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Long Creek’s Natural Wonders Offer Thrills and Chills

Marie McAden Marie McAden
A former staffer with The Miami Herald, Marie moved to SC in 1992. She is passionate about the outdoors, and enjoys exploring the state’s many natural treasures from the Lowcountry to the Upstate.
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Tucked at the edge of the Appalachian Mountains surrounded by Sumter National Forest, Long Creek offers visitors a pristine wilderness to enjoy nature with its wooded trails, winding creeks, waterfalls and National Wild & Scenic Chattooga River.

The area’s stunning landscape serves as the backdrop for a wide array of recreational activities, from hiking, fishing and canoeing to zip lining, whitewater kayaking and rafting.

In the fall, it’s apple-picking time in these parts. At Long Creek’s half-dozen apple orchards, you can pick your own fruit right off the tree or purchase fresh-picked apples, along with apple cider, homemade apple butter and jams and jellies, from one of their farm stores or roadside stands.

The centerpiece of outdoor fun in Long Creek is the Chattooga River, a 50-mile free-flowing waterway that runs along the South Carolina/Georgia border ending in Lake Tugaloo. The only river in the state to have earned the Congressional “Wild and Scenic” designation, the Chattooga careens through a rock-filled gorge, creating one of the most exciting whitewater runs in the Southeast. Many of the hair-raising scenes in the 1970s adventure thriller “Deliverance” were filmed on its Class III and IV rapids.

Wildwater offers visitors the opportunity to experience the river’s wild side with rafting trips on the family-friendly Section III, featuring rolling Class I, II and III rapids, and Section IV, the steepest and most thrill-packed section run by commercial outfitters.

For those who prefer more tranquil waters, Wildwater offers guided stand-up paddleboard and kayak tours downstream on Lake Tugaloo, a peaceful 597-acre reservoir created by the Chattooga and Tallulah Rivers. Or rent a kayak from Chattooga Whitewater Outfitters and set off on your own. The views of the surrounding mountains are breathtaking.

Want a taste of the Chattooga’s big water without getting your feet wet? Check out Bull Sluice, a Chattooga classic. This Class IV+ rapid drops 14 feet through a jumble of boulders, dumping many a raft and kayaker into its churning waters. A short gravel trail takes you to prime boulder seating to watch the carnage.

You can also experience the beauty of the Chattooga on a 15.5-mile backcountry trail upstream from the rafting sections of the river. The Chattooga River Trail takes hikers along water’s edge up to bluffs offering magnificent views of the fast-moving whitewater as it tumbles through the densely forested Chattooga River Gorge.

Spur trails off the main path lead to several waterfalls, including Licklog and Pigpen Falls. Another awe-inspiring waterfall found near the final rapids of the river is Opossum Creek Falls. To get to these falls, you’ll need to go to a remote corner of Oconee County where the trailhead is located.

For some high-flying thrills, take to the treetops on Wildwater’s Chattooga Ridge Canopy Tour. The three-hour guided adventure features two sky bridges and 10 zip lines – four of them over a lake. The grand finale is a 1,100-foot flight off a 50-foot tower.

While you’re at Wildwater, check out the two-story outpost headquarters built in 1917. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it served as a dormitory for Long Creek Academy, one of six mountain mission schools built to educate Baptist ministers and children who lived in the region.

Down the road is the academy’s main building. Built in 1914, the wood frame building with its weatherboard siding remains much as it originally appeared.

Another historic site worth visiting is Raines Mill, located on the banks of Fall Creek, a tributary of the Chattooga. Built in 1914, it features a 40-foot metal waterwheel that was used to grind corn and wheat by day and generate power for the Long Creek Academy at night. It’s a pleasant quarter-mile hike to the mill and three sets of waterfalls.

Long Creek is also home to Chattooga Belle Farm, a 198-acre working farm once owned by Groucho Marx. Visitors can visit anytime to enjoy the views of the surrounding mountains and the beautifully maintained fields of grapevines, peach and apple trees and berry patches. You can pick your own fruit in season or purchase it at the farm store.

One of the area’s most popular attractions, Chattooga Belle Farm includes a distillery, bistro, event barn, disc golf course and a 3.5-mile hiking trail that takes you around the entire property, including the remains of an old farming settlement.

Marie McAden
A former staffer with The Miami Herald, Marie moved to SC in 1992. She is passionate about the outdoors, and enjoys exploring the state’s many natural treasures from the Lowcountry to the Upstate.