Running rapid down the shute
Individual kayaking and canoeing are just as popular as group rafting on the Chattooga. The river is geographically sectioned to ensure awareness of skill level and safety. However, before dipping a boat into what looks to be an easy run, check local floating sections and water levels; the attitude of the river changes constantly due to rainfall.
Water levels are often lower in the summer, creating easier runs. Fall and spring conditions bring more rain which results in unfamiliar rapids. Classifications set by the American Whitewater Affiliation help boaters to judge skill level on a universal scale.
The stretch of the Chattooga most commonly used for paddling and rafting is split into four sections starting at State Highway 28 Bridge and flowing into Tugaloo Lake. Boating is prohibited above the 28 Bridge. Skill and rapid levels increase from the calm waters of Section I to the raging white water of Section IV.
Section I, from West Fork to Main River, has mostly flat water and is excellent for rainbow trout fishing and observing wildlife.
Section II and III tumble along increasingly faster, offering mostly Class III rapids with one doozy at the end, Bull's Sluice. Intermediate kayakers and canoers usually scout this rapid first, looking upstream at the ominously named Decapitation Rock. If traveling with a guided outfitter, you will most likely barrel through this rapid only getting slightly wet and maybe a little scared -- that is, if you keep your eyes open.
Section IV begins after Bull's Sluice at U.S. 76, roaring though dangerous curves before spilling into Tugaloo Lake. Massive rocks and winding turns challenge the experts.
Beware of Woodall Shoals, where a serious hydraulic hole can swallow boats. It might be best to carry your boat around, if this is your first time running Section IV. There are more roller coaster-like obstacles around the bend.
If you're planning to tackle the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River, consider going Labor Day weekend, when the South Carolina Apple Festival takes place in Westminster. A Dutch Oven Cook-Off, 10K Road Race, street dancing and the Chattooga River Float are highlights of the annual event.
The local U.S. Forest Service advises that you check with federal equipment requirements for each section of the river. Always wear a flotation device, register your party with local law enforcement offices, and keep the river clean.
For more information about the river or on taking a guided tour, contact the U.S. Forest Service, Westminster Chamber of Commerce, Nantahala Outdoor Center, Southeastern Expeditions, Wildwater Ltd., or Great Outdoor Recreation Pages (on the Web, see Related sites).