Difficulty II-III+(IV)
Length 13 Miles
Flow Range 1.20 - 3.00 FT
Flow Rate as of: 44 minutes ago 2.19 [FT]
Reach Info Last Updated 05/19/2019 9:53 pm

River Description

Gauge info:

The online gauge reads differently than the paddler's gauge on the US 76 Bridge. Most local paddlers refer to the bridge gauge.

The online gauge reads about .15 higher than the bridge gauge at 2 feet, about .25 higher below two feet and the same at about 2.8 feet.

Many long stretches of Section 3 are wide and shallow at low water and this can make for a long day on the river. At levels below 1.8 or so on the bridge is it scrapy. At levels of about 1.2 on the internet guage it can be intolerable. See alternative river itineraries below.

This section can certainly be run above 3', by experienced paddlers familar with Section 3. Pay particular attention to areas like Sandy Ford at high water.



 River Info:

See also Section 4.

Section 3 is a beautiful section of river. Since the Chattooga is a National Wild and Scenic River the river corridor is protected by a 1/4 to 1/2 mile buffer zone where developement is not allowed. There are few permanent signs of humans from the route 28 bridge to route 76 bridge. You may see tents and a campsite or two but no roads, houses, convenience stores, or fast food restaurants. The access points (other than those at the bridges) are set back 1/4 mile or further from the river so that you will have to carry your boat for a while. There is a self-permit system (no fee), where you fill out the form, drop a copy at the box near the put-in and carry the other copy with you down the river. 

Back in the early days (circa 1970) when this author first paddled the Chattooga, almost everyone paddled either Section 2 (rte 28 to Earl's Ford), Section 3 (Earl's Ford to rte 76 bridge) or Section 4 (76 bridge to the lake).  There were reasons for this; most boaters did not know where the other access points were and the roads to them were often "rough".  Now it seems that a minority paddle the "old " section 3 of Earl's Ford to 76 bridge. The access points for section 3 are from upstream, Earl's Ford, Sandy Ford, Falls Creek, Thrift's Ferry, 76 bridge, and I will add Woodall Shoals (technically on section 4 but these days more a part of section 3). 

Earls Ford is the takeout for Section 2 and the put-in for a couple of reasonable runs on Section 3. It is not terribly steep so the carry works in both directions. The Sandy Ford access is also not too steep or long and works OK both as a put-in or take-out. Falls Creek is long and steep, it is at best fair as a put-in but I can't imagine anyone wanting to carry a boat up that trail - you'd have to be heavily into self-flagellation.  It would serve as an emergency access. Thrifts Ferry is fairly good (and popular) as a put-in, it's a bit harder as a take-out as it's fairly uphill. Route 76 Bridge serves as the normal section 3 takeout (and the section 4 put-in); it's not particularly long or severe. Woodall Shoals access is mostly used as a takeout for the fairly popular Section 3 1/2 trips; it is fairly long (~1/3 mile or so) but not terribly steep.

Earls Ford to SandyFord is about 3 miles and is often used as a teaching section. Earls to 76 is a long day; 13 miles of mixed rapids and relatively flat water (still fairly popular). I've never heard of anyone running Earl's to Falls Creek (see description above). Earls to Thrifts is feasible, but few people do it as the takeout at 76 bridge is much more manageable and you get a couple bonus rapids including Bull Sluice. Sandy Ford to 76 bridge is a popular run; it is 10 miles (knocking 3 miles off the Earls to 76 bridge run) and make a reasonable day. If you don't mind somewhat of a carry uphill, Sandy to Thrifts would make a shorter run. Below about 1.8 feet on the USGS guage, all of the above runs get bony so you will have to be tolerant of scraping. If you run it below 1.5, you must enjoy scraping.

Thrifts Ferry to Woodall Shoals is called section 3 1/2. It retains the character of section 3 as the major rapids (including Five Falls) are located below Woodall. When ending your trip at Woodall, you can either take out just above Woodall on river left and follow the trail to the parking lot or run the rapid and take out (also on the left) just below it. This is a popular run in the summer months and can be run down to 1.2 feet on the USGS guage without a lot of scraping or banging. 

Access Points / Shuttle Directions: Starting from Downstream

Woodall Shoals - From the US Highway 76 access proceed east on US 76 into South Carolina for a little over 2 miles and turn right onto Orchard Road. Next in less than a mile, turn right onto Woodall Shoals Road and follow it to the end/circle/parking area. 

