Hike the Jacks River Trail in North Georgia’s lush, remote Cohutta Wilderness, trekking and wading from Dally Gap to a series of beautiful waterfalls on a crystal-clear river.
OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 777 Trails Illustrated Map
The Jacks River Trail stretches over 16 miles through the beautifully rugged and remote Cohutta Wilderness in North Georgia, following its namesake river through a lushly green, waterfall-filled river valley. Nine miles downstream from the Dally Gap trailhead, Jacks River tumbles from a rugged, rocky outcrop, forming the stunning waterfall at Jacks River Falls.
This 9.3-mile out-and-back hike explores many of the highlights of the Jacks River valley, hiking to rushing waterfalls, splashing through many river crossings, and descending through the river’s rocky valley from Dally Gap. It’s one of our favorite day hikes in the Cohutta Wilderness – and, if you’re up for some serious mileage, can serve as an excellent starting point for an 18-mile backpacking adventure to Jacks River Falls. It’s a fantastic summertime adventure; just be sure to pack some dry bags to keep your change of clothes and electronic gear dry. With river crossing after river crossing, you’re bound to get wet.
Jacks River Trail from Dally Gap: the hike
The trail departs from the Dally Gap trailhead in the Cohutta Wilderness (view maps and driving directions), descending southwest through a sun-dappled hardwood and coniferous forest. Old growth hemlock trees tower over the trail, their broad trunks towering into the sky over the surrounding, spindly hardwoods. The forest is lush and green, filled with fern, moss, wildflowers and vibrantly-colored mushrooms in warm-weather months.
The hike passes two intersections with the white-diamond-blazed Benton MacKaye Trail as it descends into the lush, mossy Jacks River Valley.
The Jacks River Trail crosses a small creek at .9 mile, the first (and by far easiest) of many crossings on this adventure. The sound of water amplifies through the forest as the trail continues its descent toward the confluence of two rivers, Bear Branch and Jacks River. The trail crosses a small Bear Branch tributary creek at 1.4 miles, and a second small tributary at 1.7 miles. The trail reaches the junction of Bear Branch and Jacks River at 1.9 miles, skirting the banks of the tumbling, spilling river.
At 2.25 miles, the trail dives straight through the Jacks River river, the first of many river fords on this adventure. Since the trail’s blazes are often faded or hidden behind vegetation, it’s easy to lose the trail at the river crossings. Be sure to pack a waterproof trail map, compass, and/or GPS to help with wayfinding in these remote stretches of the Cohutta Wilderness. And cross the river carefully: slippery, algae-clad rocks fill the river’s bed. (Note: it’s easiest to find the trail on the opposite side of the river before you cross.)
The trail meanders, following the river on its western bank before crossing the river again at 2.8 miles. A beautiful waterfall flows just downstream from the crossing. After navigating the river crossing, the trail climbs elevation, climbing through a fracture in a large, weathered rock outcrop. Then the trail descends, following the river through a wide meander, and carves through a sharp switchback. The trail descends to a series of tumbling waterfalls on the river at 3.1 miles.
Scattered boulders and wide, smooth rock outcrops fill the river’s bed. The river rushes over the rocky, moss-covered landscape in series of tumbling whitewater and small waterfalls.
The trail crosses an open rock outcrop at 3.35 miles, catching some sunlight and a short-range, rolling mountain view before diving back under the forest’s canopy. The hike passes multi-tiered waterfalls at 3.6 miles before arcing northbound, crossing the river again at 4.1 miles. The gorge’s walls rise sharply on either side of the river valley as the trail arcs westbound, reaching a final crossing of Jacks River at 4.6 miles.
This nine-mile out-and-back hike turns around here, retracing its outbound steps on the Jacks River Trail and re-navigating through the river crossings to return to the trailhead. The hike reaches the parking area and trailhead at Dally Gap at 9.3 miles, completing the adventure.
Because this area is so remote, challenging, and the trails are sometimes sporadically blazed or not marked at all, always tell someone where you’re going and pack an official paper map and wayfinding essentials, such as a GPS and compass (and know how to use them if you’re lost). Always pack emergency essentials. And it’s always best to avoid trails along the rivers and creeks in the weeks following a heavy rain.
Note: slippery rocks and fast moving water can be extremely dangerous! Please don’t climb, stand on, swim near, or jump from any waterfall.
Up for more Jacks River adventure?
Don’t miss the enormous, tumbling cascades of Jacks River Falls, located 9.2 miles downstream from the Dally Gap trailhead. For the easiest access to this towering waterfall, hike to Jacks River Falls on the Beech Bottom Trail, a moderate hike that bypasses the Jacks River Trail’s many river crossings. Or continue the adventure from Dally Gap, following the JRT northbound from Dally Gap on an outstanding 18.4-mile backpacking adventure.
And if you’re in the area, don’t miss our favorite hikes to waterfalls near Blue Ridge, GA, featuring some outstanding day hikes and backpacking adventures to some of North Georgia’s most beautiful falls.
What is Wilderness, and why is it important? Read more in our guide to Wilderness areas in the South.
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Trails and routes may change – so please refer to official trail maps for the latest route.
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Free parking is available at the Dally Gap trailhead. Trailhead access is via a gravel Forest Service Road.
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