SOUTH CAROLINA: Chattooga Trail to the Wahalla State Fish Hatchery

My husband grew up on a fish hatchery in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Since I’m from South Carolina and I am of the opinion that nowhere on the planet is better than South Carolina and we should all take care of South Carolina so it will always be better than everywhere else and how my husband should like the state as much as I do because I am obviously right about everything (and so on and so forth, you get the idea) I took him to see South Carolina’s only cold water fish hatchery.

His impression: “yep, it smells like a fish hatchery.”


Is it goat approved? I will probably hike the Chattooga Trail with a goat at some point, but I would not hike to the fish hatchery with one because the fish hatchery has a lot of people and is surrounded by a fence that you wouldn’t want to take a pack goat inside.

How you get there:  You want to go to the Chattooga Trail Trailhead off Forest Rd. 646 located at34°58’29.3″N 83°06’53.1″W.

Time for the hike:  8 miles out and back  from the parking area/trail head to the fish hatchery and back. The hike is mostly along the river and flat or nearly flat ground, until you turn to go to the hatchery, then there’s a little up and down hill. I would rate this as family friendly and easy, but you will need balance to cross the water crossings and in wet weather water proof shoes would be a good idea.

Best season to do this hike: Straight up winter. No bugs from the muddy sections of the trail, fewer people, and better breezes.


Trails to Take

If you start off at the trail head park on the side of the road, (or go up the road towards Hwy 107 and park at the big parking area) and then hike down the trail. The route is easy, follows the river, and rarely requires any uphill or down hill hiking. There is one significant stream crossing that may be a problem if you have bad balance or do not have water proof shoes about a mile in, just before the turn off to Spoonauger Falls. There used to be a bridge here, but there isn’t anymore.

Trout fisherman on the Chattooga

The trail continues along the river, beginning to pass rustic campsites (note camping is not allowed anywhere near the trail head or along the river near the road) and eventually terminating in a large open area where the trout fishermen generally camp during the January to February fishing season. Walk straight through this confusing mess, following the Chattooga River and you will see a bridge crossing a significant tributary joining the Chatooga. Cross the bridge, and on the far side signage will indicate you need to go right and hike 2.5 miles to the fish hatchery.

Fish Hatchery shelter for picnics

The trail here follows the tributary (East Fork Chattooga River), climbing along the valley edge, past a rock face and through open and frankly kind of boring wood land. It goes on for a while, then you reach an old and very mossy foot bridge over the tributary, pass through the standing skeletons and carcasses of wooly adelgid killed hundred year old hemlocks, and now you are on fish hatchery property. The trail comes up behind a picturesque parkitecture picnic shelter, joins a board walk, and leads you up to the hatchery proper, which can be toured. There are cool pools full of different life stages of trout. They grow Brook, Brown, and Rainbow trout here for release for sport fishing in the South Carolina mountains.

Trout in fish hatchery ponds
Wahalla State Fish Hatchery

TRAIL MAP

Trail Map

BE WARNED

  1. The hatchery used to be surrounded by a gorgeous hemlock forest of several hundred year old trees, (no really, it was like a magical elf level fairy land forest). Thanks to the wooly adelgid these are now gone, but their children are still struggling to make a comeback. So be kind to the baby hemlocks, and avoid rubbing up against them and carrying the wooly adelgids on your clothes to new forests for them to kill!
  2. The concrete blocks across the stream are not connected to that rock face – and they will tilt and dump you down the mountain.
  3. The hike is is up hill somewhat even though the hatchery, if you’ve driven to it, is in a very obvious valley.
  4. The first stream crossing on the hike about a mile from Forest Service Rd 646 will require some balance and possibly getting your toes wet. My mother has a bad knee and did not feel comfortable trying to cross this area with non-water proof shoes.
  5. You cannot camp near the trail head or along the road or along the river near either of the above. Plan accordingly.
Be careful of the unsecured concrete blocks if you don’t want to be dumped down the mountain!

In sum: 

If they had a trout restaurant just down the trail from the hatchery this place would be paradise. Or maybe a catch and cook your own fish deal…

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