East Cowpen to Jack's River and Rough Ridge Loop

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East Cowpen to Jack's River and Rough Ridge Loop is a 20.1 mile moderately trafficked loop trail located near Epworth, Georgia that features a river and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from March until October.

DISTANCE
20.1 miles
ELEVATION GAIN
4432 feet
ROUTE TYPE
Loop

backpacking

birding

camping

hiking

nature trips

walking

forest

river

views

wild flowers

wildlife

The Cohutta Wilderness Area is located due north of Atlanta on the Tennessee border with more than 40,000 acres in Georgia and Tennessee. The Cohuttas comprise the largest wilderness east of the Mississippi. Within the Wilderness Area are 13 trails that total more than 87 miles of unusual remote hiking. This hike combines 4 trails into a loop trail that descends along the Rough Ridge Trail, crosses Jack’s River, follows the north bank for about 50 yards before crossing the river and ascending along the Hickory Ridge Trail to join the Cowpen Road Trail to close the loop. It is not an easy drive to the trailhead at Three Forks Parking Lot as most of the last 20 miles is steep dirt roads, but it is a beautiful drive in and sets the stage nicely for the hike. The trails are well established, clean and easy to follow for the most part, but expect a few downed trees. When you are up on the ridges, there are signs for most junctions and you shouldn’t get lost even without a GPS. When you are down around the river, things can get really confusing. When coming down the Rough Ridge Trail, after the steep final decent, the first water you come to is NOT Jacks River (its Rough Creek and looks like a creek). The trail follows this creek a bit but never crosses it. As the trail really comes along side the creek and just before turning left up a steep bluff, the Jacks River Trail (JRT) crosses over from the creek from the right. There is a large sign at this junction, but it is facing the other direction as it is a sign for travelers on the JRT. The trail appears to either head up to the left up a steep bluff or follow the creek (the apparent trail disappears in about 50ft). You will turn left up and over a ridge before coming around to Jacks River after about 1 more mile, the trail finally descends and deadends into Jacks River. The crossing ahead is quite deep, but a shallower crossing is available in the rapids to the right. Remember, don't cross Rough Creek, keep left up the steep bluff, you will know the river when you come to it. The falls are over 1mi down river from this crossing. Probably the most difficult trick is finding how to get to the Hickory Ridge Trail. Once you cross the river and are on the north side of the river, you will only travel about 50 yards before crossing the river again to find the Hickory Ridge Trail. Some landmarks: after crossing there is a maze of several little trails (created by some campsite and alternate crossing locations) that finally coalesce into the main trail within about 30 ft. Once the JRT is established and obvious, to the left of the trail there is a large (illegal) camping area, which is less than 50 yards from where you crossed the river. To the right is a trail coming down a slope and a sign indicating it is the Beech Bottom Trail. There is a sign for the Hickory Ridge Trail on the main trail and it is exactly opposite from where the Beech Bottom Trail meets the Jacks River Trail. So this is really a 4-way intersection. The JRT goes straight through, the Beech Bottom is to the left, and Hickory Ridge is to the right. The sign looks like it is pointing you down the JRT toward the falls, but it is NOT. The arrow on the sign pointing west is directing you to a trail back across the river, but you cannot see the trail from where you start to cross. If you follow the arrow on the sign through the camping clearing to the river, you will see a row or rocks forming a type of dam. Cross over the river at this dam and make your way around the patch of rocks on the other side continuing west until you find the trail. There are several legal camping sites on the the Hickory Ridge Trail beside the river. The rule in summer is you must be at least 1 river crossing away from the falls. This is a very rigorous trip (or rather about half of it is) and it rates about 7 of 10 for difficulty. The hike in is quite easy, but does get pretty steep as you descend into the river gorge. The hike out is quite strenuous either way you go. Moderately strenuous, but very doable even for positive-minded older children. If you pace it (and keep pack weights low for kids) this can be a very leisurely camping trip.

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