowing into the Little Tennessee River flows north out of Rabun County, through North Carolina and into Tennessee where it merges with the Tennessee River near Lenoir City. From there, the Tennessee River flows south to Chattanooga, west through Alabama, north through Tennessee (again) and into Kentucky where it joins the Ohio River at Paducah. The Ohio flows into the Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois. From there, the Mississippi runs south to empty into the Gulf of Mexico at New Orleans. On the south side of the mountain, the Tallulah and Chattooga rivers join to form the Tugaloo River, which, along with South Carolina’s Seneca, is a principal tributary of the Savannah River. The Savannah forms the Georgia-South Carolina border until it empties into the Atlantic Ocean just east of the city of Savannah.

Elija Clark State Park

Located where the old town of Petersburg once thrived during the 1790s, the park is named in memory of Lt. Robert T. Brown, U.S. Navy, who gave his life in World War II. The park’s location on Clarks Hill Reservoir, the largest man-made lake east of the Mississippi, provides good fishing and water recreation.

The Savannah Watershed Connection: Petersburg was situated where the Broad and Savannah Rivers flow into the Clarks Hill Reservoir. When water levels are low, visitors can spot some foundations that were part of the old town. Below Clarks Hill, the Savannah River continues past Augusta and Savannah to the Atlantic Ocean.

Elijah Clark State Park

Located on the western shore of Clarks Hill Lake, this park is named for a frontiersman and Georgia war hero who led hardy pioneers during the Revolutionary War. A renovated and furnished log cabin museum displays furniture, utensils and tools circa 1780. Visitors can also view graves of Clark and his wife, Hanna. Weekend tours of the log cabin make this park an educational experience for visitors. Fishermen will appreciate the park’s location on Clarks Hill Lake, the largest man-made lake east of the Mississippi River.

The Savannah Watershed Connection: Clarks Hill Lake is an impoundment of Georgia’s Savannah and Broad Rivers. Below the Clarks Hill Dam, the Savannah continues its course to the Atlantic Ocean.

Hart State Park

Swimming, boating, waterskiing and fishing on Lake Hartwell are the prime attractions at Hart State Park in Northeast Georgia. Largemouth bass, black crappie, bream, rainbow trout and wall-eyed pike can be found in the sparkling waters of this 55,590-acre reservoir. The park’s boat ramps and docks offer easy access to all water sports. Cottages and most campsites are located on the scenic lake shore.

The Savannah Watershed Connection: South Carolina’s Seneca River and Georgia’s Tugaloo River form Lake Hartwell. The Savannah River, which flows to the Atlantic Ocean, begins below Hartwell Dam.

Mistletoe State Park

This park takes its name from Mistletoe Junction, a local area where young men and women gathered during the holidays to pick mistletoe. Located on Clarks Hill Lake, this park is known as a fine bass fishing spot. During the summer, guests can cool down at the beach or on shaded nature trails.

The Savannah Watershed Connection: Clarks Hill Lake is a Savannah River reservoir.

Moccasin Creek State Park

Known as the park “where the spring spends the summer,” Moccasin Creek is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains on the shores of Lake Burton. Its central location makes it a perfect jumping-off spot for high-country exploration. Visitors can tour the adjacent trout rearing station, hike on mountain trails or relax in this peaceful setting.

The Savannah Watershed Connection: The Tallulah River, which forms Lake Burton, eventually flows into the Tugaloo River, which joins the Seneca River at Lake Hartwell to become the Savannah River.

Richard B. Russell State Park

Located on a 26,500-acre lake, Richard B. Russell State Park offers some of the state’s finest fishing and boating. The lake has been stocked with trout, making it the only trout lake in the area. Most facilities are designed for wheelchair accessibility, including the swimming beach. Several Indian sites were excavated near the park in 1980 before the lake was filled, indicating that Paleo-Indians lived in the area more than 10,000 years ago. This area is now called Rucker’s Bottom and lies deep within the waters of Lake Richard B. Russell.

The Savannah Watershed Connection: Lake Russell, between Hartwell Reservoir and Clarks Hill Reservoir, is filled by the Savannah River.

Skidaway Island State Park

Located near historic Savannah, this barrier island has both salt and fresh water due to the estuaries and marshes that flow through the area. The park borders Skidaway Narrows, a part of the intercoastal waterway. Two nature trails wind through marshes, live oaks, cabbage palmettos and longleaf pines, allowing visitors to watch for deer, raccoon, shore birds and fiddler crabs. Observation towers provide another chance for visitors to search for wildlife on this beautiful island.

