Cohutta Mountain Loop

The Jack’s River Falls

John McKinney

This past weekend, a friend, we’ll call him Henry, and I decided to spend a three day weekend in North Georgia. The Cohutta Wilderness in the North Georgia mountains to be exact. In researching which trail we should take to hike in it seemed like a number of people enjoyed the Cohutta Mountain Loop via the Jack’s River Trail. We decided it would be a good bet…here’s how our trip went for me in one GIF:

The Hike In

With a name like Jack’s River Trail, you would think it would have an abundance of water. You would be right…but the route we took to get to the Jack’s River Trail did not have a lot of water or any. This wouldn’t have been a big deal had I properly prepared for the lack of water by carrying enough on my own but I only had a few bottles and I drink a lot of water. Every description we had read made it seem like you’d catch up with the river rather quickly but that ended up not being the case. It was 8 miles in before we came upon a water source.

It definitely didn’t help that I had also eaten something salty for lunch before we set out on our trip. I know, stupid me but I expected it to be us crossing a river a few times (which was a different part of the Jack’s River Trail that turned out to not be a part of our trail).

Don’t get me wrong, I still loved it and I the scenery was beautiful. I just know that I should have brought more water for myself, which I will in the future. How was Henry doing you might wonder? Well, intrepid reader, he does triathlons so he motored along swimmingly.

Henry had a running watch to measure distance traveled as well as elevation changes throughout our trip. As we parked the SUV and headed out onto the trail our elevation was 3,200 feet. Over the next 8 miles, we ascended 1,000 feet before descending 3,000 feet. 8 miles in, our elevation leveled off at about 1,200 feet and we came across our first water source. This was me.

I immediately guzzled down four bottles of water that had been filtered by my favorite water filtration device, the Sawyer Mini. This ultra-portable, highly effective filter is a must for anyone who does any camping. After I drank my weight in water, we continued on. It was time to cross the river for the first time and boy was it cold. I could feel my muscles in my feet constrict as we trekked across the river. It was great!

After trying a few different paths we found ourselves a little patch of land close to the river, made camp, and started a fire. I say this because I know we have readers who don’t camp often or ever but be careful where you make camp near a river. You want to be near the water to be sure but you also want to choose a spot that won’t flood even if an unexpected thunderstorm rolls in which can happen out in the wilderness. You never want to be in a position where you have to move your tent in the middle of the night cause you woke up with a wet sleeping bag.

There are few words to describe the feeling when you slide off your pack after a long day of hiking. Somehow, I was still thirsty after my water chugging an hour prior, so I guzzled down another four bottles.

There is peace and quiet and then there is wilderness peace and quiet. I think I passed out by 9 pm. By 9:15 pm nature was already calling. My water guzzling was coming back to bite me. This repeated itself 5-6 times throughout the night. Each time I would plead with my body to just let me sleep a few hours more but it didn’t want to hear none of that noise, it was ready to pee.


The next morning, I apologized to Henry as I assuredly must have woken him up one of the half-dozen times I slunk out of our tent. He looked at me perplexed, he had not woke up once.

After breakfast, we made our way to the Jack’s River Falls. We could hear it begin to thunder as we weaved our way through the woods. It was the type of waterfall people would assuredly flock to if it wasn’t miles into a wilderness that even getting to the trailhead wasn’t easy due to the difficult roads. We slipped off our packs and sat on the warm, khaki colored rocks. The river turned the khaki rocks into a deep chestnut as the water ran over them. The falls began with a ten or so feet drop off, which created a pool that would overflow into the rest of the river via a much higher twenty to thirty-foot waterfall. Note: John is terrible at judging heights, usually underestimating them.

The Hike Out

Knowing we had a long drive ahead of us Memorial Day Monday we decided to stay in Atlanta for Sunday night instead of out near Jacks River Falls. 2,000 feet of elevation gain over the next 8 miles was all that stood between us and our car. Knowing the elevation we’d be ending at was a bit of a curse. Whenever the trail dipped down we’d boo out loud, knowing we’d have to hike that elevation change again. Lack of water was another issue along the trail that finished out the loop but at least this time we were more mentally prepared for it. I made sure to conserve my water as much as possible and fill up at the very last moment before we began our ascent.

We had planned to make camp on Sunday near a stream that was about halfway to the trailhead (about four miles). However, when we reached this stream we realized this was not going to be possible. The stream was likely only a stream when it’s a rainy season. It was mud at this point. We couldn’t stay the night there and had to push on through the last four miles.

Up and up we climbed, down and down we dipped, finally we had reached the end. Feeling accomplished, tired, and thirsty we threw our packs in the car and headed to Atlanta for the night.

The Hike Out

We made our way to Decatur for dinner and drink. The Brick Store Pub was the perfect place for our post-hiking drink. The beer selection was one of the longest I had ever seen. At our high-top outside table, a round piece of wood attached to a wooden barrel, I simply told the waitress, “We’ve been hiking all weekend and we want a good beer”. She brought us my new favorite beer, the St. Bernardus Abt 12. I had never tried a Belgian style beer, I had been missing out. This dark beer is bitter and sweet at the same time and after hiking ~20 miles in two days, it was incredible.

“We’ve been hiking all weekend and we want a good beer.”

What I Would Do Differently

This area was gorgeous and I would definitely love to take another weekend to camp out in the Cohutta Wilderness. There is something I would change, however. There is a different trail into the falls, the Jack’s River Trail, that I would take next time. It’s a much shorter trail in from the trailhead to where we camped (only about 4.5 miles) and the trail runs next to the river or crosses the river meaning you don’t have to carry as much water in.

Regardless, this was an incredible weekend. I would love to make it back out to Jack’s River Falls sometime. In the Summer, people swim in the pools caused by the waterfall and jump off of nearby rocks as you can see from the video below. Unfortunately, the water was far too cold for that during our trip though.

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