Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) is a mosquito-borne alphavirus that has reemerged to cause profound epidemics of fever, rash, and arthralgia throughout sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Caribbean. Like other arthritogenic alphaviruses, mechanisms of CHIKV pathogenesis are not well defined. Using the attenuated CHIKV strain 181/25 and virulent strain AF15561, we identified a residue in the E2 viral attachment protein that is a critical determinant of viral replication in cultured cells and pathogenesis in vivo. Viruses containing an arginine at E2 residue 82 displayed enhanced infectivity in mammalian cells but reduced infectivity in mosquito cells and diminished virulence in a mouse model of CHIKV disease. Mice inoculated with virus containing an arginine at this position exhibited reduced swelling at the site of inoculation with a concomitant decrease in the severity of necrosis in joint-associated tissues. Viruses containing a glycine at E2 residue 82 produced higher titers in the spleen and serum at early times postinfection. Using wild-type and glycosaminoglycan (GAG)-deficient Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cell lines and soluble GAGs, we found that an arginine at residue 82 conferred greater dependence on GAGs for infection of mammalian cells. These data suggest that CHIKV E2 interactions with GAGs diminish dissemination to lymphoid tissue, establishment of viremia, and activation of inflammatory responses early in infection. Collectively, these results suggest a function for GAG utilization in regulating CHIKV tropism and host responses that contribute to arthritis.