Lake Tugaloo – Ga/SC
@ 600 acres
(Tugalo was the original spelling)
Water clarity – 8
Natural Quality – 8 (no homes)
Perception – weekend
Lake of anticipation – with other things going on (family) this summer – paddling Lake Tugaloo had been set aside for a month, not a big deal – I could justify it with family around – plus while enjoying fall, winter and spring paddles a little more than fighting the summer heat, the delay seemed to fit. On this late July date the temperature was in the high 90’s, for some reason the heat didn’t really matter because I just wanted to get back out on the water – no, once again I needed to get back out on the water.
Lake Tugaloo is about a 600 acre lake which borders the Ga/Sc state line and fed by the Tallulah and Chattooga rivers. The quality riverbeds of the Tallulah and Chattooga, plus the commercial rafting dynamic made this one of the more inviting lakes for a summer paddle.
(GPS – Bull Sluice Rd, Long Creek, SC)
The boat ramp on the SC side of the lake is off of hwy-76 from Long Creek, SC – down the narrow, dusty and steep trail of Damascus Church (past the Chattooga Belle Farms) and down Bull Sluice rd. During the summer rafting season, the potential for the buses in making this a little section of road busy is ever-present, but on this date – all seemed ‘scheduled’ and traffic was a ‘non-factor.’
The lake is a reasonable size for a single day of casual paddling.
With the Chattooga river feeding the waters from the North and its class II and III rapids, knew that it was a ripe playground for rafters and kayakers – all the more inviting. Normally I prefer to paddle lakes during the week (as to avoid boat traffic) a weekend is what I wanted for Tugaloo – I ran into little boat traffic on this lake, very little (motor size is limited).
It was just after lunch when I put into the water, late for me but I had everything to stay the night – the first group of rafters were ferrying in from their morning trek. I had parked to one side of the ramp leaving them plenty of room to hustle their rafts past and up to the awaiting shuttle bus, which they all did eagerly in jolly spirits. The guides were polite and seemed to enjoy their work – in a way I envied them. These folks managed their activity like a ‘well-oiled’ machine, and were obviously having fun while doing so.
My ‘game plan’ was to follow the shade and left bank South to the Tugaloo dam, then the shoreline to the Talullah river head – from there I would work back up the West bank and up the Chattooga river. I could paddle all afternoon and simply spend the night riverside. Explore the first day, and just maybe the next day the rafters would provide some ‘cheap’ entertainment, awesome. I have found that when paddling a rivers current it is easy to miss many of the others as you ‘fit into the cog’ of paddling along – this is what happened on the Current river and for the Tugaloo I wanted find a spot along the way and yes, stop – then comfortably observe as others passed.
The left bank also provided some relief from the afternoon sun and heat, it was 1pm when I left the ramp – an hour later I was at the Tugaloo dam – below the dam was lake Yonah a smaller lake leading into lake Hartwell and then down the Savannah river to the Atlantic.
Other than shade the left bank was fairly unremarkable, second thoughts had to do with the mussel shells scattered along the red-clay bank and some neat looking tree stumps. With the lower water some of the stumps are always interesting because of their individual character, these were cut and harvested many years earlier leaving the mud to wash from their roots exposing their foundations – rather than reaching to the water as the live tree-roots have on the Suwannee river, ‘similar yet different’ (thats how our service calls were at the FD, similar – yet different).
Speaking of exposed, as I stealthily paddled the shoreline from the dam towards the Tallulah river, this one little cove had a couple enjoying the weather ‘in the buck,’ just ‘hanging-out’ around their camp site. Its not the first time I’ve paddled up to such things – and certainly not something I dwell on (or at). I made it right up to them without completely realizing the situation, then as I paddled away through the summer heat I could actually understand their position (no-body’s around! what the heck!!) I say go ahead, set it free……
I had yet to see a structure on the lake and learned that there were no homes on Tugaloo……
The Tallulah river flows from just above lake Burton, through lakes Seed and Rabun before entering Tugaloo down the Tallulah gorge. I’ve been within it and the gorge carved through the rock is impressive, from the lake its possible to get some feel with the steep banks leading up to the old Tallulah Falls Hydroelectric Plant.