The Savannah Watershed Connection: Skidaway is part of the estuarine system fed by the Savannah and Ogeechee Rivers.

Tallulah Gorge State Park

One of the most spectacular gorges in the eastern United States, the Tallulah chasm is 2 miles long and nearly 1,000 feet deep. The park’s breathtaking views and the town’s rich history make this area a favorite stopping point along US Highway 441 – the main route between Atlanta and the Great Smoky Mountains. The park’s visitor center features an award-winning film that takes viewers on a dramatic journey through the gorge. Due to the rugged terrain and fragile plant and animal life, visitors must obtain a free permit from the visitor center (limited to 100 per day) before hiking into the gorge.

The Savannah Watershed Connection: The Tallulah River, which starts high in the North Carolina Mountains, flows through Tallulah Gorge, becomes the Tugaloo River and then the Savannah River, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean at Savannah.

Tugaloo State Park

Situated on a rugged peninsula that juts into Hartwell Reservoir, Tugaloo’s cottages and campsites offer views of the water in every direction. Some cottages have boat docks for overnight guests. Fishing is good year-round and largemouth bass are plentiful. The name “Tugaloo” comes from an Indian name for the river, which flowed freely before the construction of Hartwell Dam.

The Savannah Watershed Connection: Below Hartwell Dam, Lake Tugaloo becomes the Savannah River, which, after stops at two more reservoirs (Richard Russell and Clarks Hill), flows into the Atlantic Ocean.

Victoria Bryant State Park

Nestled in the rolling hills of Georgia’s Upper Piedmont, this park has facilities ranging from picnic sites and a swimming pool to an 18-hole golf course and campground. Scenic Rice Creek flows through the park, providing the perfect setting for an after-picnic stroll. Hikers can follow either the short nature trail or the longer perimeter trail that winds through hardwoods. Alert hikers may spot wildlife while passing food plots along the perimeter trail.

The Savannah Watershed Connection: The park is in the Broad River Watershed. Creeks and tributaries around the park, including the same Rice Creek that winds through the park, flow into the Broad River, then into Clarks Hill Reservoir and eventually into the Savannah River and the Atlantic Ocean.

Watson Mill Bridge State Park

Known as one of the most picturesque and unique state parks in Georgia, Watson Mill Bridge contains the longest original-site covered bridge in Georgia, spanning 229 feet across the South Ford of the Broad River. The bridge, more than 100 years old, is supported by a town lattice truss system held firmly together with wooden pins. At one time, more than 200 covered bridges spanned Georgia rivers; today, less than 20 remain. The park is an ideal spot for an afternoon picnic or an overnight stay at the campground. Nature trails and hiking/horse trails allow visitors to enjoy a walk through the thick forest along the river or travel into the park’s backcountry.

The Savannah Watershed Connection: Watson Mill Bridge spans the South Fork of the Broad River, which flows into the Broad River, then into Clarks Hill Reservoir, which impounds the Savannah River. Below Clarks Hill, the Savannah flows through Augusta and then to the Atlantic Ocean.

Augusta Canal

Augusta sits on the Savannah River on the Fall Line, which is where the rolling hills of the Southern Piedmont meet the level Coastal Plain. In the first half of the 19th century, Augustans took advantage of their unique geography by building a canal to channel the Savannah River’s falling water to power mills and manufacturing plants. Though still used to power 19th century mills and the city’s water pumping station, the canal has reverted to a more natural state within the past half-century. Today, visitors to the 11.5-mile Augusta Canal National Heritage Area can experience the Fall Line ecosystem via canoe, bicycle or on foot along the wide gravel towpath.

Augusta Riverwalk

In the mid-1980s community leaders realized the potential for transforming the Augusta riverfront into a business and tourist center. Today, Riverwalk is a popular venue for festivals, concerts, sporting events and holiday celebrations. Action along the Riverwalk varies from national collegiate rowing competitions to high-powered drag boats screaming down the river at speeds well over 200 mph. A pleasant combination is a Riverwalk tour and a visit to the Cotton Exchange Welcome Center and Museum. Once home to the second largest inland cotton market in the world, this structure was built in 1886 and used by the Augusta Cotton Exchange until 1964. Many original items from this era are on display, including a 45-foot wooden blackboard, still chalked with cotton prices. Directions: (to Riverwalk) Located in downtown Augusta on Reynolds St between 7th and 10th Sts.

