Wow, Chattooga River in the North Georgia Hills Simply Amazing

A weekend trip to the Chattooga River turned up no banjos or hillbillies, but rugged terrain filled with peace and beauty. Unfortunately, no fish.

My girlfriend and I spoke about a great guide on Patch about how Georgia's smack in the peak of fall's leaf change (my dog; a blonde terrier mutt) seemed to have picked up on the excitement of that conversation - he knew what was in store.

I don't like to miss fall in the outdoors; not even a little bit. The mild temperatures, the beautiful skies, the crisp air, the festivals. It's a respite from the summer heat which keeps me perpetually drenched in sweat and always feeling in need of a shower.

So to take advantage of a recent crisp, clean weekend, we decided to set our sites on an area we have been before, but have never fully explored: The Chattooga River - the one made famous by author James Dickey, actors Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, etc.

But let's be real. I put those kinds of fears to rest years ago (I think.)

My girlfriend is an outdoorswoman and an avid photographer, and - me - I find the best way to unwind from time-to-time is to hump a 60-lb. pack and find a perfect spot in a river to rig-up and catch some trout.

So, whatever our disparate motives, we were game on a recent weekend to see the leaves do their thing.

The Chattooga River at Russell's Bridge is a little off the beaten path, but if you can make it to Tallulah Gorge - one of recommendations in our fall leaf-watching guide - you're pretty close. Believe me, it's well worth it.

  • How to get there: This map will get you to Clayton, about a 2-hour drive from Atlanta. When there, it's probably not a bad idea to ask where to go when you fill up with gas. The next part's a little tricky and the people are helpful and friendly.
  • What you want to do is pick up Warwoman Road headed east, which branches from the heart of town. After 14 miles, a split at Highway 28 will take you south to the S.C./Georgia border.
  • Cross Russell's Bridge over the mighty Chattooga River, make a left into the parking lot in front of a cattle fence. You're there. Walk north along the well-marked trail that follows the famous river.

Heads up: You need to have backpacking gear for an overnight stay. A short jaunt into this trail is not what you want. There aren't many easy-to-reach vistas.

But as displayed by the pictures in the slideshow, it's absolutely gorgeous, and for those who still want a shot at it, I'm happy to report the fall colors have not yet peaked as of a week ago. But a warning: three weeks left is tops in my book.

Cut the logistics and you have only the best part; the overwelming beauty, peace and a surprising (and welcome) lack of people along the river.

While walking, familiar Rhododendron line the trail. Hickory Oak, White Pine and Dry Oak abound near the river - according to my research. Whatever you call them, the leaves of orange, yellow and magenta are dream-like to see raining down, fluttering in the breeze and spindling into the river.

With this, somehow you're not looking at nature; you're in it. And that's enough for me to call it a good weekend.

But there's the issue of fishing - and this created no unity. Here's the skinny; I caught none. I rigged various baits. I froze my toes off. I failed. In my defense - I'm still learning the river.

Despite my failure, something that turns me on about the Chattooga - the actual dividing line of Georgia and South Carolina - is the apparent existence of the Southern brook trout.

Conventional wisdom says it's not going too well for these guys. The Rainbow trout, visitors from the west that thrive here, and Brown trout, imports from Europe, make the Southern brook exceedingly rare. It's just business, as they say.

So I look ahead with anticipation. When I do catch a Southern Brook this year or next (a course of personal study is upcoming on that river and its fishs' habits) I will consider it a grand feat.

Not for bragging rights and not just because my favorite fall season will play out all around me, but because I'll be a part of a cherished realness with the natural world.

It sure is rare to find, and when you do - grab it - you're not just looking at the beauty around you, you're in that space where you are more than a guest  - you've arrived, a rare blessing.


  • Upload some of your fall photos to this gallery. We can either combine them with these or feature the separately. We want to see pictures you've taken or of your beautiful yard.


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