The Chattooga River– Wild and Scenic

Kayaking or rafting is a unique way to experience a river.  Recently I took a trip down the Wild and Scenic Chattooga River, which forms the Georgia/ South Carolina state line.  The Chattooga originates high in North Carolina just south of the town of Cashiers, carving its way through the Southern Crystalline Escarpment on its 50 mile journey to the Piedmont and Lake Tugaloo.  In its descent, the Chattooga drops ~2,050 feet in elevation through boulder-choked gorges and breathtaking scenery.

Large boulders break up the flow of the river, creating endless rapids and eddies.

This truly is a special place and it made me reflect on the memories I have of the Chattooga.  In fact, in a recent trip with my wife I found myself entranced by the scenery and described it to her as a “magical kingdom”.  I am a fairly grounded person and don’t normally make such strange Tolkienesque statements; however, after several minutes of laughter, I was still enamored by the remote beauty of the river.  During the spring and summer, the banks are lined with flowering shrubs like mountain laurel, rhododendron, and native azaleas.  White sand beaches and dense fern thickets also line the riparian corridor providing stability and habitat for numerous organisms.

In the gorge, these water-loving cinnamon ferns can reach heights up to 5 feet, creating a unique understory jungle.

There are over 50 miles of hiking trails throughout this area, but to really appreciate the interior of the gorges you would have to do so by raft, canoe, or kayak.  You can sometimes be sidetracked from the scenery by the challenging whitewater, but the reward of calm, deep pools lie below most rapids.

Kayaking in the gorge can be serious: serious fun, serious adventure, and serious exhilaration!

I have been making multi-day trips to this river since the late 90’s and have grown to really appreciate this resource.  I am drawn to the crystal clear water, rugged geology, and vegetative biodiversity.  I feel very lucky to have this resource so close to home and I am grateful that it has been designated as a Wild and Scenic River.  This river stands for  the value of preserving land and properly managing our resources, and I am proud to say that this is what I do for a living!


Kevin Mitchell, Field Technician and Whitewater Enthusiast

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