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Backpacker Magazine – May 2009

Rip & Go: Jacks River Trail - Cohutta Wilderness, GA

Disappear into the largest–and probably the wettest–wilderness east of the Mississippi.

by: Joanna Nasar

Jacks River Trail (Scott Sanders)
Jacks River Trail (Scott Sanders)
Keen Newport H2 (Courtesy photo)
Keen Newport H2 (Courtesy photo)
Jacks River Falls (Scott Sanders)
Jacks River Falls (Scott Sanders)
Ovenbird (Johann Schumacher)
Ovenbird (Johann Schumacher)

Take it With You
Download a printable PDF of this entire weekend.

GPS-Enabled Trip Report
See this trip on a map, download it to your phone, GPS, or computer, and more.
Trip Planner

The Way: From Atlanta, take I-75 45 miles north to US 411 north. Continue on US 411 53.4 miles to Cisco, GA. Turn right onto FR 16 (before the Baptist church). Stay on FR 16 for 30 miles to the northern trailhead (staying right at two intersections on the way).
Shuttle car Take FR 16 back to FR 17 (the junction before the trailhead); turn left. Drive to FR 68 (which becomes FR 64). Continue to Watson Gap and turn onto FR 22 for 3.6 miles to Dally Gap. Gear up North Georgia Mountain Outfitters, 1215 Industrial Blvd., East Ellijay, GA; (706) 698-4453

Key Gear
Water Crossing Shoes

With an average of nearly three stream crossings per mile, the Jacks River Trail will turn a full-leather boot into a blister bucket; you'd be better off with stilts than shoes with a waterproof/breathable membrane. Pack a sturdy sandal with toe protection that's comfortable enough for hiking or a light hiker with drainage ports. We like KEEN's Newport H2 for it's wrap-around toe bumper and solid traction ($95, and New Balance's 920–with its 12 drainage ports and trail-runner fit and cushion ($95, Plan B: Use an old pair of sneakers.

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May 04, 2012

It's more like 3-3.5 hours because of the forest service road to jacks river falls. The mileage isn't bad..just have to drive so slow on that bumpy dirt road.

Dan M
May 23, 2011

Also - there are good sites after the falls, on the way down, but the better sites are before the falls, and one would want to hit the falls during the day, not at the end of the day. The falls (at mile 10 or so), are the highlight.

Dan M
May 23, 2011

This is an awesome trip. But it's good to be prepared. 1) The shoes advice is great. I wore Tevas, but closed water-sandals would be better. Folks wore sneakers as well. DO NOT bring boots. 2) You need hiking poles, or at least a stick. The river crossings can be treacherous. The trail itself is easy... but the crossings make everything slow, and you need the poles. 3) This is ok for newer hikers, but be prepared on these river crossings. 4) It will take longer than normal, because of the crossings. We averaged 1.5 miles/hr or so. 5) The blazes are generally green, but sometimes vary. Red-Orange was the old color. 6) DO NOT ATTEMPT in rainy weather. The gorge can fill up quickly, and folks have drowned there. The crossings become too dangerous. Plus, it wouldn't be pleasant to be wet and cold. 7) Plan for wet conditions. Some advice follows below.

The directions to the trail head are not particularly good, but if you follow the directions, plus some signs, you'll probably get there. I advise getting a map or better directions.

The trail end, is, in fact, 1.5-2 hours from Atlanta, but once you do the shuttle to the trail head, it's definitely 4 - 4.5 hours from Atlanta. As such, it would be helpful to get either a really early start on Saturday, or get up on Friday and pack in a mile. There are, in fact, 42 crossings of the Jack's river, and 1 crossing of a tributary of the Jack's river. There are also several minor creek crossings. All of the jack's river crossings are above your knees (or, at least they were in May), and some are as high as your navel / waist. It would make sense to bag your sleeping bag in a waterproof bag, so when your pack gets in the water (it will), your bag will remain dry. You might want to do the same for your tent. However, most of the difficult / slippery crossings are below the falls (most likely during day 2).

There are campsites along the entire way, though, the sites are much better at the up-stream side of the trail than the downstream side. You are not supposed to camp within 1 mile on either side of the falls. After 16(ish?) crossings, there are limited campsites available before the restricted area. There are some great sites between 13 and 16. There are a couple good ones after 16 too, but once you start to ascend the gorge, there's not much that's legal. There are a few sites just after the restricted area that people use still.

Hope all this info helps!

Scott Sanders
Sep 16, 2009

It is about 1.5 to 2 hours to the trail head. If one wanted to follow the hike as written, you would need to shuttle to the start of the trail on the opposite side of the Cohutta wilderness. It can easily add another 1.5 hours. The road can be very bumpy. Occasionally, trees fall down and you'll have to re route. One shold expect 4 hours and be happy for every minute they're not jarring their kidneys on the rutted gravel roads. The hike is WORTH the price.

Robert E.
Jul 20, 2009

Traveling on Friday after work. Any campsites near the trailhead? Great article.

Anne B.
Jul 14, 2009

It would be helpful if you gave more specific directions.

Dan Stewart
Jul 06, 2009

Good article, very informative.

Except, the Cohutta Wilderness is not "four hours north of Atlanta." More 1.5 to 2 hours.


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