Summer Hiking Jack's River Trail
It is perhaps a result of growing up in south Georgia, but I often find myself hiking in the summer months that most hikers consider "off-season." My hiking calendar starts in February or March and ends in December. January and February are cold and in the south it as likely to be 33 and raining as it is to be snowing. That means carrying a whole lot of extra gear weight to handle inclement weather that I'd just as soon do without.
However, hiking in August in Georgia is HOT. Even up in the mountains we're looking at super hot days with high humidity. To combat this, July and August for us are water hikes (any hike that involves lots of wading). There are many good water hikes in the southern Appalachians and Jack's River is one of our favorites.
The highlight of Jack's River is the end1, but every hike starts at the beginning. The beginning of the trail from the Jack's River trail head is a mile-ish long, relatively flat hike without a single crossing so you want to start early before the day heats up. Almost the entirety of Jack's river is flat and fairly easy going.
You soon reach the first crossing, which is rather shallow. Looking at it the first time you might think, as I did, "Oh, I'll just take my shoes off, no biggie." And you might try that the first time. You take off your shoes and cross. You carefully dry your feet and, by some magic, get your socks and shoes on without sand. You then hike less than 100 yards around the bend and... yep, another crossing. There are 17 more to go. Do not bother trying to keep your feet dry. Wear water shoes or sandals and embrace the cool refreshing water.
Around the third or fourth crossing you will reach the one deep crossing. Mind you the crossing is not terribly deep. We have it labelled as deep because we went one year when the water was particularly high - over my hips and I'm 6'1". We have since decided that was an anomaly. The crossing is deeper than most but no big deal. In August you savor every inch of water and sometimes stop in the middle for an extra minute or two just to feel relief from the Georgia heat.
After several more easy crossings, you will come out to a cliff. The trail ends at a 8' drop and you think "surely no one is expected to climb down this." You are correct. Just look to your right and you'll see that the trail cuts sharply back on itself for a switchback down to the river. Look across for the marker... or break in the bushes.
This brings us to the second "challenge," if you want to call it that, as this is an easy trail. Jack's River is often very poorly marked. The re-entry point from your crossing may be directly across, a few feet up, or many yards up river on the other side, and completely occluded by a brush-covered island. But, Jack's River is a river and it's rather hard to get lost. You may spend a few extra minutes looking around for the official trail, but you will not lose track of the river. The lower half of Jack's River cuts through the hills for some spectacular views of the rock that leave no question as to which side the trail is (or isn't) on.
Around crossing 15 we started looking for a campsite. This year we found a nice site with plenty of room for our two tents and well away from Bear Island. Bear Island is a cluster of campsites on an island (of sorts, one channel is dry 90% of the time). On our second trip to Jack's River, we stayed on the island, not realizing that the roughed up trees were from bears' claws and not careless campers. Despite hanging our food in food bags, and a strong admonition to "put all things that smell" in the bag, a member of our group left mint toothpaste in their pack and a bear swiped it during the night.
Back to this trip: having pitched our tents and ditched our gear2, we make the last bit of the trek light-footed. The last bit is one you may wish to take light-footed as we climbed up and up for about a mile to reach the falls and swimming hole. It was well worth it. At last we were there.
The ultimate reward for hiking eight miles is a beautiful swimming hole in the middle of a double waterfall. This is a great spot in July and August with room to swim and wade. The swimming hole is over 6' deep in some places and is large enough to handle a crowd. This and the constantly flowing fresh water is a good thing given the frequent and heavy traffic coming in from Beach Bottom3, a much shorter and easier hike. On top of the swimming, the views are great for both viewing and photography. On this particular trip we enjoyed a nice swim and a couple of rounds of riding the upper falls down six feet to the plunge pool in the swimming hole. A tip if you want to go over the upper falls: aim to the right and a bit shallow, feet first. There's a rock/bump down there. It won't seriously injure but it will smart. There are always a handful of people cliff jumping into the swimming pool from the side cliff and to each their own.
Having relaxed and cooled off, we headed back to camp where we began the fruitless ritual of trying to dry wet gear by a fire without burning anything. Evening brings one of the best parts of all water hikes, going to sleep with the soft gurgle of the river running past.
For us. It is the halfway point for all of those who hike straight though, but we much prefer to hike, swim, camp, and hike out the next day. ↩
I know some people advise against this. I have been backpacking for years and not once has anything been stolen. I'm sure I will come to regret this one day but in the meantime I enjoy the occasional pack-free jaunt from camp. ↩
In recent years this has meant an increase in dog traffic as well. I'm a dog person and generally love dogs, but unfortunately the likely-hood of a dog owner hiking with complete disregard for others is rather high. During our trips we've seen a dogs attack people, attack other dogs, pooping in the edge of the swimming hole, and perhaps best of all... chasing bear cubs. And amazingly, it just so happens that the dog has "never done that before" and the owner "has no idea why this happened" every. single. time. If your beloved pup isn't on a leash, you are being disrespectful of other hikers... and potentially endangering your pup. Nature is wild and unless you want to see how well your pup handles a bear (boar, etc) then you should leash it. ↩
About the Author
I grew up in the woods. Coming home after school I would throw my book bag in the door and take off outdoors. Years later, this passion has returned. Experiencing the outdoors is like returning home.