In the late spring, the river is lined with blooming pink and white mountain laurel. Early spring is also a great time to go rafting, kayaking, or canoeing because of the higher flows and cooler temperatures. The Chattooga is a free-flowing river (no upstream dam to control the flow) which quickly responds to rainfall or drought conditions. As a drop-pool style river, rapids are followed by calm pools for swimming.
The Chattooga headwaters start near Cashiers as a small stream, but Green Creek is the start of the boatable section. Section I is the West Fork and is ideal for tubing and class II float trips. Section II starting at Highway 28 is a class II float. Section III has Class II-IV rapids which rafters and kayakers frequent. The final rapid in Section III is Bull Sluice. Section IV includes Class II-V rapids, including the famous Five Falls (five class III-V rapids in roughly a 1/4 mile stretch). The minimum age requirement to raft Section III is 8, and Section IV is 12.
The Forest Plan, issued in 1976 and revised in January 2004, restricted motorized craft, closed many roads to the river and prohibited floating on the upper 21 miles of river. This plan was challenged by several boating advocacy groups, causing the United States Forest Service to withdraw the plan of 2004 and ordering a Visitor Use Capacity Analysis. The USFS issued its final decision in January of 2012. The decision expanded boating onto some sections of the upper Chattooga with a number of restrictions based on season, section of river, property ownership, time of day, and water level. This section is difficult, flows infrequently, and will likely see limited whitewater use; however, when it does flow the weather will likely be bad and other river users are unlikely to be out
The Chattooga River is the main tributary of the Tugaloo River. Its headwaters are located southwest of Cashiers, North Carolina, and it stretches 57 miles to where it has its confluence with the Tallulah River within Lake Tugalo, held back by the Tugalo Dam. The Chattooga and the Tallulah combine to make the Tugaloo River starting at the outlet of Lake Tugalo. The Chattooga begins in southern Jackson County, North Carolina, then flows southwestward between northwestern Oconee County, South Carolina, and eastern Rabun County, Georgia. The "Chattooga" spelling was approved by the US Board on Geographic Names in 1897.
The Chattooga River flows into Tugalo Lake where it joins the Tallulah River. After flowing through Tugalo Dam the combined rivers become the Tugaloo River which, along with the Seneca River, becomes the Savannah River below Lake Hartwell. Downstream from that point, the water flows into the Atlantic Ocean near Savannah, Georgia.
Since May 10, 1974, the Chattooga River has been protected along a 15,432-acre corridor as a national Wild and Scenic River. 39.8 miles of the river have been designated “wild”, about 2.5 miles “scenic”, and 14.6 miles “recreational” for a total of about 57 miles. On the commercially rafted sections (III and IV) there is a 1/4 mile protected corridor of National Forest on both sides of the river, allowing no roads to the river or development of any kind. There are a few areas on the river where access has been made more accessible on Section III, but much of Section IV is fairly remote. The Chattooga also bisects the Ellicott Rock Wilderness which straddles three states (Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina) BFGO512and three National Forests (the Chattahoochee, Nantahala and Sumter National Forests). Much of the Georgia portion of the river is within the Chattooga River Ranger District of the Chattahoochee National Forest.
Known as the "Crown Jewel" of the southeast, the Chattooga was the first river east of the Mississippi to be granted the Wild & Scenic designation, and is still the only one that is commercially rafted.