HOW LONG: Section III, one day, 13 miles; Section IV, one day, seven miles
WHEN TO GO: March to October
WHEN DIRECTOR John Boorman needed a river both beautiful and menacing enough to be the fictitious Cahulawassee in his 1972 backwoods shocker Deliverance, he chose the Chattooga. Ned Beatty ("Squeal, boy!") has never been the same, but the 40 miles of river that form the border of South Carolina and Georgia remain Wild and Scenic. The Chattooga offers two distinct runsthe mellower 13-mile Section III, from Earl's Ford to Highway 76, and the hair-raising seven-mile Section IV, from Highway 76 to Lake Tugaloo. Technical rapids like Seven-Foot Falls and Sock-'Em-Dog require challenging boofs and split-second paddle skills, but your biggest thrill is Section IV's Five Falls, which drops almost 80 feet in less than a quarter-mile. »OUTFITTER: Southeastern Expeditions rafts both sections over two days, with a night of catered camping 11 miles downstream at Thrift's Ferry ($240; 800-868-7238, www.southeasternexpeditions.com). »DIY: No permit needed; register at the parking-lot drop box at any put-in. Southeastern rents rafts ($100 per day) and duckies ($35 per day), but you'll have to run your own shuttle. Boaters new to Section III can get instruction and a river guide through Nantahala Outdoor Center, in Bryson City, North Carolina ($300 per day, $400 for two people; 800-232-7238, www.noc.com). Those attempting the more technical Section IV are on their own.
NORTH FORK OF THE KERN RIVER
HOW LONG: Three days, 23 miles
WHEN TO GO: April to July
IN 1981, BILL McGINNIS, California boatman and author of the 1981 river handbook The Guide's Guide, convinced the Forest Service that he could safely run the Forks of the Kern with clients. Twenty-three years without serious injuries later, he's still doing it. McGinnis leads thrill seekers down some of the hairiest commercially run whitewater in North America: You'll kick off with a three-mile mule pack through giant sequoias to the put-in, where you'll take on the Forks' 61-foot-per-mile vertical drop, past 200-foot waterfalls and the hulking granite Needles, pricking the sky 1,500 feet above. On day three, hike up picturesque Dry Meadow Creek, which cascades down to the Kern in a series of teacups linked by 10- to 25-foot waterfalls run only by world-class kayakers. Later that day18 miles and a full 80 Class IV and V rapids after the put-inyou'll reach the finale, 12-foot Carson Falls. The drop is big, but, thankfully, so is the pool at the bottom. »OUTFITTER: Whitewater Voyages ($762; 800-400-7238, www.whitewatervoyages.com). »DIY: For solid Class V paddlers with their own gear, permits are issued for $2 via a March 15 April 15 lottery. Contact the Cannell Ranger Station (760-376-3781, www.fs.fed.us/r5/sequoia/passespermits/river_use_permit.html).