Named one of South Carolina’s Seven Wonders by the South Carolina 7 Expedition the beautiful Chattooga River region is full of recreational opportunities for Upstate families, including hiking and swimming at a sandy beach! KAG contributor Liene tells us what we need to know about the area and one of the main attractions, Bull Sluice.
The Chattooga River and Sumter National Forest
Looking at a map of South Carolina, the northwest corner of the state is mostly green, indicating a wealth of public lands. In addition to state parks and county parks like Oconee and Chau Ram, you have large swaths of National Forest land, open to the public for all sorts of activities. The 85,000-acre Andrew Pickens Ranger District is named for the Revolutionary War General Andrew Pickens, and is one of the three districts of Sumter National Forest.
The abuse wrought on the land by the early settlers left large areas worthless for farming and timber production. The abandoned land ended up in federal hands in the early 1900s, and it was designated a national forest in 1920. The National Forest is bordered on the west by the Chattooga River, one of the few remaining free-flowing streams in the Southeast. The river also forms the border of South Carolina and Georgia, from the NC border to its confluence with the Tallulah River (and subsequent renaming as the Tugaloo River).
With its remoteness, dense forests and rich diversity of plant and animal life, this is a highly unique place and has been recognized as such; it was declared the Wild and Scenic Chattooga River on May 10th, 1974. This designation protects a 15,432 acre corridor along the river, including the section running through the Ellicott Rock Wilderness, the spot where SC, NC and GA come together.
The Chattooga winds through the mountains for 57 miles from its headwaters to the southwest of Cashiers, NC. It is flat and calm in places, suitable for swimming and tubing, however in other sections it becomes whitewater, with dangerous rapids resulting in portages for even skilled paddlers.
One such spot is Bull Sluice, a benchmark Class IV+ rapid during normal flow (it becomes even more dangerous and almost impassable during low water). Infamous for being featured in the movie “Deliverance,” the rapids are located near the highway 76 bridge and the boat/raft put-in parking area for Section 4, making it a popular destination for whitewater rafters and kayakers. Bull Sluice is actually the largest & final rapid on Section 3 of the Chattooga, and many boaters who are running Section 4 (which is narrower and more dangerous) will first run Bull Sluice.
As it’s just a short hike, Bull Sluice is also popular as a swimming hole with a sandy beach a few hundred feet below the rapid. There is supposedly a small cave under the main flow of water where swimmers can watch boaters running the rapid above them. With three young children we stayed well away from the rapids, leaving the exploring to older and more adventurous. After soaking in the scene we retraced our steps back to the paved road that leads from the parking area to the beach, stripped off our shoes, and enjoyed a few quiet hours in the cool waters of the river.
To access the river and the Bull Sluice rapids, park in the large parking area on the north side of Highway 76. The road to the beach departs to the left from the shelter, and the trail to the Bull Sluice overlook is just a few hundred yards further going off to the right.
From the parking area you’ll also find stairs that lead down to US76 and cross the river for a scenic view upriver. This is the spur trail that continues on 11 miles to link to the William Bartram Trail, the trail that retraces the famous explorer/naturalist/writer’s 1773 journey through the region. A viewing platform on the south side of the river is accessible from a pull-off also on the downriver side; it is not possible for pedestrians to cross the highway, you must drive to reach the parking area on the opposite side.
There are two waterfalls on the SC side in close proximity to US76 at this point: Fall Creek Falls and the 50-ft Long Creek Falls that cascades into the Chattooga. Don’t confuse Fall Creek Falls with Falls Creek Falls up in the direction of Jones Gap; Fall Creek Falls is a difficult, 2-mile downstream hike (although the multiple waterfalls ranging from 30-50 feet in height along the mile-long stretch of creek are worth it in my opinion!).
King Creek Falls and Spoonauger Falls are a little further north, and can be combined with a camping trip to Burrells Ford Campground: Camp Near Scenic Waterfalls in Upstate, SC .
Another fun destination in Sumter National Forest is the Walhalla Fish Hatchery. Tour the fish hatchery, have a picnic, and fish the East Fork!
This post first appeared on Femme au Foyer as Bull Sluice on the Chattooga.