|See the Resources for hiking guides. You can obtain free information on hiking from the Fannin Chamber of Commerce (behind the United Community Bank on the four-lane across from the McDonald’s). There is also a U.S. Forest Service office on the four-lane several miles west of Blairsville.
Local & Outdoors Info
For finding roads and trailheads, it helps to have the two Forest Service maps that cover this area, “Chattahoochee National Forest, Georgia” and “Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee,” because these – and the equivalent National Geographic maps – are the only maps with the Forest Service road numbers. For reasons known only to the feds, Georgia offices do not carry the Tennessee map, and Tennessee offices do not carry the Georgia map. The closest U.S. Forest Service office in Tennessee is off 64/74, in the vicinity of Parksville Lake (west of Ducktown and the Ocoee Whitewater Center). The Fannin County Chamber of Commerce (up above the CVS) carries the National Geographic maps, which in many ways are better than the Forest Service maps.
Jacks River Falls
During the winter and early spring, there is usually enough water after a rain to make the Jacks River Falls spectacular. You can go in at Dally Gap and hike about 9.2 to the falls, but you have to ford the river 20 times. You can also go in at the downstream trailhead and hike about 7.5 miles to the falls, but you have to ford the river 22 times by this route. If you’re going either of these ways, I recommend you know what you’re doing and follow Tim Homan’s instructions (see my Reference Library). Be aware that people get trapped back in there when the Jacks rises due to rain. Stay clear of the wild boar.
Happily, there is one trail that goes to the falls without fording the Jacks, Beech Bottom Trail. Naturally, it receives fairly heavy use; according to Homans, it is the most traveled trail in the Cohuttas. The distance to the falls from the trailhead is about 4.6 miles. You access this trail from the Alaculsy Valley, not far from where the Jacks flows into the Conasauga. (This is a beautiful area, and the short hike up the Jacks River trail from the trailhead to the first ford is a very nice walk, if it’s not too crowded.)
From Blue Ridge, go north on Hwy 5 to McCaysville. Cross the river and turn left, continuing north on Hwy 68 through Copperhill toward Ducktown. Just before you reach Ducktown, turn left on Hwy 64, toward Benton, Cleveland, and Chattanooga. (You will pass the Ocoee Whitewater Center and Parksville Lake. You may want to stop and pick up the map referred to above at the U.S. Forest Service office near Parksville Lake.) Go about 26 miles through the Ocoee Gorge and turn south on Hwy 411, south of Benton. You will be headed away from Benton, toward Old Fort and Chatsworth. Go about 6.8 miles to a left on Ladd Springs Road, passing through Old Fort. At Ladd Springs road, 313 goes off to the right, and there are two gas stations – St. Clare’s and a Marathon called the Favorite Market. There is also a sign for the Ballplay Church. Turn left on Ladd Springs Road.
Go about a 1.6 miles to a crossroads, and continue straight. Go 2.2 miles to the village of Willis Springs, and turn right at the “Y”, which is Forest Service 221. Follow 221 back until you get to the Conasauga River. This isn’t far – about 4.6 miles – but it will take about twenty minutes. Continue on 221 past the bridge and past the Jacks River Trailhead.
You go about a mile further on FS 221 to a sharp right on FS 62. The Beech Bottom trailhead is about 4.5 miles further, on the left, above the road. (Note that the gate to FS 62 is often locked in bad weather.)
From the Beech Bottom trailhead on FS 62, take the trail. It’s an old roadbed, and is easily followed. There are no blazes. As you go through the bottoms, the trail will end at the Jacks River Trail (orange blazes). Turn right, downstream. It is .6 to the point that overlooks the falls.
Fall Branch Falls
This is a double waterfall with an observation deck that is ideal for photography. It has been somewhat marred by the construction of a house that is not on Forest Service land, but it is still worth a trip. The hike is less than a half mile, up a rocky, somewhat steep trail.
From Blue Ridge, take Old 76 (which runs behind the Food Lion shopping center) to a right on Aska Road (at Ace Hardware). After about eight miles, turn right on Stanley Creek Road (shortly before the Toccoa Riverside Restaurant). Go 3.2 miles past the old Stanley homestead. Cross the small, unassuming bridge and park on the right. Please park sensibly, so others can park, too. You may not think this branch is big enough to have a falls, but it does. Hike up the trail to the falls on the right.
Warning: Be careful. The rocks are very slick The EMS just had to rescue someone who ignored the signs and fell 35 feet down the falls. I doubt they were all that happy about it.
You can also access this point from Cherry Log (on 515 between Ellijay and Blue Ridge), by going up the Rock Creek Road to Stanley Gap. At Stanley Gap, you will see the Benton McKaye trailhead on the left. After about another mile, you see the small, unassuming bridge mentioned above.
You can also hike from the trailhead to the falls, and there is a nice trail that goes down to Stanley Creek from the road and parallels it upstream (access to this is located between the trailhead and the Falls Branch). After you follow the trail north and up, away from the creek, and come back down to the creek again, you will find a small bridge shortly after the trail moves away from the creek again. You may have to poke around to find it. It’s a nice little hike out this trail toward Indian Grave Gap.
By the way, if you’re hiking in this area, the Pink Pig in Cherry Log is a good place to stop for lunch (Thursday – Sunday). If you’ve gone in from Aska Road, just continue on Stanley Creek Road until you hit Old 76 (one block south of the four-lane) and turn right. If you’ve gone in from Cherry Log, go back out to the Old 76 and turn right.
