Jacks River and Penitentiary Branch Loop Trail

MODERATE 10 reviews

Jacks River and Penitentiary Branch Loop Trail is a 13.5 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. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

DISTANCE
13.5 miles
ELEVATION GAIN
1,847 feet
ROUTE TYPE
Loop

dogs on leash

backpacking

birding

camping

hiking

nature trips

walking

river

views

wild flowers

wildlife

blowdown

hiking
6 days ago

Significant storm damage has portions of these trails closed. On 8/11/18- 40+ volunteers cleared 8 miles of trails, this being a wilderness area means we can only use hand tools (crosscut saws and sling blades etc). Still some sections are closed due to damage from flooding. Reading below there is a misconception that forest service personal maintain these trails, the FS has only a few trail techs that cover large swaths of forest so they rely heavily on volunteer organizations to keep the trails marked and clear. Anyone interested in volunteering should contact their local ranger station or a local trail maintenance group, in this case Kevin Vasilinda from the FS teamed up with members of the Benton Mackaye Trail Association, Southern Appalachian backcountry Horsemen and the Conasauga trail volunteers to clear a lot of downed trees.

hiking
1 month ago

We didn’t do the full hike because there were so many downed trees and a lack of trail marking that it was very difficult to follow the trail in some places. Because of this I would rated as a challenging hike rather than a moderate hike. We did not see any bears. Wildflowers were starting to bloom. I found that the second big River Crossing was super difficult- even with my hiking poles.(I’m pretty short and the river was high and was flowing very fast.). I’ll do this again in the fall when the water is lower and I will take a friend who has hiked it numerous times. I wish the forest service would remark the trail!

hiking
4 months ago

Just got home from completing this one. Due to weather, we decided to do the river crossings first. Which meant we had to face an uphill penitentiary branch trail the next day. That was fairly strenuous.

backpacking
10 months ago

I parked at the Daily Gorge lot which I would recommend knowing that after taking Old HWY 2, once on the gravel road and you arrive at the for, take a hard right to get to the lot. Once at the lot, took Hemp to Penetentiary. A fairly good hike, though mostly down hill and I would say moderate. Make sure in the beginning to look out for some beautiful views. Once you arrive at Jack's River, shortly thereafter there is a large primitive campsite. I really enjoyed the hike, though instead of a loop chose to go back up Penetentiary (more difficult), Hemp and return to my car the following day. Only saw wild turkeys, but lots of beautiful wild flowers. Note that prior to Jack's River there were no streams or water sources.

backpacking
10 months ago

Took my boys (14 & 12) with me and finished in the hike in 2 days, We went over Father's Day weekend and had a blast. Truth be told, I think we may have been the only people on the trail that weekend. We saw absolutely nobody else the entire time. This trail is rated as MODERATE but it was a little on the challenging side - at least for us it was. The trail itself wasn't particularly arduous but it wasn't well marked either. For the most part though, the trail is readily apparent. Ac couple of good points to know...
1. The trail itself isn't terribly steep or difficult, but there were a LOT of downed trees across it.
2. You only need ONE water bottle per person. We hiked the loop EAST to WEST and there is no water until the river crossing/first campsite at the apex of the big loop at the North Eastern side of the trail. After that, you are almost always in contact with the Jacks River. Bring filtration and a bottle. That will do just fine.
3. Bears... They are out there and had one in our campsite the first night. It didn't do anything and left without incident. Neat see though. Definitely keep your food in a bear canister and away from the camp.
4. There is NO cell service if you are on Verizon. Not a big deal to me, but since I had my kids with me, it was a "daddy-level" concern. It might be smart to have an ACR or SPOT just in case.
5. It had been raining hard for the previous week and rained frequently on our trip. The river was UP and the crossings were averaging adult waist deep. The water is pleasantly cold and wonderfully clear. But the current was nothing to take lightly - especially with kids.
6. Trekking poles are awesome! They made river crossings a lot more pleasant (and safer for the kids) and they were also great for making sure snakes weren't under logs that we had to climb over to navigate the trail.
7. Temperatures dropped to the 60s at night with a breeze and rain. We slept in hammocks (Warbonnet Blackbirds) and lined the bottom with a closed cell foam pad. Sleeping clothes were shorts/shirt a camping pillow and woobie (military poncho liner). It was just fine - perhaps a little cool, but I'd pack the same way again.
8. Ticks. Lonestar ticks are everywhere. Treat your clothes with permethrin before you go. It will help. And wear a hat. Otherwise the bugs were fine. Perhaps it was a function of all the rain, but mosquitos and other flying pests weren't a major issue.

Beautiful, quiet, and lots of fun! I can't wait to return!

hiking
Monday, January 13, 2014

Cool little side trail from Jacks River Trail.

backpacking
2 months ago

backpacking
Sunday, September 25, 2016

hiking
Sunday, April 03, 2016