Chattooga - Section 3 - Earls Ford to Route 76 Bridge

Chattooga, Georgia, US/South Carolina, US


Section 3 - Earls Ford to Route 76 Bridge

Usual Difficulty II-III+(IV) (for normal flows)
Length 13 Miles


Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-02177000 1.20 - 3.00 ft II-III+(IV) 01h24m 1.64 ft (running)

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  .  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).

Permit Information

Do it yourself permits. At access points fill out the permit. Put one copy in the box at the access and take one with you down the river.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2013-05-28 14:36:15


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0Earls FordPutin
0.3Warwoman RapidII+Photo
1.2First Island RapidII
1.6Rock GardenII+
2.33 Rooster TailsIIIPhoto
2.5Dicks Creek LedgeIII+Photo
3.0Sandy Ford RapidIIIPutin Takeout Access
3.5The NarrowsIII+Photo
3.5Narrows - second half of the rapidIIIPhoto
4.0Second LedgeIIIPhoto
5.4Eye of the NeedleIII+
8.0Fall CreekAccess
9.2Painted RockIII+Photo
11.0Thrifts FerryII+Access Playspot
12.2Bull Sluice (high water)Photo
12.2Bull SluiceIV

Rapid Descriptions

Earls Ford

Warwoman Rapid (Class II+, Mile 0.3)

Warwoman Rapid

Warwoman Rapid
Photo of Will Reeves by Brad Roberts taken 12/15/02 @ 1.4

Run right to left.

First Island Rapid (Class II, Mile 1.2)
Run the right side of the island.

Rock Garden (Class II+, Mile 1.6)
Technical rock garden

3 Rooster Tails (Class III, Mile 2.3)

Resized photo

Resized photo

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)

Dicks Creek Ledge

Dicks Creek Ledge
Photo of Brad Roberts by Will Reeves taken 12/01/02 @ 1.4

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 3.0)
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)

(RM) Entering The Narrows

(RM) Entering The Narrows
Photo of Colin Martin by Rob Maxwell @ 1.9 bridge 2.04 USGS

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 3.5)

(RM) Middle of The Narrows

(RM) Middle of The Narrows
Photo of Colin Martin by Rob Maxwell @ 1.9 bridge 2.04 USGS

Second Ledge (Class III, Mile 4.0)

Nick Bonner getting his boof on

Nick Bonner getting his boof on
Photo by Jimmy Jones taken 12/19/15 @ a good level

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.
(Click on image for larger view)

Fall Creek
Access point

Rollercoaster (Class III, Mile 9.0)
fun wavetrain.

Painted Rock (Class III+, Mile 9.2)

Painted Rock Rapid

Painted Rock Rapid
Photo of Will Reeves by William Reeves taken 1991

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 11.0)
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.

Bull Sluice (high water)

Bulls Sluice highwater (resized)

Bulls Sluice highwater (resized)
Photo of Bulls Sluice highwater (resized) by Ben River taken 09/18/04 @ 9 feet

When the Chattooga gets huge boaters still run the Sluice.

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.
Boofing Decapitation Rock
(Click on image for fullsize photo.)

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