Southeast Paddling: South Carolina’s Chattooga River Is Wet, Wild!

Despite the roar of turbulent waters that plunge some 6 feet over a falls into a churning froth of whitewater that is squeezed between two huge rocks, I could hear the screams of the five people in an approaching raft!

I knew, and they had already suspected, that there was no way the big rubber raft would fit through a small gap with such violent waters! We were all correct in our assumptions! As soon as the nose of the raft dipped over the precipice of the falls, it flipped over sideways, and all of the terrified occupants were ejected into the powerful waters of a Class IV rapid known as … Bull Sluice! Though the impromptu dunking into the cool waters of the river appeared dangerous, and certainly had everyone’s adrenaline flowing, wet clothes were the only casualties.

whitewater rafting
A TV cameraman films a raft out of control at Bull Sluice rapid on the Chattooga River.

Thrilling Ride

Since this was near the culmination of Section III, which is one of the mildest stretches on the Chattooga River, it simply gave the rafters a taste of what to expect if they decided to try the more difficult, but far more exciting, Section IV in the future. In fairness to all of the outfitters who take groups on this part of the river, however, everyone on any float trip is given a choice as to whether they want to run Bull Sluice or not. If not, they can easily walk around the rapid and wait for the others at the bottom.

The Chattooga River forms the boundary between South Carolina and Georgia and is protected as a resource by a 1974 congressional designation as a “Wild and Scenic River.” Rafting or kayaking on this river offers unparalleled wilderness beauty that is located deep within the Ellicott Rock Wilderness area. To the east, the Chattooga River is banked by the Sumter National Forest and to the west by the Chattahoochee National Forest.

Chattooga River
A kayak negotiating a rapid on the Chattooga River.

Because of the movie, “Deliverance,” the Chattooga River has become one of the world’s most famous whitewater rivers. Many cascading waterfalls, gigantic rocks, diverse wildlife, and lush flora, such as rhododendron, mountain laurel, and wild azaleas, can be seen throughout this pristine wilderness.

Kayaking Paradise

Challenging this famous river in a kayak, however, is whole different kettle of fish! Unless one is an experienced whitewater kayaker, Section III is probably the best choice for a beginner on the Chattooga River. Most of the rapids on this section are Class II and III, gradually increasing in difficulty as the trip progresses. Bull Sluice is the highlight of the trip. It falls 14 feet over a series of three drops and provides an introduction to the technical rapids downstream.

two kayakers in rapids
Two kayakers start into a section of rapids.

Section IV covers the steepest section of any river currently being run on a commercial basis in the Southeast. In a one quarter-mile gorge, the river drops more than 75 feet through the famed and highly respected Five Falls. They are known throughout whitewater circles as: Entrance, Corkscrew, Crack-In-the-Rock, Jawbone, and Sock-Em Dog. Section IV can be the ultimate challenge for whitewater paddlers and are only recommended for adventurers with lots of experience.

From the days of my youth, fishing the waters of the different arms of the Chattooga River that touch Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina has always been a part of my world. Nevertheless, this was my first experience of paddling the whitewater on this beautiful river, and it was both spectacular and extremely exciting! This was a venture that I won’t soon forget and truly look forward to repeating in the near future!

kayaker in class III rapid in Chattooga River
Kayak shooting a Class III rapid on the Chattooga River.

Excellent Outfitters

The Chattooga River is serviced by three excellent whitewater outfitters. They include:

Southeastern Expeditions, Inc. Phone Toll-Free: 1-800-868-7238

Wildwater, Ltd. Phone Toll-Free: 1-800-451-9972

Nantahala Outdoor Center Phone Toll-Free: 1-888-905-7238

Make sure you visit Sportsman’s Guide for a wide assortment of water sports gear.

Bill Vanderford has won numerous awards for his writing and photography, and has been inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary Guide. He can be reached at 770-289-1543, at

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One Response to “Southeast Paddling: South Carolina’s Chattooga River Is Wet, Wild!”

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