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Georgia Mountain Laurel Magazine

Whitewater Rafting on the Chattooga

Jun 07, 2016 03:11PM ● By Melanie Heisinger

Whitewater Rafting on the Chattooga

Written by Tracy McCoy – Photography provided by Southeastern Expeditions


A wonderful summary of the Wild and Scenic Chattooga is found on the website of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System (

Flowing through three states and the Ellicott Rock Wilderness, the Chattooga is recognized as one of the Southeast's premier whitewater rivers. It begins in mountainous North Carolina as small rivulets, nourished by springs and abundant rainfall. High on the slopes of the Appalachian Mountains is the start of a 57-mile journey that ends at Lake Tugaloo between South Carolina and Georgia.

The river is one of the few remaining free-flowing streams in the Southeast. The Chattooga offers outstanding scenery, ranging from thundering falls and twisting rock-choked channels to narrow, cliff-enclosed deep pools. The setting is primitive; dense forests and undeveloped shorelines characterize the primitive nature of the area. No motorized vehicles are permitted within a corridor about 1/4-mile wide on either side of the river. Visitors must rely on their own skills and strength rather than on motorized equipment. Man-made facilities are minimal, consisting primarily of hiking trails.

The river's outstandingly remarkable values include recreation, biology, scenery, geology and history.

Part of the Chattooga's history is the filming of the movie Deliverance, released on the big screen in 1972. The movie included some incredible scenery and brought to light the beauty of the river. The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System was created by Congress in 1968 to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations. Since May 10, 1974, the Chattooga River has been protected along a 15,432 acre corridor as a national Wild and Scenic River.

Anyone who has stepped foot on or near the Chattooga walks away amazed. If, they can walk away, many find it impossible to leave its banks. One such person is Paul Speed. Paul works for Southeastern Expeditions, a commercial rafting company who opened its doors in 1972 after the company's founder Claude Terry purchased equiptment used in the movie from Warner Brothers. Mr. Terry actually worked as a consultant and a stunt double in the movie. Today Southeastern Expeditions is owned by Brent and Dusty Rogers who carry on the legacy that Mr. Terry created of a company staffed by knowledgable, highly trained guides who keep the safety and enjoyment of their guests in focus and make it a priority.

The first rafting company to commercially raft the Chattooga was Wildwater. They opened on the Chattooga, but today they have locations in South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee as well. Wildwater has added ziplining to their adventure list and offers combination packages for quests.

NOC which stands for Nantahalla Outdoor Company was also founded in 1972 when their founder Payson Kennedy also worked as a stunt double in the Deliverance movie. The company began on the Nantahalla but now offers rafters the option to explore eight rivers in the Southeast. Chattooga being one of them. As with the other two, NOC employs highly skilled guides and offers visitors a thrilling ride.

The Chattooga is divided into sections Class II, III, and IV, each increasing in excitement and difficulty. The river is surrounded by the Chattahoochee and Sumpter National Forests and the beauty is astounding. “After they go down the river, many locals say that they seen places on their trip they never knew existed.” said Paul Speed.

Paul, an ex-marine, has been a rafting guide since 2006 and is highly skilled and knowledgable. “The river changes every day so what was a class 1 rapid today can become a class 6 tomorrow depending on rain and water levels. The Chattooga is unique and dynamic. It is the only spring fed, commercially rafted river in the Southeast that has also been designated Wild and Scenic.” Paul has rafted many rivers in the US and internationally. He loves the river life, the people he meets and those he works with. Paul Speed never dreads Monday morning, it is simply another opportunity to introduce visitors and locals to the river. He and the others will map the day deciding where to put in and who will be in their raft. What does the guest want from their trip? A gentle easy ride or a thrilling adventure? A river guide is planning how best to entertain you yet keep you completely safe even before you arrive.

Paul spoke of the great working relationship and respect shared between the three rafting companies. He has worked at other companies and had only good things to say about each one. He is very happy working at Southeastern and is impressed with the company. He spoke well of Jonathan McKinsey also an ex-marine and the River Manager at Southeastern and also the Outpost Manager Ruth Octiveck. “Both work tirelessly to make it all happen. They make working at Southeastern a pleasure.” Paul said. This December Paul will be guiding a gear boat through the Grand Canyon.

The Chattooga river is also known for its excellent trout fishing opportunities. One can also hike along the river on the Chattooga Trail. Horseback riding is allowed on the nearby Rocky Gap/Willis Knob Horse Trail.


For anyone wishing to plan a trip we recommend visiting one of the websites of the companies we have mentioned in this article:

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