Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Upper Chattooga River

I've repeatedly hiked the Chattooga River Trail between the 76 bridge all the way up to Ellicott Rock, but I've always wondered about the headwaters and upper reaches of the Chattooga.  This weekend I finally backpacked the Chattooga Cliffs Trail and Ellicott's Rock Trail (connecting the two with a 1.3 mile roadwalk), and then headed over to hike Whiteside Mountain, where the Chattooga River originates.

Chattooga Cliffs Trail
The 5.1 mile Chattooga Cliffs Trail, within the Wild and Scenic River corridor, featured spectacular whitewater and scrambles along steep river slopes. The path only rarely followed the river, though narrow and slippery fisherman paths snaked down beneath the rhododendron to provide river access.  Sounds of the river- the steady roar echoing up the steep valley walls- were ever-present.
The Narrows- where rock banks squeeze the Chattooga River into a fast-flowing chute.
Iron bridge over Mill Creek where it joins the Chattooga below the Narrows.
Rocky cliffs jutting over the trail.
Boulders provide good places to stop and soak your feet.
I finally found out why there was no info on backpacking this trail.  It's used by fishermen and dayhikers, not backpackers.  Footing is tricky (someone had helpfully added rope handrails in some dicey spots), and quite a few downed trees in the trail required fancy gymnastics to scale or squeeze under.  Not ideal for most backpackers.
Campsites are very limited along the Chattooga Cliffs Trail, but with my hammock I can always find a spot.
Ellicott Rock Trail
The 4.3 mile Ellicott Rock Trail follows old road beds from Bull Pen Road down to the Chattooga River near Ellicott Rock.  Both ends provide not very convenient connections to other trails-- getting to the Chattooga River trail (on the opposite bank) requires a ford, and the northern trailhead was a 1.3 mile roadwalk to the Chattooga Cliffs Trail.  Which may explain why this trail doesn't see much use from backpackers either.  Or dayhikers-- hiking the heavily overgrown trail was like passing through a car-(un)wash with outstretched branches depositing layers of grime and pollen all over me.  It was such a relief to finally get to the river to rinse off.

Whiteside Mountain
On the way home, I stopped at Whiteside Mountain and hiked the 2-mile loop that climbs 500 feet up to the 4,930 foot summit.  "Verticle awesomeness" is the best way I've seen these 750 foot sheer granite rockfaces described.
View of Whiteside Mountain from near the trailhead for the Chattooga Cliffs Trails.
The small spring on the north side of this mountain is considered the headwaters of Chattooga.  It was awesome to stand on the summit and think about the water that flows all the way from here down to join the Savannah River, and finally into the Atlantic.  Incredible!
View from the top of Whiteside Mountain overlooking the Chattooga River valley.

Another great thing about Whiteside Mountain was all plants rare to our area like this wild sarsaparilla.
For more information:

 I use the excellent guidebook Hiking Trails of the Southern Nantahala Wilderness, Ellicott Rock Wilderness, and Chattooga River by Tim Homan.

The Trail Illustrated #785 Nanatahala and Cullasaja Gorges is my favorite map for this area.

Read more about the hike and flowers at Whiteside Mountain here.


  1. This is SO beautiful. Thanks for sharing! Living in the southwest really makes me miss water sometimes (most of the time). Speaking of, I think you said you've been to the middle fork? I'm putting in next sunday- any advice??

  2. There really is nothing like being along a wild river. Though I do miss the mountains out west. Oh you'll have a blast on the Middle Fork. Try to stop at the hot springs- there are a few along there and one I'll never forget had orchids along the banks. If you can take a few extra days, visit the Sawtooth Mountains around Stanley. Can't wait to hear about your trip!

    1. Thanks! I'm hoping to take lots of photos!