76 Bridge (is where route 76 crosses the river) parking and pit toillets. 

Thrifts Ferry - From 76 bridge proceed east (into South Carolina) the first road on your left will be Thrifts Ferry Rd. There is a road sign; it is a dirt & gravel road. At the end there is a circle, parking and nearby designated camping. 

Sandy Ford - From 76 bridge head east on US 76 for about 2 miles to a left turn on the first paved road on the left (Chattooga Ridge Road). Follow Chattooga Ridge Road for 4-5 miles until you come to a 4 way stop sign at Earls Ford Road. Turn left onto Earls Ford Rd and follow it until it turns to gravel / dirt. Slow down and look for Forrest Service Road 721A (small green sign a foot or two off the ground) and turn left onto 721A. Follow 721A to the parking area / trail to the river. 

Earl's Ford - Follow Sandy Ford directions but don't turn on 721A, just follow the road to the parking area / access trail. 

The shuttle direction should be fairly obvious (e.g. drop and empty car at 76 bridge and drive to Earl's Ford following the above directions). If running section 3 1/2 and have two loaded cars, drive to Thrifts, unload, drive back to US 76, and turn left until you get to Orchard Rd (follow the rest of the direction to Woodall and drop off the shuttle car). If you alread have an empty shuttle car, drive to Woodall, drop off the empty car, then return to US76 and turn left and look for the sign for Thrifts Ferry Rd. 

Shuttle service / boating shop.

Chattooga Whitewater Outfitters has a boating store and offers shuttle service to just about any paddleable portion of the Chattooga. So if you are coming from a distance, you can pack 4 or 5 boats onto one car and not have to worry about bringing that second car. It is a very good idea to call them a day in advance 864-647-9083. If you get to the river and find that you've forgotten your pfd, helmet, spray skirt, or paddle, they also rent equipment. They have a web site http://www.chattoogaadventures.com/  .  They are located 2.6 miles on the South Carolina side of the river, just past the turnoffs for Earl's Ford and Woodall. You could even plug their street address into a GPS  (14239 Long Creek Hwy, Long Creek, SC 29658) to get you very close to the river. Coming from Atlanta it will probably take you past route 76 bridge on the way. I know that it does from Asheville. 

Boaters can also put in on Warwoman Creek. or Whetstone Creek.

Another popular option is to put in at Thrifts Ferry about 2 miles above Bull Sluice and the Highway 76 Bridge, and takeout at Woodall Shoals (See Section 4 of the Chattooga River for more information on this part of the river). At Woodall Shoals portage left on the big rock or run rar right (Georgia Side of the river).

Rapid Descriptions

Earls Ford

Class - Mile - 0
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Warwoman Rapid

Class - II+ Mile - 0.3
Run right to left.

First Island Rapid

Class - II Mile - 1.2
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
Run the right side of the island.

Rock Garden

Class - II+ Mile - 1.6
Technical rock garden

3 Rooster Tails

Class - III Mile - 2.25
About a quarter mile above Dicks Creek ledge is a short but exciting rapid with a rock that bisects the river flow. Most boaters take the left channel.

Dicks Creek Ledge

Class - III+ Mile - 2.5
One of the more technical rapids on the upper stretch. Many options for routes. Above 4.5 feet this rapid turns into a nasty riverwide hole.

Sandy Ford Rapid

Class - III Mile - 3
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
Pretty easy at lower levels. But rather interesting at high water. When 5 falls is too high for mere mortals, lots of boaters end up doing high water runs of section 3. Above 4.5 feet Sandy Ford hides the biggest hole on section 3. Three of my friends tell about a simultaneous cartwheel session in this hole at high flows. 2 of them swam out. The boats ran the narrows without them. Getting the boaters back with the boats got kinda epic.

Just below the rapid on river left is an access point. Whetstone Creek enters the Chattooga here right below Sandy Ford and boaters can hike their boats up this creek for some waterfalls.

The Narrows

Class - III+ Mile - 3.5
The longest individual rapid on Section 3. There is an easy to avoid undercut on the bottom left. The middle of the rapid features some unusually swirly water.

Narrows - second half of the rapid

Class - III Mile - 3.51

Second Ledge

Class - III Mile - 4

A 6 foot tall ledge. This is where many southeastern boaters learned to boof. At moderate flows there is a good wave below the ledge. Portage left.

Eye of the Needle

Class - III+ Mile - 5.4
Run left, punch the wave hole. 13046thumb.jpg
(Click on image for larger view)

Fall Creek

Class - Mile - 8
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
Access point


Class - III Mile - 9
fun wavetrain.

