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

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

Updated: September 17, 2009

Do It The Jacks River trailhead (1) lies tucked into dense greenery 100 miles north of Atlanta. Dozens of glass-clear swimming holes line the 16.3-mile route that drops 1,592 feet from trailhead to terminus, near the Tennessee border. Hike .7 mile southwest to a junction with the Benton MacKaye Trail (2). Stay on the Jacks River Trail (JRT) and prepare for the first of more than 43 water crossings in .2 mile (3). Take in the view of dark and dripping Jacks River gorge at an overlook at 1.7 miles (4). You’ll drop back down to the river at mile 2.2 (5) to ford its wide, swift current–unclip your hipbelt to slip out of your pack if you go for a swim. At mile 6.8 veer left at the junction (6) with Penitentiary Branch Trail.

An old railroad bed makes the trail appear to head straight at mile 7.4 (7): Stay left on the JRT. Splash through another creek and climb up the bank to the Rough Ridge Trail junction (8). Turn right, and–surprise!–traverse another small creek. Cross Jacks River at mile 8 (camping restricted for next 1.8 miles) (9), then stay straight at the Hickory Ridge junction (10). Hike about a half of a mile to 80-foot, two-tiered Jacks River Falls (11), passing Beech Bottom Trail on the way. Roughly a mile past the falls, bear right at the junction with Rice Camp Trail and camp in the flat section ahead to end this 9.9-mile day. Next day: Tackle a tricky crossing at mile 10.9. Look for an island near where the trail meets the river and ford Jacks, hugging the downstream tip of the island. Off course? Look for the blue trail marker on the opposite shore (12) and scramble up the bank. If you want to extend your stay, pitch your tent on an old railroad grade in a pocket of trees at mile 13.6 (13). From here, it’s 2.7 miles to the trailhead along the north of the river. Before shuttling your car, go jump overv the state line into Tennessee. Why not? It’s only at the end of the parking lot (14).

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