Chatooga River Trail 27M Run - Georgia
From Hwy 76 to Dick's Falls (out and back)
Sunday, November 28, 2021


This was another one of those fantastic runs that stick in your mind forever, inviting you to go back again and again. The Chattooga River Trail is a rugged trail along a wild and scenic river in Georgia's Chattahoochee National Forest. I had run 17 miles on it three days before on Thanksgiving morning, so this run was an encore effort taken to the next level.

The National Forest Service has not spent much time maintaining this trail for the last couple of years at least. There are blow-downs across it all along the way, forcing one to slow down to negotiate a step-over or re-route. Add to that the autumn leaf cover, the endless roots, and unexpected rocks under the leaves to trip you up, the trail is cut across very steep terrain such that a stumbled mis-cue could result in a twenty-foot disasterous vertical catastrophe.

When running alone, one has to run with more deliberation simply out of respect for what could happen in a remote area with zero rescue options. I ran 27 miles on a Sunday and did not see a single person or car from the time I left my car to the time I got back. It is my kind of wilderness experience.

The trail undulates up and down as it wraps itself around hillsides from rhododenron-covered watershed to watershed. It is a trail runner's dream trail and I was in my element. Moving along at 4 mph was what I consider a quick tempo on such terrain... measured, certainly, but run with some degree of wreckless abandonment. I did stumble a few times, but never hit the ground... so it was a good day.

Starting at the parking lot at highway 76 at the canoe launch, at 0730 and 32 degrees, the trail winds five miles north up and over before it comes back down to the river for just a few yards before climbing again. At eight miles it was necessary to wade across Lick Log Creek as its substantial thirty-foot bridge had not only been wiped out in high water, but it was completely gone, washed down into the mighty Chattooga. So my shoes were squishy from there. Following the river another mile and a half, I enjoyed some nice photo ops before the trail climbed straight up and over to meet the Bartram Trail at 12 miles.

From there it is a half mile or so to Dick's Falls, which pours the water from a creek by the same name 60 feet over a granite prominance into the Chattooga River. It is quite an impressive display, so I took a little extra time to explore and photograph. On my run in, from the ridge 600 feet above and over a mile and a half away, the roar of the falls and the river below boomed to the top of the mountain. It is one of the more impressive waterfalls of the dozens I have encountered in the backcountry in recent days.

I added a couple miles of easy running on the Sandy Ford Road to bring the day's tally up to 27 miles so that my monthly mileage total would reach 200 miles. At Sandy Ford, it is still possible for the right vehicle to cross the river to reach the continuing road one hundred yards on the other side.

On the flip-flop side of the run I stripped down in the 60-degree sun and eased my tempo a tad to look around more and enjoy the day. While moving easily along the river, I encountered something that I had never seen before. I came across a six-foot wide, six-foot deep sink hole with a deer looking up at me. (See the picture at left.) While it must have fallen in accidently, it did not show any sign of being injured... just mighty confused and alarmed. There was no way out as it disappeared first one way and then the other in its desperation. I took several pictures as I spoke softly to it, trying to imagine how I might help. Climbing in was not an option, and I saw no way for it to climb out. The little doe had probably not been there very long as it showed no sign of stress yet, but it was in major trouble.

On my run back I made a plan to contact the Forest Service and give them directions to go in with a tranquilizer and hoist it out of there, or put it down. But because of this damn covid business, the federal government is all on virtual vacation and I could not reach a single person despite repeated calls. All of their offices are closed as they hide behind their masks. I thought about hiking back in there myself with a pistol, but that's not something I'd prefer to do. So, the poor deer, short of some divine miracle, will die there, and I am left with an empty feeling that I could not find a way to save it.

The run was very enjoyable, overall. I flushed a woodcock on the way back, which I rarely see anymore. On the day after, I feel no soreness, so am confident that my mountain legs are ready for my next 50-mile challenge in two weeks. But I'm already looking forward to a return to the Chattooga River Trail to enjoy more runs there in December.