Last Saturday Alan and I decided to check out a new paddling venue. For awhile I’ve been intrigued by the narrow string of lakes in the corner of South Carolina. These include the upper reaches of Lake Hartwell, Lake Yonah, and Lake Tugaloo. We decided to check out the uppermost, Lake Tugaloo.
Alan and I had paddled the Tugaloo River back in 2010 with the now defunct Greenville Canoe and Kayak Meetup. For that trip we had put in below the Yonah Dam and paddled the furthermost reaches of Lake Hartwell down to the Highway 123 Bridge. Lake Yonah backs up another section of the Tugaloo River, and upstream from that, Lake Tugaloo marks the confluence of the Tallulah and Chattooga Rivers.
There are only two access points on the lake as far as I can tell. There is one on the Georgia side and one on the South Carolina side. For our purposes, the South Carolina side was the one we needed. This is also the access point used by rafting companies and anyone else running Section IV of the Chattooga River.
We made the two hour drive from Greenville to Long Creek and took a rather impressive, steep dirt road down to the lake. Parking was already at a premium, and it was also at a rather precarious angle.
The boat ramp was a fairly standard single-launch affair. Along one side of the launch was a series of steps that facilitate pulling out rafts (and probably other paddlecraft.)
We unloaded the boats and prepared to head out. Before setting off we chatting with a couple of kayak fishermen. They said we should head up the Chattooga arm as far as we could for the best scenery. That was already pretty much what we had planned, so we set off in that direction.
Lake Jocassee is hailed as a paddler’s paradise. I think Lake Tugaloo could give it a run for its money. You have the spectacular mountain scenery and there is little or no development along the banks. This lake scores over Jocassee in two points, though. First, you don’t have to cross long stretches of open water in order to get to interesting places. Secondly, boats are limited to 20 hp. There were a few fishing boats and a couple of smaller pontoons, but you don’t have the ski boats whizzing past like on Jocassee. I think the limited number of access points also helps keep the traffic down.
Several times we heard water running as we would paddle past a little cove. The lake is dotted with small waterfalls from tributary streams. Some we could see, but some were obscured by vegetation. None were as spectacular as the ones at Jocassee, but even so it was a soothing sound.
As we entered one of the little waterfall coves several families of ducks paddled past. We encountered these all along our trip.
Since this is the tail end of Section IV of the Chattooga we did encounter a few paddlers that had just run that section. There seemed to be fewer paddlers out and about than I would hae imagined, but it was still fairly early.
We continued upstream. The river narrowed and the current began to pick up a bit. It wasn’t unbearable, but was noticeable. Soon we began to see larger rocks along the banks, and we knew we must be on the river, proper. Soon we’d be at a rapid where we could no longer go upstream.
There was a wide sandy beach with a rope swing that looked like a perfect lunch stop. The river bends to the left, and we came upon the first rapid. It looked to be a Class II or similar – something I felt I could handle. I followed the eddies to try to get as close as I could, and even tried surfing the small standing waves, but I was in the wrong boat for anything serious.
We paddled back down to the little beach area and stopped for lunch. Several flat stones had been set up as a launch platform for the swing. Fortunately, this also made a nice picnic table. There were actually two launch platforms. The bunny slope was the piled stones. The black diamond trail was a couple of boards nailed to a tree on the bank.
As we were eating a makeshift pontoon boat pulled up to share our beach. I say makeshift, because it looked like it had been pieced together from different components. A man was relaxing on the bow, sitting in what appeared to be an old office chair with the wheels removed. An unoccupied Stressless recliner sat next to it. The man’s granddaughter rode under the canopy in yet another type of chair, while his wife piloted the craft. It seemed to hold together OK. We watched them enjoy the outdoors as the young girl tried out the swing.
After lunch I paddled back up to the rapid. I was hoping that if I hung out long enough I would see some rafters or kayakers come over the rapids. No such luck. I reluctantly headed back. At least we were treated to seeing a couple of snakes sunning themselves on the rocks below.
We were making our way back, trying to stick to shade, when a john boat came zipping by. We didn’t think much of it. However, not long afterwards we heard a motor returning from upstream. The john boat had collected a group of rafts from a commercial rafting company that had just completed the whitewater run. I guess that’s easier than paddling a raft three miles across flat water to get to the ramp.
We kept pace with the flotilla, and were able to watch them disembark and get the rafts stowed. The line of yellow rafts marching up the hill reminded me of ants for some reason. The rafts were then loaded on top of a blue bus.
We had one last cove I wanted to check out. My topo maps had indicated a larger tributary directly across from the boat ramp. When we set out a fishing boat had been parked here, and we didn’t want to disturb them. Now we needed to kill some time while the rafts were clogging up the ramp. We decided to check it out.
There was a small tributary back in the cove. However, it wasn’t much of a waterfall. Yet, it did have that soothing song of falling water. It didn’t hurt that the cove was lined with blooming mountain laurel and rhododendron.
By the time we pulled out of the cove the ramp was clear, and we could return. All in all, we paddled about 6.5 miles, a decent trip.
This turned out to be a great paddling destination. With it close in without wide open water, it looks like it would be a good solo venue. Now I really want to paddle up the Tallulah Gorge branch to see what secrets it holds.
Here’s the slideshow of all of the photos from the trip.