Jacks River Trail and its namesake river is the masterpiece of the Cohutta Wilderness. This 16.8-mile trail with its 42 river crossings runs the whole length of the wilderness starting from its high elevation point at Dally Gap near Blue Ridge, GA paralleling its namesake river downstream to its northwest low elevation trailhead at its Alaculsy Valley Trailhead just across the Tennessee state line.
Seven different trails connect with the Jacks River Trail. Starting from Dally Gap going northwest they are the Benton MacKaye, Penitentiary Branch, Rough Ridge, Hickory Ridge, Beech Bottom, Rice Camp, and Horseshoe Bend Trail. The headwaters of the Jacks River begin near Sassafras Gap (3,986 feet) and following its northern downstream path combines the West Fork and South Fork tributary so by the time the river is joined at mile 2.0 from Dally Gap the river is already flowing with some intensity. For those bold, the trail may be hiked from end to end beginning at either end. Most hikers elect to walk the trail downriver beginning at its (high elevation) trailhead at Dally Gap near Blue Ridge, GA.
The logistics of day hiking this trail end to end is very difficult due to the 60 miles distance between trailheads. The best way is to drop a vehicle off at a trailhead and have a third party transport you to the other trailhead eliminating the need to drive 60 miles to get your vehicle.
A day hike of the North Section of the Jacks River Trail is much easier since the shuttle distance between its Alaculsy Valley Trailhead (978 feet) and the Beech Bottom Trailhead (1,570 feet) is only 5.5 miles. From the Beech Bottom trailhead, it is an easy 4-mile hike to the Jacks River Trail and its namesake river. The North Section of the Jacks River Trail begins where the Beech Bottom trail junctions with it.
Or just do an Out & Back from the Alaculsy Valley trailhead. From this trailhead to the falls is approximately 7 1/2 miles or 15 miles total on an Out & Back plus double the river crossings for a total of 44.
This section of the Jacks River Trail begins at the Beech Bottom Trail junction and is 8.3 miles crossing the river 22 times. These crossings tend to be wider than the upstream crossings due to more water entering the river downstream from its tributaries. This section of the trail begins 0.7 miles upstream from Jacks River Falls. This section of the trail is easy hiking on old roadbed with the river on its left. The river is impressive from the beginning becoming more turbulent before arriving at Jacks River Falls.
Jacks River Falls is the most popular scenic feature in the Cohutta Wilderness. After sustained rainfall, the falls are a roaring whitewater cascade eventually falling 80 feet into the valley below. During the hot summer droughts, the falls are still impressive due to its rock formations but offer more swimming holes than roaring water. The falls are slightly past the halfway point if the trail is hiked from end to end. A great place to take an extended lunch break and swim in warm weather.
After admiring the falls the trail continues down into the valley still paralleling the river on its left. It begins ascending a ridgeline for the first and only time on this section of the trail. As the trail ascends it offers great views of the river below with the river becoming wide. Both the river and the trail make a 90 degree turn to the left. After turning the trail descends back down to the river and continues this way more or less for the rest of the trail. After hiking approximately a mile from the falls the trail comes to its first river crossing in this section of the trail. The total distance from Beech Bottom is 1.7 miles.
After crossing the river right to left the trail continues a short 0.1 mile to the junction with Rice Camp trail on its left. Less than 200 yards beyond the junction there is a nice little campsite on the right next to the river. And shortly after this campsite the trail fords the river for the second time crossing left to right. For the next couple of miles, the trail will be winding itself around Horseshoe Bend, a geographic feature that resembles several horseshoes attached to each other.
The trail begins crossing the river at a more prolific pace from here crossing its namesake river another 11 times in the next 2.7 miles. The trail is sometimes difficult to locate across the river crossings. The aqua blue blazes marking the crossings across the river are erratic. There are several crossings that require fording to an island in the middle of the river before locating the trail on the opposite side. The trail always enters the river correctly, however, some crossings are not straight across but are diagonal.
After crossing the river for the ninth time a scenic tall bluff arises on the left side of the trail changing the character of the trail for approximately the next half mile. After navigating 12 river crossings in 2.7 miles the junction for Horseshoe Bend trail appears on the left at mile 4.5 (13.0-mile mark end to end).
For the next 1.7 miles, the trail crosses the river 9 more times for a total of 22 fords since Jacks River Falls. Many of the river crossings on the trail can be challenging. Some of the crossings are over solid rock which makes foot traction difficult. A hiking pole is mandatory if the goal is to enjoy the trail. Also, copperheads which are docile enjoy the rocks. And this trail is rocky. Just be careful entering and exiting the river.
The trail is defined by its river crossings. Hopefully, the images below show some of its beauty. At approximately mile 6.2 (14.7 mile mark end to end) the trail crosses left to right for the 22nd time and the final time. After crossing the river for the final time the trail begins to widen out eventually to a roadbed with the river on its left for the next 2.1 miles.
The river continues to impress for the next two miles becoming really wide and slow toward the end. The steel-concrete bridge comes into view at the end indicating the beginning of the end of the trail. The trail arrives at its Alaculsy Valley Trailhead at mile 8.3 completing the north section of the trail. If hiked end to end the mileage is 16.8 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 8.8 miles on 411 untill GA2, take a right onto Old Hwy GA2, a small rock built church named Cisco Baptist is located here, the road is paved for the first 1.8 miles before turning into gravel. At mile 3.1 the road (FS Rd 16) comes to the West Cowpen Check Station on its left and the first road intersection, FS17 goes right, and FS16 continues straight, continue straight on FS16 for the next 4.4 miles until at mile 7.5 the road comes to another intersection.
FS51 goes right and FS16 continues straight and to the left. Continue on FS16 which passes the Cottonwood Patch campground on its left at mile 7.7. After passing the campround Forest service Road 16 will cross a steel concrete bridge that spans the Jacks River which merges with the Conasauga River about a half mile downriver. After crossing the bridge into Tennessee the road comes to a T intersection. Take a right onto Forest Service Road 221 and the northwestern (Low Elevation) Jacks River Trailhead will be on the immediate right.
Total Distance from Hwy 411: 8.4 miles Have Fun!
|Hiking Downstream:||Easy to Moderate|
|Hiking Upstream:||Easy to Moderate|
|Beech Bottom:||1,540 feet|
|Rice Camp:||1,335 feet at mile 1.8/10.3 total|
|Horseshoe Bend:||1,165 feet at mile 4.5/13.0 total|
|Alaculsy Valley Trailhead:||968 feet at mile 8.3/16.8 total|
|Trail Junctions:||Beech Bottom, Rice Camp, Horseshoe Bend|
|Features:||Jacks River, Jacks River Falls|