Jacks River FallsViewing the Jacks River Falls for the first time takes one’s breath away. The tremendous cascade of water rushing over the ageless boulders of the three distinct levels is almost deafening. Also, the rising mixture of water and air forms a mist that shrouds everything in a dreamlike fog. It is so captivating that visitors often stand as if in a trance while trying to mentally devour this magnificent work of nature.
Despite the physical exertion required to visit this Peach State wonder, the trip is worth every minute of the pain. The Cohutta Wilderness area and especially, the Jacks River provides, to those willing to pay the price, a wonderful opportunity to enjoy unspoiled nature at its best.
Though several ways exist to reach the Jacks River Falls, one particular path has proven to be fairly easy to follow, and can be accomplished in a day’s hard hike if one is in pretty good physical condition. However, some food and a good supply of water should be carried to make the trip safer and more enjoyable.
Go North to I-575, which becomes Highway 515 at Nelson, Georgia and is called the Appalachian Parkway. Just beyond Blue Ridge, Georgia, travel north on Highway 5 toward Copper Hill, Tennessee, then shortly turn west onto old Highway 2, which becomes a gravel road as it climbs upwards. At Watson Gap, turn right on Forest Service Road 22, which continues several miles to the parking area at Dally Gap.
Depart Dally Gap on the Hemptop Trail, which winds down out of Tennessee and intersects with Penitentiary Branch Trail about 2.5 miles from Dally Gap. Penitentiary Branch Trail then descends some 3.3 miles into the Jacks River canyon.
During the first two miles of the jaunt, the trail follows an old logging road. Though it ascends steadily, the path is wide and the rise gradual. The downhill section follows Penitentiary Branch down to the juncture with the Jacks River. From there, it is roughly 1.5 miles downriver to the Jacks River Falls.
The path to the Jacks River Falls is loaded with history. Portions of the Jacks River Trail along the river are on the roadbed of the old Conasauga Railroad, which was a narrow-gauge railway built to bring out felled logs from the timber camps up in the mountains during the logging days around the turn of the century.
The loggers would cut the chestnut trees all week while staying at the camps, then ride the train back down to a small village at the juncture of the Conasauga and Jacks rivers on the weekends. The town was called Shamble’s Mill, and was located in the Alaculsy Valley.
During a hike along the Jacks River Trail, one can actually walk on some visible sections of the old cross-ties made from American Chestnut trees, which have resided there for at least 75 years. The American Chestnut trees disappeared from the Georgia mountains during the 1920’s and 30’s because of a blight that killed them.
Near the falls, one will probably encounter campsites and other hikers. Most of these hikers come in from Tennessee on the popular Beech Bottom Trail, which is approximately 3.5 miles from its Tennessee state line beginning. Instead of taking the shorter but more rugged Hemptop Trail, they chose the Jacks River Trail, which follows Bear Branch down to the intersection with the Sugar Cove Trail at Lost Cove Branch. Despite being a much easier trail to traverse, the Jacks River Trail is almost 11 miles long and has 44 river crossings up to waist-deep before one reaches the Jacks River Falls. Nevertheless, many pure backpackers prefer that trail because of the easier walking on fairly level old logging roads.
Though the scenery is breathtaking, a jaunt into the Cohutta Wilderness and the Jacks River Falls should not be attempted by those with small children or any physical problems. Despite the other friendly hikers you might encounter, you’ll be a long way from any help should a problem arise. Nevertheless, if you’re up to it, the Jacks River Falls is one of Georgia’s most picturesque places!