Jacks River is the major geographical icon of the Cohutta Wilderness. It spans the length of the wilderness from its southeastern Dally Gap Trailhead located in Blue Ridge, GA all the way to its northwest terminus at the Alaculsy Valley Trailhead right across the state line in Tennesse.
Rivers flow downhill due to gravity. Due to the geography of the Cohutta Wilderness, the Jacks River flows from the south to the northwest losing elevation the whole way.
Jacks River Trail is the longest in the Cohutta Wilderness measuring 16.8 miles and has 7 trails that junction with it. South to north the trails are Benton MacKaye, Penitentiary Branch, Rough Ridge, Hickory Ridge, Beech Bottom, Rice Camp, and Horseshoe Bend.
To complete the Jacks River Trail requires 42 river crossings which can be difficult in high water. For this reason, the trail has been broken into a North Section and South Section.
The Upper Section of the trail begins at its southeastern (high elevation) terminus at Dally Gap and continues 8.5 miles and 20 river crossings to the Beech Bottom Trail terminus with Jacks River Trail.
From Dally Gap, the trail starts off wide and level going south. At mile .8 the trail comes to the Benton Mackay Trail(BMT) on its right going north. Another 50 yards and the BMT trail departs to the south. The trail continues with its wide path turning toward the southwest. This part of the forest is heavily populated with the majestic Eastern hemlock with many over 300 feet high.
Around mile 2 the trail joins Jacks River coming in from the left. Unlike the Conasauga River Trail, the trail does not begin at the headwaters of its namesake river. The headwaters for Jacks River originate on top of Flat Top Mountain approximately 8 miles to the south and over 3500 feet. So by the time the trail merges with the river it is not a creek.
At mile 2.4 the trail comes to the 1st crossing. It is a fording right to left looking downstream at a slight diagonal. The trail continues on the left bank of the river arriving at the 2nd crossing at mile 2.8. This river crossing has some decent size boulders creating a pretty waterfall to the left. If you look upstream here you can see how the river is descending from above.
The trail follows the river on its right bank for a short distance before the trail and river diverge. The trail begins ascending a small slope on its left side coming to a gap on top of the slope lined with big boulders. This is the beginning of Jacks River gorge and continues for the next 1.1 miles to the next river crossing. The river swings sharply west and just as sharply back to the east. And begins cascading down a beautiful gorge called Jacks River Gorge. After rainfall, this gorge is particularly impressive and loud. The view from the trail ranges from nonexistent to spectacular.
The trail descends back down and merges with the river again on its right bank. The trail parallels the river in this darker interior part of the wilderness where the river is particularly nice. At mile 3.9 the trail comes to the 3rd crossing fording the river right to left looking downstream.
The trail comes to the 4th river crossing at mile 4.4 crossing left to right looking downstream.
After this 4th crossing to the junction with Penitentiary Branch at mile 7.1, there are an additional 14 river crossings. The trail crosses the river, travels a short distance, and crosses again all the time winding its way northwest.
These river crossings define the trail and what makes it so fun. I highly recommend having a hiking stick to help navigate the river. I did it both ways and enjoyed it much more with my fiberglass hiking pole that enabled me to easily keep my balance. The current may be swift after rainfall.
The trail arrives at the junction with Penitentiary Branch after the 18th-river-crossing. Penitentiary Branch is a 3.6-mile interior trail that ascends over a 1000 feet in elevation to its junction with the Hemp Top Trail on the Blue Ridge.
The trail is wider and noticeably better maintained with little deadfall for the next 1.4 miles to Beech Bottom. From Penitentiary Branch the trail travels a short .2 miles and comes to the 19th-river-crossing at mile 7.3.
After this crossing, the trail continues level for a short distance before it ascends a small slope on its right side with the river below and to the right. Jacks River detours further to the east and eventually you lose sight of it from the trail. After climbing a short distance to the top of a hill the trail descends on its left side to a body of the water that is not the Jacks River. This is the only time this happens on the 17.1-mile trail. The trail descends to Rough Creek and crosses it right to left looking downstream. It fords Rough Creek here to the Rough Ridge Trail junction. Rough Ridge is a 7-mile ridge trail that junctions with East Cowpen Trail.
The trail parallels Rough Creek on its left bank for a short distance coming to a campsite on the creek that is idyllic. The trail turns left at the campsite and begins climbing again a small ridge on its right slope. At the top of the ridge Jacks River comes back into view below and in the winter it is possible to see where Rough Creek enters the river. The trail continues above the river offering nice views for a short distance before the river swings hard east for the second time and the trail loses sight of it.
The trail continues along this small ridge before turning slightly west and ascending to the top of the ridge. The trail now descends the left side of the ridge with no sight of the river. The trail turns back to the northwest and begins its descent through a gap to the river again. The trail and river merge again at the 20th-river-crossing. This crossing may be deep depending on the time of year, however, the current is easy.
The junctions for Hickory Ridge and Beech Bottom are immediately after the 20th-river-crossing. Hickory Ridge Trail is a 3.5 ridge trail that heads south and junctions with East Cowpen Trail. And Beech Bottom is a 4-mile trail that heads northwest to its trailhead on FS62.
Jacks River Falls is .7 miles further downstream on the trail. If Jacks River Trail is continued to its end at Alaculsy Valley then it is a further 8.3 miles and 22 more river crossings from Beech Bottom.
"A wilderness...is hereby recognized as an area where the
earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man,
where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."
- Wilderness Act of 1964
Blue Ridge, GA Access: Access to Jacks River southeastern (high elevation) terminus at Dally Gap is most commonly via Blue Ridge, GA now since FS64 below Three Forks Mountain Trailhead is closed due to the road washing away over the winter of 2015 because of the record 25 inches of rainfall.
Once arriving in Blue Ridge, GA go to the US 76-GA 5 intersection near the McDonald's. Go North on GA 5 approximately 3.7 miles. Take a left onto Old Highway 2.
Continue straight for approximately 10.2 miles to Watson Gap. The last 1.2 miles is gravel. The intersection at Watson Gap is a 4-way intersection of FS22, FS 64, Old Highway 2, and County Road 187.
At this intersection take a right onto FS 22 and continue 4.3 miles to Dally Gap where the trailheads for Hemp Top and Jacks River are located.
|Hiking Downstream:||Easy to Moderate|
|Hiking Upstream:||Easy to Moderate|
|Dally Gap Trailhead:||2,595 feet|
|Penitentiary Branch Terminus:||1,693 feet|
|Rough Ridge Terminus:||1,647 feet|
|Hickory Ridge Terminus:||1,545 feet|
|Beech Bottom Terminus:||1,555 feet|
|Trail Junctions:||Benton Mackaye, Penitentiary Branch,|
|Rough Ridge, Hickory Ridge, Beech Bottom.|
|Features:||Jacks River, Jacks River Gorge|