It is a major tributary of the Chattahoochee River, into which it ended at a point now under the waters of Lake Lanier, since Buford Dam was built in the 1940's. The northwestern arm of the lake, which flooded the lower 18 miles (29 km) of the river, is called Chestatee Bay, which destroyed the town of Chestatee (called Atsunsta Ti Yi by the native Cherokee people) when it was submerged. The county boundaries still follow the original thalwegs of the river, with the lake coming as far up the river as Lumpkin's southernmost tip. At this point, the river forms an extremely small portion of the Lumpkin/Hall county line for about 1 mile (1.6 km).
There is one stream gauge (NWS location identifier DGAG) along the river, installed in 1907 at State Route 52 near Dahlonega. It is at latitude 34°31'41"N, longitude 83°56'23"W, at 1,128.6 feet (344.0 m) above mean sea level. The watershed area above this point is 153 square miles (400 km2). The National Weather Service has set a flood stage for this gauge of 19 feet (5.8 m). The highest level ever recorded was in 1967, at 25.17 feet (7.67 m) on August 23. This is about ten times its average height or depth.
The word "Chestatee" is a Cherokee word meaning roughly "pine torch place" or "place of lights", because they would use bonfires along the riverbanks to light their torches. They would then use these torches for hunting deer and other wild game in the forest. The Chestatee Regional Library System takes its name from the river, as do Chestatee High School and Middle School in Gainesville. In a nod to the origins of the name, CHS strives to be "a place of light" to their students.
- USGS real-time gauge at Dahlonega
- Appalachian Mountains
- Atsunsta Ti Yi
- Chestatee Bay
- Buford Dam
- Lake Lanier
- Chattahoochee River