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Paddling Lake Tugalo

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One arm of Lake Tugalo backs into the extreme lower reaches of Tallulah Gorge. The other forms the terminus of the Chattooga National Wild & Scenic River. Not surprisingly, this 600-acre Georgia Power impoundment is seriously scenic and provides spectacular opportunities for paddling a canoe or kayak.

Mountains bound Lake Tugalo, which straddles the Georgia/South Carolina border, and up its Tallulah River arm, wooded slopes give way to rocky cliffs. Most creeks enter the lake as waterfalls, and the names of a couple of tributaries – Bad Creek and Worse Creek – tell of the terrain. Zero development and rugged landscapes provide a remote feel, and a 25-horsepower maximum for boat motors limits power boat traffic. A few fishermen run the lake in smaller boats, but you never need to battle the wakes of endless pleasure boaters when you paddle.

Configured like a checkmark, with two narrow arms, Lake Tugalo provides more than 5 miles of lake to paddle. The lake’s only two ramps are both up the Chattooga arm (one on each side), so you can paddle upriver to where the Chattooga’s famous whitewater section ends at the lake or down to the Tallulah River junction. From there, it’s about a 1 ½ miles to the powerhouse rapids in the lower reaches of Tallulah Gorge.

Kayaking on Lake Tugalo (Jeff Samsel/Now Habersham)

Because of Tugalo’s steep sides and narrow configuration, wind is less frequently a paddler’s enemy than it is on more open lakes. Wind blowing exactly the wrong direction can funnel down the lake, but usually at least one side stays somewhat protected.

Lake Tugalo also offers good fishing for bass, bluegills and other species, and in fact supports one of Georgia’s best walleye populations. Licensing is reciprocal, so a valid Georgia or South Carolina license is good anywhere on the lake. As an angler, I always have a fishing rod or two handy when I visit this lake, but it is a fabulous paddling destination with or without a fishing rod.

Lake Tugalo offers good fishing for bass and bluegills and supports one of Georgia’s best walleye populations. (Jeff Samsel/Now Habersham)

One note: Don’t choose Tugalo as a canoe or kayak destination during the first two weekends of April or the first three weeks of November unless you like a lot of company on the water and at the ramp. Those are the Whitewater water-release weekends at Tallulah Gorge, and the daredevils who run the gorge all must cross the lake to pull out their boats. Lake Tugalo is a popular paddling destination through the summer, but use should be tapering off now, with school starting, and in truth, most casual paddlers don’t go more than a mile or so from the ramp.

Georgia access is through Tallulah Gorge State Park, but the road down the ramp is long, winding, steep and rough, and 4WD or AWD is recommended. The road to the South Carolina ramp, though gravel and somewhat steep and rough, is substantially better. For directions, see the “Additional Information” section of the Georgia Wildlife Resources Divisions Lake Tugalo fishing prospects page.

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