The upper tributaries of the Savannah River rise on the eastern flank of the Blue Ridge Mountains in southern North Carolina. The Tallulah River rises southwest of Franklin, flowing south and then southeast while the Chattooga River (designated a Wild & Scenic River) rises near Cashiers, flowing southwestward to form the northernmost section of the Georgia-South Carolina border. Just below the Tallulah River Gorge, these two rivers join in Lake Tugalo, which is drained by the Tugaloo River, another segment of the Georgia-SC border. Within Lake Hartwell, the Tugaloo merges with the Seneca River (flowing down through northwestern South Carolina) to become the Savannah River.
Flowing southeastward, the Savannah soon enters Thurmond Lake, a massive, branching reservoir along the Georgia-SC line. Below that lake, it crosses the Fall Line at Augusta, Georgia, dropping from the hard, crystalline bedrock of the Piedmont to the soft sediments of the Coastal Plain. From this geologic border, the Savannah River continues southeastward to its estuary along the Atlantic Coast, just north of Savannah, Georgia.
Having originated as a web of whitewater streams in the montane forests of the Blue Ridge, the lower portion of the Savannah meanders through a flat landscape of pine woods, wetlands and bottomland hardwoods; of course, agricultural and wood product industries have significantly altered these natural ecosystems. Fortunately, the Savannah River National Wildlife Refuge, near Savannah, was established to protect and restore these habitats, home to alligators, ospreys, bald eagles, swallow-tailed kites and many other species of wildlife. Unfortunately, according to the EPA, the Savannah River remains one of the most polluted rivers in the U.S., ranking third in the amount of toxic chemical discharge that it receives.