Rafting the Chattooga River:
Whitewater rafting is an awesome adventure for thrill seekers who revel in the outdoors. I love to whitewater raft and have been several times over the years. Before I had children I went down the Ocoee River in Tennessee several times with family. I rafted the Middle Section which was an exciting, but short river rafting experience lasting about two hours. I do recommend rafting the Ocoee and there is a longer option combining the Middle and Upper Ocoee if you are looking for a longer trip. Then, when my kids were too young to raft the Ocoee or Chattooga, we rafted the Nantahala several times. The Nantahala is an incredibly scenic river in the lush mountains of North Carolina that is a great option to raft when your children are young. Now that the boys are teenagers, I couldn’t wait to raft the Chattooga and finally had my chance this spring break.
Since Tulluah Gorge is on the way to the rafting location, we decided to combine some hiking with our rafting experience. On a Sunday afternoon during spring break, we hiked the spectacular Tulluah Gorge, which you can read about in another blog post. The gorge is near Clayton, Georgia where we decided to spend the night to be ready for our rafting adventure the next day. Clayton is only about a two hour drive from Atlanta. After our hike, we drove to Clayton and stopped at the Rusty Bike for lunch. We had some amazing burgers and fries, and liked it so much we went back the next morning for breakfast and enjoyed the delicious chicken fried steak, biscuits and gravy and banana bread french toast. The owner came over to our table to talk about our trip and warned us about the largest rapid we would tackle on our rafting trip, Bull Sluice. One nice thing about visiting a small tourist town is that the waiters and business owners are super friendly and want you to have a memorable vacation. We stayed at the Kingwood Resort which is only 13 miles from the rafting center. The rooms were clean, simple, and not too expensive. My boys had fun hanging out at their pool and running around on the golf course after it closed.
Unfortunately, the day of our rafting trip there were torrential rains and tornado warnings, so it had to be rescheduled for the next day. That is just part of experiencing the outdoors, you can’t count on mother nature to cooperate. We were lucky to be able to stay another night to be able to go the next day. To kill time we went to the Fun Factory in Franklin, North Carolina. It is an enormous arcade that also includes a trampoline jump center and indoor putt putt golf.
Luckily, the weather cleared late that afternoon so we were able to squeeze in a short hike nearby. The hike was at Warwoman Dell (Warwoman Dell Recreation Area-CNF | Clayton, Georgia ), and it was great to get outside in such a beautiful area with rhododendron covering the mountainside and wildflowers along the trail. Below are some photos of the hike which included two small waterfalls and moss covered stairs built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
After our hike, we headed to Historic Downtown Clayton which is charming with several nostalgic restaurants and shops. My son and I wanted to visit Wander North Georgia to get a t-shirt, since we follow them on Instagram for ideas on North Georgia adventures, but they were closed so we’ll have to drop in another time.
We worked up an appetite on our hike and had dinner at Universal Joint- we recommend the burgers, BBQ nachos, and Asian Salad.
Finally the time for our rafting trip arrived. We drove to the Nantahala Outdoor Center in South Carolina to check in. We opted to put on the wet suits they provided since we knew the water would be cold this time of year. There was another couple there from Florida on their honeymoon and a family with four boys who had come all the way from Michigan. The parent’s had rafted the Chattooga twenty years ago and wanted their kids to experience it. You could feel the excitement in the air as we watched the video on what you do if you fall out of the raft….
We took a bus ride down a winding road to the drop off point, and our guides had to carry the rafts about 1/4 mile down a hill to put in at the river. After brief instructions on rafting from our strapping young guide, Eric, we were off paddling down the river. There were some rapids right off, and we navigated them easily with paddling instructions from Eric. Then, there were some stretches that we relaxed and enjoyed the wonderful scenery of the steep mountainside covered with trees and rhododendron and large boulders scattered randomly throughout the river.
Eric said we were doing so well that he was going to let us “surf a rapid”. After we went over the next rapid, we paddled straight back at it and got “trapped” in the current right at the bottom of the rapid. We were head on to the rapid and it did feel like we were surfing with the water rapidly flowing beneath our raft. Then we tried what Eric said was more challenging which is to surf sideways. It absolutely was more challenging and our raft started to get swamped with water. Eric told us to dig in and paddle hard backwards, but we seemed to be stuck. Thankfully, we were able to set ourselves free after a thrilling few moments where I thought we were going to capsize.
After about maybe an hour of rafting, we stopped for a leisurely lunch of granola mix, sandwiches, lemonade, and oreo cookies. My boys are expert rock skippers and impressed the crowd with their abilities :). Then we were off again and soon came to the big one – Bull Sluice. We got out of the boat before the rapid and hiked over some extremely large boulders to scout it out and get instructions on how to conquer it. Here we are on our scouting mission with the roaring water behind us. The rapid was impressive to say the least- you do need to be a daring sort of person who wants to tackle a bit of danger to raft the Chattooga.
We were able to watch the two other rafts go down before us which made the experience even more dramatic. Eric explained to us that this is one of the biggest rafting rapids in the southeast. It was the beginning of rafting season, and I think our guides were as excited as we were. Here is the series of photos that one of the guides captured for us. As we went down it was like we were in slow motion. I felt the raft get totally swamped with water and slow down. Seeing the photos, I am surprised that my youngest son wasn’t washed away!
After we all made it successfully down the rapid we were told that we could swim the rapid if we wanted. We walked to the edge of the rocks and jumped in. I think this was one of everyone’s favorite parts of the trip. Everyone in our group swam the rapid and my youngest son and a few others did it twice. Standing on the edge of the boulder about to jump into the roaring water was a bit unnerving, but worth the rush after the first chill of the freezing water wore off.
We had a few more rapids to run on the trip, but of course none compared to Bull Sluice. They were all enjoyable and incredibly enchanting though. It took us about five hours for the whole rafting experience of rafting section III of the Chattooga which is rated intermediate. Now that we have “tested the waters” per say, my boys and I would like to go back and raft section IV which is rated advanced and has more class IV and V level rapids on it.
Rafting the Chattooga is an exhilarating experience. Experiencing the beauty of the the wild and scenic Chattooga River for a few hours, mixed with the adrenaline rush of running the rapids is a wonderful combination. We can’t wait to go back and experience the next level on Section IV of the river. We are so lucky to live so close to such a marvelous treasure.
Links to raft Chattooga River:
Link to raft the Ocoee River:
Link to raft Nantahala River: