Rough Ridge Trail is a 7-mile interior trail that is accessed either from the East Cowpen (high elevation) or Jacks River Trail. The trail is most commonly accessed from the Three Forks Mountain Trailhead which is the southeast high elevation terminus for the East Cowpen Trail.
East Cowpen Trail gains over 200 feet in elevation to its junction with Rough Ridge Trail at mile 0.4. The junction is on the right indicated by a trail sign.
From there it runs 4.6 miles tracing the top of Rough Ridge occasionally dropping to either the east or west side of the ridge for a spell gradually losing elevation. This 4.6-mile section of the trail has decent winter views and is fairly wide and easy hiking along the ridgeline with an occasional descent to a gap and a short ascent back up.
At mile 4.6 the trail descends to a small spring on the right and a sign stating No Horses Beyond this Point. From the spring there is a sharp ascent of .1 mile. The next 1.7 miles the trail begins a stair-step approach to Jacks River losing over 1000 feet. The trail alternates between an easy level stretch on the ridge interrupted by descents to a lower part of the ridge.
This part of the trail has its share of deadfalls and summer briars. It is also a trail that many times you can't see 50 feet down the trail due to its many twists and turns on the ridgecrest as it descends to Jacks River.
From mile 6.3 mile the trail enters the rhododendron belt that always springs up where there is water. And the big majestic Eastern hemlock is still here. By far one of the biggest hardwoods in the Cohutta Wilderness. There are pockets of old growth throughout the wilderness. On top of Panther Creek Falls, there is a pocket of old growth. These majestic trees change the character of the woods with their towering heights and width for this part of the world.
Rough Ridge Trail becomes its most twisted at the end. The trail runs parallel for a short distance to a tributary which runs in from the east to Rough Creek. Rough Creek flows in the valley between Hickory Ridge and Rough Ridge and near the end of the trail the tributary joins it. The trail crosses Rough Creek slightly upstream from where the tributary flows into Rough Creek.
From here the trail runs parallel to Rough Creek on its left bank for approximately .3 miles before it comes to the junction with the Jacks River Trail. The Jacks River Trail crosses Rough Creek at the junction with Rough Ridge Trail. Jacks River Trail detours from following its namesake river for only the second time in its 16.7 mile length. There is a sign indicating this Rough Ridge-Jacks River Trail junction in the image gallery. There is a nice campsite at the end of the trail on Rough Creek.
The final descent to Jacks River Trail is somewhat different than the other 5 trails that feed directly into Jacks River Trail. From the farthest downstream to upstream you have Horseshoe Bend, Rice Camp, Beech Bottom, Hickory Ridge, Rough Ridge, and Penitentiary Trail, all which junction with Jacks River and its namesake trail. All of them except Rough Ridge Trail junction with the Jacks River Trail while the Jacks River Trail is parallel to the river on either side of it depending on the location.
Rough Ridge Trail is lightly used compared to other trails in the wilderness. It constitutes 7.0 miles of a 15.9-mile loop starting from Three Forks Mountain and hiking the East Cowpen to Hickory Ridge to Jacks River to Rough Ridge Trail in either order. We hiked it the opposite way and East Cowpen can be a bear if you are already tired. This is predominately a ridgetop loop trail even though you can jump in the Jacks if you are hot between the ridges.
"The wilderness is a place of rest - - not in the sense of being motionless, for the lure, after all, is to move, round the next bend. The rest comes in the isolation from distractions, in the slowing of the daily centrifugal forces that keep us off balance."
-David Douglas, Scottish botanist
Eton, GA Access: From Eton, GA (one-red-light town) take a right from Hwy 411 onto CCC road at the red light. Go 6.0 miles until the road turns into gravel and Forest Service Road 18. Once on gravel, it is approximately 10 miles from Potatopatch Mountain. Drive 1.1 miles and the trailhead for Emery Creek is on the left at Holly Creek. Continue 2.9 miles until the three-way intersection with FS68.Take FS68 and begin going uphill.
Stay on FS68 for approximately 6.0 miles until the T - intersection of FS68/FS64 at Potatopatch Mountain and take a right. Drive 4.3 miles to the trailhead on your left.
Distance being equal this is the easier route due to more of the road being paved.
Total distance from Hwy 411: 20.3 miles - Paved: 6.0 miles - Gravel: 14.3 miles. Have Fun!
If coming from Ellijay, GA it is better to take Hwy 52 west and cross Fort Mountain and take County Road 64(Conasauga Road) north which turns into FS18. Drive past the mountain bike place Mulberry Gap and at the next intersection take a right onto FS68.
Continue driving to the next intersection with FS90 and stay left on FS68 going up the mountain. At the top of the mountain is the 3-way intersection of Potatopatch Mountain.Take a right onto FS64 and it is 4.3 miles to the trailhead.
Total Distance from Hwy 52: 13.3 miles. Have Fun!
|Hiking High to Low:||Easy|
|Hiking Low to High:||Moderate to Strenuous|
|Three Forks Mountain Trailhead:||3,510 feet|
|Rough Ridge terminus on East Cowpen:||3,753 feet|
|Rough Ridge terminus on Jacks River:||1,637 feet|
|Trail Junctions:||East Cowpen, Jacks River Trail|
|Features:||Jacks River, East Cowpen-Rough Ridge Trail Loop|