Hickory Ridge is an interior 3.6-mile ridge trail. Access is from either the high elevation point via the East Cowpen Trail hiking in 2.7 miles to the East Cowpen-Hickory Ridge junction or the low elevation point via the Jacks River Trail where the Jacks River-Hickory Ridge junction is 50 yards upstream from the Beech Bottom-Jacks River junction.
The trail described here starts at the northern terminus of the East Cowpen Trail located at the end of FS51. Starting at an elevation of 1,834 feet the East Cowpen Trail climbs to 3,180 feet over a distance of 2.7 miles to the Hickory Ridge Trail junction.
The 1,400 feet change in elevation is more pronounced the first mile and becomes more gradual thereafter continuing on a wide roadbed due to it being the former highway GA2.
After hiking 2.8 miles the junction for Hickory Ridge Trail is on the left and marked with a sign high up on a tree. The image immediately above is the sign!
Hickory Ridge is a ridgetop and upper-slope trail for the next 3 miles. There is a nice campsite in the first mile for campers looking for something different than the predominant river camping in the wilderness. The trail can be described as walking down a flight of stairs except for the stairs here are ridges. And some of these stairs are steep descents especially the first one at the .5 mile mark.
This trail unlike some other ridge trails in the wilderness stays on top of the slope for the duration of its ridge section. Hickory Ridge is a lower elevation spur of Cohutta Mountain and in most areas is not that wide. It is a tranquil hike on top of the ridge.
The ridgetop views in the winter are all knowing. A glance to the right and there is Rough Ridge which appears steep on its western side. Further down the trail on the ridge Ken Mountain is seen easily below on the left, due west. And the highest peak in the combined Big Frog-Cohutta Wilderness, Big Frog Mountain, is straight and slightly right, the highpoint is 4,219 feet.
The ridge steps continue until the final .3 miles where it descends rapidly to Jacks River. The trail performs a disappearing act here and turns right and upstream continuing along a rocky outpost hugging the river for .2 miles.
The trail fords Jacks River at the end of this extremely rocky outpost diagonally at a fairly wide section of the river to the other side that looks like a beach. The Beech Bottom-Jacks River junction is 50 yards to the left and downstream to the Jacks River-Hickory Ridge junction.
Another day hike option here besides returning on the out and back is to continue downstream on Jacks River Trail passing Jacks River Falls and a beautiful 1.8-mile treadway before it crosses Jacks River. Warning during cold weather and sustained rain this is not recommended. After crossing the river the trail continues on the left side of the river and downstream for approximately 0.1 mile before encountering the Rice Camp Trail junction which is on your left and 4 miles back to your vehicle. The FS51 cul-de-sac houses the Rice Camp, East Cowpen, and Hickory Creek Trailheads even though they all go radically different directions. This loop trip is approximately 12.0 miles compared to the out and back which is 12.6 miles.
"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
Cisco, GA Access: From Eton, GA (one-red-light town) go North on Hwy 411 8.8 miles until GA2. Take a right onto Old Hwy GA2. The road is paved for the first 1.8 miles. At mile 3.1 you will come to the West Cowpen Check Station on your left and the first road intersection. FS17 goes right. Continue straight on FS16.
At mile 7.5 there is another intersection. If you continue left then the road will take you to Iron Mountain, Jack's River, Beech Bottom Trailheads. Instead, you will turn right on FS51. There is a road sign pointing you in the right direction which is shown immediately below in the image gallery.
After taking a right on FS51 the road literally crosses two small creeks at mile 9.4 and mile 9.5. The crossing is not a problem even for a small car unless there has been significant rain. The way to drive across the ford is slow and steady (don't stop for pic lol). The stream crossing on FS 51 just adds to the wilderness experience.
After taking a right on FS51 and driving 2.6 miles you will see Horseshoe Bend Trailhead on your left, it does not have a road sign.
Continue another 2.1 miles to the end of FS51 where you will find the Rice Camp Trailhead, the northern terminus of East Cowpen Trail, and the northeastern terminus of Hickory Creek Trail.
Total Distance from Hwy 411: 12.2 miles Have Fun!
|Out and Back via East Cowpen:||12.6 miles|
|Hiking East Cowpen:||Easy to Moderate|
|Hiking Hickory Ridge:||Easy to Moderate|
|East Cowpen northern terminus:||1,834 feet|
|Hickory Ridge-East Cowpen:||3,180 feet|
|Hickory Ridge-Jacks River:||1,160 feet|
|Trail Junctions:||East Cowpen, Jacks River, Beech Bottom|
|Features:||Winter Vistas on Ridge, Jacks River|