Phinizy Swamp Nature Park

Visitors can tour 1,100 acres of swampland operated as a bird and wildlife preserve only minutes from downtown Augusta off Lock-and-Dam Road. Walkways provide a close-up look at the variety of wildlife, from blue herons to bobcats, that calls the area home.

Savannah National Wildlife Refuge

Located on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River, upstream from the city of Savannah, the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge consists of 28,168 acres of freshwater marshes, tidal rivers and creeks and bottomland hardwoods. Established in 1927, the 3,000 acres of freshwater pools (known as “impoundments”) managed for migratory waterfowl were formerly rice fields of plantations dating back to the mid-to-late 1700s. The dikes enclosing these pools were originally built by slaves and by the labor of itinerant Irishmen. All dikes are open to foot travel during daylight hours unless otherwise posted and provide excellent wildlife observation points. About half the refuge is bottomland, composed primarily of cypress, gum and maple trees. Access to this area is by boat only. Waterfowl are most abundant from November through February while alligators and other reptiles are common from March through October. Bird watching opportunities are good all year, but are best from October through April when temperatures are mild and many species of waterfowl and other wintering birds are present. Motorists are welcome on Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive, off US 17, which meanders along four miles of earthen dikes between managed freshwater pools and through hardwood hammocks. Cistern Trail and other walking routes are also available to the visiting public. From December 1 to February 28, entry into the impoundment area north of SC 170 is prohibited to reduce disturbance while wintering waterfowl numbers are at a peak. Bank fishing from the wildlife drive is permitted all year, while the entire impoundment system is open to fishing from March 1 to November 30 and is governed by South Carolina and Refuge regulations. The Refuge administers deer, feral hog, squirrel, turkey and waterfowl hunts. Permits to hunt on the refuge must be obtained from the Coastal Office in Savannah. A stamped, self-addressed envelope must accompany requests for permits. Directions: Savannah NWR is located on SC Hwy 170, 6 miles south of Hardeeville, SC via US 17 (Exit 5 off I-95); or 1 mile north of Port Wentworth, GA on Ga Hwy 25/ SC Hwy 170 (take I-95 exit 109 to Ga 21 S, then east on Ga 30 to Ga 25 N).

Savannah-Ogeechee Barge Canal Museum and Nature Center

Initially open to transport in 1831, the Historic Savannah-Ogeechee Barge Canal is one of the prime relics in the history of southern canals. Beginning with the tidal lock at the Savannah River, the waterway continues through four lift locks as it traverses 16.5 miles before reaching another tidal lock at the Ogeechee River. Along the way, the canal passes through Savannah’s 19th Century industrial corridor, former rice fields, timber tracts, and a still lush tidal river swamp and adjacent sandhill environment that is the characteristic habitat for several unique species of flora and fauna. In cooperation with Chatham County’s Department of Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Affairs, the Savannah-Ogeechee Canal Society is working to turn the National Register-listed canal into a multi-purpose linear park. Currently, most of the effort is expended at the Ogeechee River terminus. Near Lock 5, a small museum and nature center is open to visitors with displays that characterize both the canal’s history and the natural history of the local area. A half-mile walk along the Heel or Two Paths is a good way to see this unique waterway. Directions: off Ga Hwy 204, 2.3 miles west of I-95.

Silver Bluff Plantation

Bordering the South Carolina side of the Savannah River, the 3,154-acre Silver Bluff Plantation is owned and operated by the National Audubon Society. The plantation demonstrates that forest land can produce substantial revenue while at the same time providing a home for wildlife. Added to the bargain is that it is a location that’s aesthetically pleasing to humans as well. Landowners, scientists, and others are encouraged to visit the plantation to learn and share ideas. A walk around 30-acre Kathwood Wood Stork foraging ponds at any time of year is likely to produce sightings of bald eagles, great blue herons, wood ducks, and a host of other species. A complete bird checklist is available at the sanctuary office next to the ponds. More information: contact the sanctuary manager.

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Brown’s Guides is a website about the top outdoor experiences in America and about the professional outfitters and guides who know them best. BG selects guides and outfitters located in or in close proximity to the Natural Areas they provide activities in. These outfitters know the areas and care about protecting and preserving them in a way that outfitters based in other states never can. Hiking, biking, sea kayaking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and other outdoor activities are indexed on the site. BG has been doing this type of thing since 1972 in books, magazines, maps and on the Internet.

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