Painted Rock

Class - III+ Mile - 9.2
Easy at low flows, but grows some large waves above 2 feet. Stay off the big rock in the middle.

Thrifts Ferry

Class - II+ Mile - 11
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
Access point on river left. Just below the thrifts ferry trail is a sweet rapid with a great wave. Nice eddy on river left. Great for spud boats above 1.7 feet.

Kick n’ the butt

Class - II Mile - 11.7
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
Not too big of a rapid, but it is fun to launch into the eddy on the far right side.

Bull Sluice

Class - IV Mile - 12.2
Very large double drop rapid full of potholes and undercuts. During the summer the locals will swim into a cave under the main flow then hang out and watch you boat over them. AW standard rated class 4+ from 1.8 to 2.3. Its easier lower, and harder higher. 233thumb.jpg
Boofing Decapitation Rock
(Click on image for fullsize photo.)

Bull Sluice (high water)

Class - Mile - 12.2

When the Chattooga gets huge boaters still run the Sluice.


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James Moloney
8 months ago

I have accidentally set the wrong photo as a rapid thumbnail, how do i fix this?

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Lee H Thonus
1 year ago

The strainer / logjam at the Narrows has apparently been removed from the Narrows. Main log is now on river right on the ledge below the narrows (Narrows Ledge).

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Patti and Tom Rutka
5 years ago

A week ago, 4/20/15, there was a large tree, very bad strainer, at Dick's Creek Ledge at 3.5 feet on section 3 that obscured any route over the ledge. Be sure to scout before running.

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Simon Krzych
6 years ago

Did this section Earls Ford to 76 Bridge July 6th 2012 and the water was running at 1.25ft Our first trip on this and water was runnable for smaller boats. George ran the Probe 12 most of the sections, Steve ran the Bell Prodigy for the first time some of this section. Ran this with George, Steve, Debbie, Mark, Sam, Isabel. I dropped Bull Sluice on the Probe 12 perfectly. Looking forward to doing this again soon.

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Adam Upchurch
6 years ago

The map is misleading, the put in is not at 28 but actually Earls Ford. If you put in at 28 and take out at the Bridge then you would of just paddled section 2 and 3, that is 20 miles and 7 hours of paddling.

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Simon Krzych
6 years ago

9/2/2013 Put in at Sandy Ford and took out at Bull Sluice. Great day on the Chattooga. water was running at 1.68FT We took the Probe 12, Mini Max, Avon Ranger and Alpaca. All boats worked great except for the Ranger, the water was a little to low. Ranger went over Second Ledge sideways, lost all its crew with no casualties. The Alpaca lost one on Eye Of The Needle with a broken paddle blade, no casualties. Ranger went over Bull Sluice and lost one, no casualties.

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Nathan Thompson
8 years ago

After running this section with my kayaking team this weekend, I can assure you that this is not a 13 mile run. The drive from bridge to bridge is 17.2 miles. The river is estimated to be slightly longer than that, somewhere around 18 miles. Fantastic day trip as long as you plan for 18 miles. Also, there are more rapids that this page suggests as well. I didnt get a full count but it was an awesome day and the rapids were extremely fun. I will post more info the next time we run this. By the way, we ran it at 1.35ft and it was only bony in about 2 places. All around excellent river and when all other rivers are below runnable, the chatooga is hangin in there strong.

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kirk fraley
9 years ago

The USGS keeps a staff plate (gage) maintained below the old gage house. This is tied to the internet data. It is a little further walk then what is below the bridge but the trail is clear.

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Jill Wrenn
9 years ago

Ran Earls to Sandy today. Strainer in Rock Garden is gone.

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Stu Thompson
10 years ago

We ran section 3 Saturday 11/14/09 - the tree that was across the bottom of the Narrows when we ran it two weeks ago is now gone, so you're good to go.

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Charles Spornick
10 years ago

There was a strainer blocking the rive right line at the bottom drop of Rock Garden. There was a cheat immediately to the right of the drop, it was barely open at 2.25

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10 years ago

Log sits atop entrance to narrows rapid with a strainer on left of run, and base of tree across right of run

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dark side
14 years ago

A highly reccomended section is earls ford to sandy. Leave a vehicle at Sandy ford and put in at earls ford. It is a great way to spend 2 hours after a day of work. The shuttle takes 5 minutes. If you play some you can liesurely do this section in 2 hours and you get some great scenery, isolation (during the week), and have some fun rapids to play on.

