Being South Carolina’s only National Wild & Scenic River and made famous by the movie version of James Dickey’s, Deliverance, the Chattooga River Trail (CRT) is as classic as Shining Rock Wilderness and the Great Smoky Mountains. The river is one of the few remaining free-flowing streams in the Southeast and the setting is primitive, with dense forests and undeveloped shorelines. The CRT shares its pathway with both the Foothills (FHT) and Bartram Trails in the Russell Bridge area, but it stays close to the river for its entire distance. Although the entire trail is almost forty miles, the approximately seventeen miles covered in this report offers a perfect weekend hike with several waterfalls and campsites near the beautiful river. Unfortunately, this hike is best done as a shuttle hike rather than a loop so you’ll need two cars. The climate in the river corridor is usually cooler than the surrounding area. Summer temperatures in the lower portions may reach 90 degrees while the upper areas are about 10 degrees cooler. Summer nights are a comfortable 65-70 degrees. During the winter, temperatures may drop below freezing most nights. Annual rainfall varies from over 80 inches on the headwaters to about 50 inches on the lower end. Rains are heavy during the winter. Short duration thunderstorms occur frequently during the summer.
Day One (2.5 miles): Leaving the fish hatchery parking lot, the trail passes the hatchery and picnic area. Take the left fork at the large covered picnic shelter and follow the trail downhill. The trail ends at the confluence of the East Fork and the Chattooga River at the junctions of the CRT and the FHT. Turn left over the bridge to a large a camping area and the connector trail for the foothills trail. If you go right, it will take you to Ellicott Rock, the cornerstone of NC, GA, and SC (2 miles).
Day Two (~ 9 miles): Head south along the CRT. Shortly after leaving camp the FHT will fork off to the left—stay right. A short spur trail (400 yds round trip) to Spoonauger Falls will be on the left about 1.3 miles from camp. After viewing the falls, continue on the trail for .2 mile to Burrell’s Ford Rd. Turn left and walk uphill to the Burrell’s Ford parking lot. Behind the sign/kiosk is the CRT/FHT (the FHT rejoins the CRT across Burrell’s Ford Rd. across from the sign/kiosk). Follow this trail south for about .2 mile to the spur trail for Kings Creek Falls. The short trail (.6 mile round trip) is well worth it. The creek runs right through Burrell’s Ford campground and drains into the Chattooga River. Return to the CRT and continue for another 2.5 miles to the intersection of the steep Big Bend Trail, which climbs up and over Chattooga Ridge for 3 miles to Cherry Hill Campground on hwy 107. Shortly after passing the intersection, you will hear (then see) Big Bend Falls. (Part of the movie was filmed here.) Finally, climb over Round Top and back down to the river (~ 2 mi). There are several good campsites along this portion of the river, but the best are about a 1/2 mi down near the falls.
Day Three (~4.5 miles): Only a couple of miles after leaving camp, the FHT will fork off to your right. Stay straight on the CRT for a couple hundred yards to the upper portion of Lick Log Falls. This is a great last respite before hiking back to the car. Hike down the CRT is little ways farther to the lower portion of the Falls. When you’re ready, hike back to the FHT fork off and start the hike uphill to Chattooga Ridge and the car. After a mile or so, you will enter a small parking lot. The trail continues on the other side. Shortly after, there will be another spur trail to the right that takes you to the overflow parking lot. Stay straight and after another mile or so you will arrive at hwy 107 and your vehicle (across the street).