The Jacks River is the second largest waterway in the combined Cohutta-Big Frog Wilderness. While maybe not the largest, it is probably the most turbulent, with a large gorge and a waterfall along its course. Jacks River Falls is the highest and most powerful waterfall in the combined wilderness. Most routes require at least one deep ford of Jacks River to reach the falls. However, Beech Bottoms Trail is a good winter alternative, being the only relatively "dry" route to the falls. The only crossings will be over Beech Bottoms Creek, which may still be problematic in high water levels. This hike occurred on January 3rd, 2015. My plan was to hike the Beech Bottoms Trail southward to Jacks River Trail. Then, I would take the Jacks River Trail west to Jacks River Falls. I would return the same way.
R/T Length of Trail: 10 Miles
Duration of Hike: 4:45
Type of Hike: Out and Back
Difficulty Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Good winter route to Jacks River Falls; powerful river and falls after rainy periods
Cons: Potential wet-weather fords of Beech Bottoms Creek
Scenic Views: None
Water Features: Jacks River Falls - Variable rating, 9 out of 10 after rain
Trail Blaze Color(s): None
Best Season(s) to Hike: Winter, Spring
Beginning Point: Beech Bottoms Trailhead on Forest Service Road 62
Directions: From Chatsworth, GA: Drive north on US Route 441 for approximately 18 miles until Ball Play Road. It will be on the right, 1.9 miles after entering Tennessee. Turn right onto Ball Play Road, and follow it for 1.8 miles until Ladd Springs Road. Turn right onto Ladd Springs Road, and follow it for 8.5 miles. At 8.5 miles, take a sharp right onto Forest Service Road 62 (Big Frog Road). Follow the road for 4 miles until Beech Bottoms Trailhead parking area, located on the left. Big Frog Road should be drivable by most passenger vehicles.
If you have been following this blog for a few months, you've probably learned I prefer hiking to mountaintop vistas rather than seeing water features. However, that is more of a preference than a rule, and is not always the case. I noticed that over the past couple days before this hike, there was a major multi-day rainstorm, bringing several inches of rain to most of the mountains in Tennessee and Georgia. Plus, it was still fogged in and the rain wasn't quite over yet on Saturday, so I decided that visiting one of the most powerful waterfalls in northern Georgia would fit the bill for the day. However, I didn't realize I would be significantly delayed by high water levels on normally half-dry creeks. Also, I can't exactly say I was expecting the enormous amounts of mud from the rain on the forest roads.
The Beech Bottoms Trail starts across from the parking area, at a gate. The trail follows an old roadbed for most of its time, and the combination of easy trail and an excellent summer swimming hole makes this the most popular hiking trail in the combined Cohutta - Big Frog Wilderness. At first, the trail stays flat, but soon starts to descend steadily. The descent is not hard though, as it follows an old roadbed. At 1 mile, the trail approaches the first stream, an unnamed branch of Jacks River. Normally, this stream is barely a rivulet, but after the recent rain, it was big enough that it was hard to cross it due to the only stone being barely above water. Normally though, it should be easily crossable. After this, the trail parallels an even smaller branch of the branch, and soon you come to the only part of the trail where it leaves the old roadbed. This bypass was recently created, due to a washed out culvert on the road. The trail goes left and parallels the road just upstream. After crossing the small branch, the trail soon rejoins the roadbed, and slowly climbs to the top of a ridge, which is called Van Arthur Lead. It reaches the highest point at 2.8 miles. There are great winter views here. From this point, the descent to Beech Bottoms begins. Along the way, the trail will cross several spur ridges that extend from Van Arthur Lead. There will be several more gaps providing good winter views. On this day, I could see the fog, rain, and clouds rolling in from Big Frog Mountain and Hemp Top, slowly approaching the area where I was.
The trail approaches Beech Bottoms at 3.5 miles. You can see Beech Bottoms Creek below to the right, which was swift and wide on the day I went. Reach Beech Bottoms at 3.8 miles. There is a sign that says no camping is allowed in the Beech Bottoms/Jacks River area. This is because the land has been disturbed too much before, so the Forest Service is now trying to make the land to recover, thus closing all o the camping areas hat use be here. Just past the sign, cross (or ford, like it was on this day) Beech Bottoms Creek. I have seen pictures where you can easily rock hop Beech Bottoms Creek, but that absolutely was not the case today. The water was about ankle deep. After Beech Bottoms Creek, pass through a marshy area, probably sort of a "floodplain" for the creek, and descend through the bottoms to reach Jacks River Trail at 4.3 miles. This is the end of Beech Bottoms Trail. To the left, turning onto Jacks River Trail leads eventually to Dally Gap on Forest Service Road 22. Also, if turning left, the Hickory Ridge Trail junction will be just around the corner (although it may be unsigned). If turning right onto Jacks River Trail, it brings you to Jacks River Falls in 0.7 miles, and eventually to Alaculsy Valley, which you drove through on the way to the trailhead (if coming from Chatsworth). The route of this hike turns right onto the JRT. The trail parallels the Jacks River, which was furious on this day. The water might have been over waist deep in there! At 4.9 miles, reach the second, lower crossing of Beech Bottoms Creek. This one was narrower than the first one, but I still had to ford. I am pretty sure you can cross in normal water levels though. Right after the crossing, reach Jacks River Falls at 5 miles. Unfortunately, the fords took a lot of time, so I got here only by twilight. Thus, it was too dark to take a good picture of the falls, but I still managed to get a decent video. The falls was very powerful on this day, and might have been one of the most powerful waterfalls of a relatively small size that I have seen. It consists of a small upper drop and the main lower drop. I plan to return to the falls from a different trailhead in spring or summer, and hopefully get some pictures of the falls.
To summarize, if you want a good winter approach to Jacks River Falls, this hike is perfect. But otherwise, for the more seasoned hiker, I would suggest the other approaches (which are suitable for the warmer months only). These other approaches include Rice Camp Trail, Hickory Ridge Trail, and Jacks River Trail from Alaculsy. It might be possible to make a long hike from Dally Gap too, but it would probably be longer than from the other locations. All routes will require fording the Jacks at least 2 times, if ending the hike at the same trailhead. Below are a few pictures and a video of Jacks River Falls. Note about the video: you cannot see the full extent of the lower drop on the right.
Mark Oleg Ozboyd
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