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dark side
14 years ago

The island above sandy ford has a large log jam on the right side. It looks passable on the far right. You cant miss it. We went left of the island at 1.4 or so and it was way too bony. The right side is too fun to miss.

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g Lamke
14 years ago

Probably better to run this when the USGS is over 1.5. Pretty bumpy @ around 1.3.

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17 years ago

From Boatertalk: I've got some good data on the correlation between the 76 bridge and and USGS gage.

Bridge = USGS
0.9 = 1.2
1.05 = 1.29
1.3 = 1.5
1.42 = 1.62
1.95 = 2.03
2.2 = 2.2
2.9 = 2.9

You'll notice that below 1.5 on the bridge there is a .2 difference in the gages. Above 1.5 they start to converge. Just over 2 feet they agree. I got the 2.2 and the 2.9 readings this weekend - thanx to Hanna!!!!!! I'm not sure if they begin to disagre at higher levels, but that would be a good guess. I'll keep an eye on it and post with more data later!

Paddle Safe -- Rob

Gage Descriptions

The online gauge reads differently than the paddler's gauge on the US 76 Bridge. Most local paddlers refer to the bridge gauge.

The online gauge reads about .15 higher than the bridge gauge at 2 feet, about .25 higher below two feet and the same at about 2.8 feet.

Many long stretches of Section 3 are wide and shallow at low water and this can make for a long day on the river. At levels below 1.8 or so on the bridge is it scrapy. At levels of about 1.2 on the internet guage it can be intolerable. See alternative river itineraries below.

This section can certainly be run above 3', by experienced paddlers familar with Section 3. Pay particular attention to areas like Sandy Ford at high water.

Directions Description

We have no additional detail on this route. Use the map below to calculate how to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.

Date Flow Result Factor  
2013-07-15 n/a Fatality Other Read More
1994-09-19 n/a Fatality One Boat Trip Read More
1994-08-17 High Fatality One Boat Trip Read More
1990-07-28 Low Fatality One Boat Trip Read More
1981-08-16 Low Fatality Poor Planning Read More
1975-02-01 n/a Fatality Cold Water Read More




article main photo

Claude Terry, paddler, outfitter, and conservationist, dies

Charlie Walbridge

Claude Terry, paddler, outfitter, and conservationist, died on November 20th, 2019. He was 83. A microbiologist by training, Terry began paddling in the mid-1960's while a professor at Emory University. He took to whitewater readily, and it became an important focus of his life. In 1969 he met veteran paddler Doug Woodward, and in 1971 the two became the technical advisers for the movie “Deliverance.” Afterwards, Terry and Woodward purchased the rafts Warner Brothers used in filming and bought 19 acres near the river. This became Southeastern Expeditions, one of the Southeast’s first whitewater outposts on the Chattooga. In 1974, Terry took then-Gov. Jimmy Carter on three trips on the Chatooga River, totaling 57 miles. This inspired Carter to get the Chattooga included in the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act and influenced later decisions protecting rivers across the U.S.“Terry adopted me as one of his students,” Carter told Outside Online in a 2017 interview. “it opened my eyes to the relationship between a human being and a wild river that I never had contemplated before that. When I got to be president I vetoed 16 different dam projects all over the United States.” Terry eventually quit his Emory University job and started full time career in environmental advocacy, including founding American Rivers, a principal U.S. conservation group. For the next 30 years he specialized in environmental projects involving rivers and wetlands and later, when he became a board-certified toxicologist, he developed an expertise in hazardous waste cleanups. He was an active paddler until sidelined by Parkinson's Disease. A passionate teacher and advocate, he is sorely missed by all who knew him. Click through for an excellent obituary and a photo of Terry taking Governor Carter over Bull Sluice!

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Lift Boating Ban on Wild & Scenic River!

Risa Shimoda

The Forest Service has upheld the ban on boating on a Wild and Scenic River, based on the assumption that boaters and anglers are not capable of co-existing. AW is heading into battle and needs your help to challenge this ban on shared use of our federal lands.

Matt Muir


Lee H Thonus




Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1195011 05/21/09 Matt Muir Added second state (SC)
1212436 05/19/19 Lee H Thonus updated image position
1195103 05/28/09 Matt Muir Fixed links to Section 4 and other streams.
1202257 05/27/13 Lee H Thonus
1202258 05/27/13 Lee H Thonus
1202261 05/28/13 Lee H Thonus Added photo to rapid
1211879 04/08/19 Lee H Thonus updated image position
1212375 05/16/19 Lee H Thonus updated image position
1190269 03/18/06 wreeves n/a