Once at Tallulah it was just about turning around and heading back out,
The two guys camping ‘Mutt and Jeff’ (actually Rich and Jeff) had their britches on so I stopped and chatted a few minutes, they were proud of their improvised tent and that their wives had ‘taken off’ leaving them alone to camp and fish. They asked a number of questions about fishing the lake that I really couldn’t answer – but what I did see was walleye fishing, several folks trolling toward the middle with a deep set. I suppose the cooler water along the bottom was the place to find ’em. Good folks enjoying the simplicity of the lake, and I moved on.
More of the same headed back out toward the dam just a little more of a ‘wall,’ from the SC ramp to the dam and up to the Tallulah river had taken 2 hours – like I was watching the time.
Once back out into the ‘main channel’ above the Tugaloo dam there was another cove just north, paddling to the farthest end I found more campers and the Georgia boat ramp for the lake.
Locals were camped at and on the ramp taking their ‘cut-off jeans and dated bathing suit’ swim as the kids splashed with their diapers on (how much water do those things hold?) – Georgia style.
It was a dead end at the Ga ramp, not really a stream that I could tell.
Back out into the channel I returned to the boat ramp, it was around 5 pm and there were iced adult-beverages in the back of my pickup – as I stood in the heat I could feel the cool liquid trek all the way to my stomach, thinking – this was working out really well. It was a perfect stop before heading into the headwaters of the Chattooga.
One of the shuttle drivers was hanging out in the water ‘cooling it’ and waiting for his group to return, so we chatted a bit – I guess there are several groups providing raft service in the area – coming into and out-of this boat ramp (single lane rd) had to be scheduled to make things work and they did it well. The first groups coming out are around 12 and then 2, then about every hour from there – simple conversation (while savoring that beverage).
As I worked my way up the Chattooga another group (I think this was a Southeastern Expeditions group), with the water a little low and slow toward the end each of the outfitters were grouping the rafts together ‘like water bugs’ around a small john boat about 15 minutes out from the ramp – seemed like a good idea and a small rest-bit for the rafters.
The Northern part of the lake up Chattooga became wider and shallower for a distance making it easier to spot any unnatural debris (an occasional beverage container or old shoe) – still litter was not an issue, I saw little if any. Over one stretch and needing to stretch my legs I got out and walked a bit – it remains much faster/easier in the kayak, even in slow water.
I’ve paddled section II of this river before, but on this date this was as far as I could make it up the river from this direction, it was now about 6:30 pm and there was an inviting sand-bar in the shade on river right, so be it.
It’s all pretty doggone simple – time in the water too.
It was a quiet night, and besides two paddlers coming down the river at about 11 pm (night riders) I slept very well. The morning was different than my usual kayaking camps, no need to get up and hit the water for a full days paddle – I could sleep in, which I did – and about 830 I rolled out of bed and ambled around the campsite.
It was kinda nice to ease around in the morning while slowly stowing things away, around noon the rafters began trickling by.
This group couldn’t stand it any more, they were out and jumping into the fresh water as quick as they could get their vests off – and by the way, the water felt great! It was great too to hear the laughs and pleasure these folks carried with them, sometime you miss that when paddling ‘in the cog’.
Just after the first group of rafters passed through came some kayakers – hey, this guy looks familiar I thought. Sure enough Mike C. and I had paddled together several times, one trip was the Suwannee at Holden Creek, it was good to see familiar faces.
It was good conversation and after a while they remained in the water and shade as I headed back down river.
Making several stops in the shade I doused myself in the water, I learned on Lake Powell that wearing wet long-sleeved and loosely fitting fishing shirt works real well to keeping the heat off and remaining hydrated – it worked well on this 96 degree day also.
Mike C’s group caught up with me as I neared the ramp, not being in any hurry I figured I’d just sit in my kayak (as comfortable as any lawn chair) and let them take out, I was in no hurry at all.
I love boat ramps too, the most entertaining of places (I’m easy to amuse).
I saw little wildlife, the normal kingfishers, herons, 2 j-birds (naked), a buzzard, and a river otter while camping, my higher natural quality probably has to do with no homes along the shoreline and the potential for seasonal migration.
The size of the lake is right for a day trip, I left this lake thinking that I couldn’t have done it any better and the feeling was that it was one of the better and more relaxed trips that I can remember.
If you are new to the area and just want to tube, contact one of the outfitters that I have linked in this post, everyone appeared as though they were having a blast and the guides that I spoke to had excellent demeanor’s, it looked like fun. If you want to kayak they have those available too – better yet, bring your own and give yourself plenty of time.
or holler, I just might head that way too….
“Leave early, enjoy the ride.”