Hike the Chattooga River Trail from Russell Bridge, exploring an old abandoned homestead, and ending at the Chattooga’s ultra-scenic river banks at Adeline Ford.
LOCATION:Rabun County near Clayton, Georgia
OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 778 Trails Illustrated Map (find it at Trailful Outdoor Co.)
The Chattooga River is simply breathtaking. The river runs a course from North Carolina to North Georgia, meandering through beautiful scenery, rushing whitewater rapids, and calm pools of crystal-clear water. Officially named a National Wild and Scenic River in the 1970s, it’s one of the South’s few wild, unaltered rivers, and it’s a popular destination for kayaking, rafting, and fishing. The river hosts many trails on its banks, including this stretch of the Chattooga River Trail and a segment of the Bartram Trail, popular with hikers and backpackers in the river’s scenic, remote wilderness.
The river collects in its headwaters near Whiteside Mountain in Highlands, NC before flowing south on the border between Georgia and South Carolina. In eastern Rabun County, the river crosses under Russell Bridge, flowing wide and serene. Downriver, north of its confluence with the Tallulah River, the river earns its ‘wild’ name, crashing and churning in legendary whitewater rapids, a stark contrast to its gentle flow further north.
This hike follows the Chattooga River Trail from Russell Bridge, exploring a tame, smooth-flowing stretch of the river. It’s a relatively easy hike despite the distance, thanks to the river’s nearly flat, gently rolling banks. The hike weaves through a wildlife and wildflower-rich forest to the remains of an old homestead, catching some great views of the scenic river throughout the hike, and exploring some beautiful riverine forest along the way.
Chattooga River Trail: the hike
The adventure begins at the trailhead at Russel Bridge on GA28 (view maps and driving directions), following yellow trail blazes to the southwest. A side trail immediately darts to the left, catching views of the river’s often crystal-clear water as it flows broad and serene over a pebbled river bed.
The Chattooga River Trail runs along the same path as the Bartram Trail in this stretch, a long-distance trail that follows the late-1700s journey of William Bartram, a naturalist, writer, and illustrator. The hike passes the remains of an old bridge on the trail’s left side and then darts northwest from the river’s banks, following the river’s western fork upstream. The trail crosses an arched wood and metal bridge over the West Fork of the Chattooga River at .3 mile.
The trail rolls elevation through a forest rich with wildflowers, mosses, and ferns. The hike crosses Holden Branch, a small Chattooga tributary, over a wooden bridge. A boat launch stands on the river’s opposite shore.
The hike crosses a second wood bridge at 1.5 miles, and views of the river break sporadically through the forest. The trail crosses a steep-walled creek ravine before reaching a flat plain at 2.1 miles. The rusted remains of antique farm equipment lie just off-trail in an old field. Just before crossing a small creek, an overgrown side trail departs the to the right, leading to the remains of an old homestead. A stacked-stone chimney and scattered household remnants are all that remains of the house.
Departing the house ruins, the trail rolls elevation through a forest of young pine and mountain laurel before reaching a small tributary, Adeline Branch, at 2.6 miles. At a trail junction, the Bartram Trail veers to the right, following yellow blazes away from the Chattooga River. This hike turns left at the junction, following the Willis Knob Horse Trail and Adeline Branch downstream. The hike reaches Adeline Ford on the river’s banks at 2.75 miles.
The Chattooga River flows wide and clear through a double meander at Adeline Ford. Colorful, rounded pebbles and rocks fill the river’s bed, clearly visible in the nearly crystal-clear water. A campsite with a horse hitching post lies just off the trail near the river. The river’s banks are a great, sun-filled spot for a mid-hike snack break or a quick mid-hike swim.
After soaking up some views and sunshine, this hike departs the river, retracing its outbound steps in reverse to the trailhead. Reaching Russell Bridge, the adventure completes at 5.5 miles.
The Bartram Trail follows a scenic path through Rabun County, and offers a great path to explore Northeast Georgia’s ruggedly beautiful wilderness. The trail explores the scenic waterfalls at Warwoman Dell and Becky Branch Falls. And from Warwoman Dell, the trail scales to the view-packed Rabun Bald, Georgia’s second-highest peak, catching stunning 360-degree panoramic views from the mountain’s summit. (The trail also makes a great backpacking adventure, a 70-mile roundtrip adventure from the NC state line through NW Georgia to Russell Bridge.)
Downriver from Adeline Ford, hike to the enormous cascades of Dicks Creek Falls as it spills into the Chattooga from a towering, rocky cliff. Or to catch sight of another beautiful cascading waterfall, cross the Georgia border into South Carolina to visit the stunning Issaqueena Falls, a several-hundred-foot cascading fall that’s accessible by a short quarter mile hike.
Always leave no trace, pack out everything you pack in, and if you see trash, pick it up and pack it out.
Stay on the marked trail, tell someone where you're going, pack safety and wayfinding essentials, and don't rely on a mobile phone to find your way. Please always practice good trail etiquette. And before you go, always check the trailhead kiosk, official maps, and the park or ranger office for notices of changed routes, trail closures, safety information, and restrictions.
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34.920083, -83.169317 // N34 55.205 W83 10.159