One of the best ways to get back to nature, outside of Myrtle Beach, is whitewater rafting down the Chattooga River, which forms South Carolina's northwestern border with Georgia.
Outfitters like Wildwater Adventure Centers offer guided tours down the Chattooga, which is dedicated as a National Wild and Scenic River. Not only do the brave get to enjoy the thrill of riding the rapids downstream, but the river provides a perspective of the wildlife preserves that cannot be reached by car, train, bike or plane.
Whitewater Rafting the Chattooga — Photo courtesy of Wildwater Adventure Centers
Winding through the Chattahoochie, Nantahala and Sumter national forests, the Chattooga's banks are flanked towering trees and colorful leaves while the sounds of the songbirds, the blowing wind and flowing water flood the senses. The scenic mountainsides serve as a beautiful backdrop for a thrilling ride down nature's roller coaster. Featuring some of the top-rated rapids this side of the Rockies, the Chattooga gained fame and inspired fear when it was featured in the 1972 film "Deliverance."
The wild river remains unchanged and untamed since earning federal protection in 1974. But the faces of the extreme-sport enthusiasts who take on the Chattooga has undergone an extreme makeover in the four decades since. While whitewater rafting was once limited to daredevils and outdoors types, today's thrill-seekers are more likely to drive minivans than Volkswagon microbuses.
The growing trend of ecotourism, which is seeing families pass up amusement parks for national parks, is making outdoor adventure sports more mainstream. Advancements in safety equipment have opened the sport to ages 8 and up, and made the journey more comfortable for middle-aged weekend warriors.
"A lot of moms are planning vacations these days and this is an activity the whole family can enjoy together," said Will Mixon, the lead guide for Wildwater. "We're seeing more families come out try it and they love it. It's completely safe and fun. A lot of them are apprehensive at first, but by the end of the day they can't wait to do it again."
A big part of the Chattooga's broadening appeal is the varying degrees of the wild and the scenic. Sections 1 and 2, located at the river's headwaters, offer Class I and II rapids (on a scale of VI) separated by long, leisurely stretches that provide rafters an unparelleled view of the wilderness while taking a ride on the not-so-wild side. The same is true of Sections 3 and 4, which are located farther downstream, although rafters may be too busy traversing big rocks and riding bigger rapids for sightseeing.
Section 3, which offers Class II and III rapids before concluding with the Class IV Bulls Sluice, provides the best combination of adventure and admiraton of nature. But the roughest stretch of the river, featuring Class IV and V rapids, is best suited for experienced rafters and features some of the best whitewater in the Eastern U.S. Helmets, life vests and paddles are provided, and certified guides accompany each raft to help navigate the river and ensure that every tour is safe, fun and informative.