Venture to the Bull Sluice Rapid Overlook

By:Marie McAden


Not everyone is going to muster up the mettle to raft or kayak the Chattooga River’s infamous Bull Sluice. After all, this Class IV rapid has been known to humble even the cockiest of adventurers.

Dropping 14 feet through a narrow jumble of boulders, Bull Sluice serves as the grand finale to Section III of the National Wild & Scenic Chattooga. Watching the carnage that results from a bad run is almost as much fun as navigating through the whitewater.

You can get a front row seat to the show by hiking a short gravel trail off U.S. 76 near the South Carolina/Georgia state line. The moderately steep pathway takes you to a wooden rail overlooking the rapids. The trail is not maintained beyond this point, but it’s not difficult to scramble down the rocks to the edge of the water.

Although I’ve rafted Bull Sluice several times, I’ve never looked at it from dry land. So, on a recent trip to the Upstate, I decided to get a spectator’s view of this popular waterfall.

From Westminste​r, it’s a 17-mile drive to the Bull Sluice access trail. The pathway starts to the left of the stone pavilion on the backside of the parking lot and descends gradually to the river. About 100 yards down the trail, you’ll come to a fork. To the left is a sandy riverbank often used as a put-in or take-out by kayakers. You’ll want to continue on the right fork that runs along the mountainside to the rapid.

We arrived at the river late in the afternoon, missing all the action. Standing on the rocky bank, it was hard to believe this innocent-looking waterfall could deliver such an adrenaline rush. The peaceful setting seemed more suited as a backdrop to Thoreau’s “Walden” than to the adventure thriller “Deliverance.”

But I know better. Even at moderate water levels, Bull Sluice packs a punch, delivering a heart-pounding ride through a double-drop rapid. On a busy weekend day, it’s not unusual to find a peanut gallery perched on the boulders along the banks cheering and jeering the good, the bad and the ugly.

For a different perspective of the river, take the trail at the far side of the parking lot down to the Highway 76 bridge where you’ll be able to look out over the river below Bull Sluice. This section will give you the backcountry feel that draws so many hikers and anglers to the wild Chattooga River watershed.

If you’re stoked to run the river, you still have time to get in on the fun this fall. Wild​water will be offering rafting trips through mid November. Call (866) 319-8870 to make your reservation.

Also of note: it’s apple season in Oconee County, the largest apple-producing area in the state. On your way to the river, be sure to stop at one of the area’s many orchards or roadside stands for everything from Gala to Golden Delicious varieties. They’ll be selling apples through the end of November.

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