The Swinging Bridge on the Toccoa
This is another very cool spot that is easily accessed. The 270-foot suspension bridge over the river is on the Benton McKaye and Duncan Ridge trails. You will see the Benton McKaye blaze (white diamonds) and the Duncan Ridge blaze (blue vertical rectangle).
From the Blue Ridge McDonald’s, go about four miles east on the four-lane to a right on Hwy 60 south. Follow 60 south for another 11.3 miles. At about this point, you will pass County Road 221, with the Skeenah Mill Campground on the left. About .7 miles further, Forest Service Road 816 is on the right. If you come to the Toccoa Bend Country Store, you’ve gone too far. Follow the Forest Service Road to the parking site. Hiking time is about five minutes from the parking area.
The Kimsey Highway to the Top of the Little Frog Mountain
This half-day trip uses the Kimsey to reach the trailhead for a short hike to the top of the Little Frog Mountain, also called Sassafras Knob.
From Blue Ridge, go north on Hwy 5 to McCaysville. Cross the river and turn left on Hwy 68. Go north on Hwy 68 through Copperhill to Ducktown. You will cross Hwy 64 just before you come into Ducktown. From the traffic light in Ducktown, continue north on Hwy 68 for four miles, at which point you cross the railroad tracks. Go another .3 miles to a left on the Kimsey Highway, at Vic’s Auto Parts. This is also designated Forest Service 68. Follow the Kimsey Highway for 5.5 miles to the trailhead on the left. (You will pass Forest Service 66, the Ditney Mountain Road, and Forest Service 80, the Smith Mountain Road.)
The trail is marked 68B, and there is a forest service gate over the trail, which used to be used by automobiles. There’s no real parking area. You have to find a place to park on the outside of the curve. (Do not block the trail or the gate. Forest Service personnel occasionally use this road, and it would be needed if anyone on the mountain required rescuing.)
It is about a 45 minute walk to the top, where a radio tower is located. The grade is not very steep, and aside from some wet places on the lower end of the trail, it’s very easy walking. There are wonderful vistas both from the road and on top. On top, the most impressive is a close range view of the Big Frog Mountain, across the Ocoee Gorge to the south. It’s about a thousand feet higher than the Little Frog. Even from the road, you can look north across the Hiwassee River Gorge to the high ridge on the other side, and if you look westward through the notch where the Hiwassee passes through Bean Mountain/Chilhowee Mountain and Chestnut Mountain near Benton, you will see the plume of steam from the Bowater paper plant at Calhoun.
You can return the way you came. Or you can take FS 66, the Ditney Mountain Road, to rejoin Hwy 68 north of the Kimsey (bear right at the Y). Or you can continue on the Kimsey about eight miles to Archville and turn left on Hwy 315 (the road makes a “T” and there is a small store on the right, Hall’s). Then turn left on Hwy 64, which will take you back through the gorge to Ducktown. (If you go this way, you might consider making a side trip to Reliance by turning right on 314. The Hiwassee River is beautiful there.)
A note on the Kimsey: It is not in terrific repair for the first two or three miles up from Hwy 68. It’s a little bumpy, and the road is narrow, although it is passable by car. There is no guard rail. It’s not quite as intimidating going up as it is going down, because when you’re headed back from the trailhead, you’re on the side with the drop off. If this bothers you, you might consider back through Archville. The road is much better from Archville to the trailhead than it is from Hwy 68 to the trailhead.
The Confluence of the Jacks and the Conasauga
This is one of the most beautiful areas in the mountains. Both rivers flow north from the Cohutta Wilderness Area, and are wonderful, pristine rivers. The Conasauga is known for its biodiversity, having more species of fish than the Colorado River system. In the summer, it’s a favorite for snorkeling. The Nature Conservancy and other groups often have outings there to view the fish. The Jacks is a beautiful mountain river that runs through a steep gorge to its confluence with the Conasauga.
From Blue Ridge, go north on Hwy 5 to McCaysville. Cross the river and turn left, continuing north on Hwy 68 through Copperhill toward Ducktown. Just before you reach Ducktown, turn left on Hwy 64, toward Benton, Cleveland, and Chattanooga. Go about 26 miles through the Ocoee Gorge and turn south on Hwy 411, south of Benton. You will be headed away from Benton, toward Old Fort and Chatsworth. Go about 6.8 miles to a left on Ladd Springs Road, passing through Old Fort. At Ladd Springs road, 313 goes off to the right, and there are two gas stations – St. Clare’s and a Marathon called the Favorite Market. There is also a sign for the Ballplay Church. Turn left on Ladd Springs Road.
Go about a 1.6 miles to a crossroads, and continue straight. Go 2.2 miles to the village of Willis Springs, and turn right at the “Y”, which is Forest Service 221. Follow 221 back until you get to the Conasauga River. This isn’t far – about 4.6 miles – but it will take about twenty minutes. There is a parking area on the right, and a trailhead for the lower end of the Conasauga River Trail. This is a good area to explore. But the real jewel is the Jacks River. To reach the trailhead, continue on 221 a short distance (about a half a mile). Go past the bridge. The trailhead is on the right. Park there and take the trail up the Jacks River.
The trail is actually the bed of a narrow gage railroad, which was built during the logging era. The tracks have been taken up, but the roadbed remains. It’s a beautiful walk up this trail. Unfortunately, you can only go about a mile before you come to the first river crossing, but it’s well worth it. (Don’t attempt to cross the river if the water is high. The current is very swift.) It’s a good hour and a half minimum to reach the trailhead from Blue Ridge, but this is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been in the mountains. (I wouldn’t go on the weekend in the summer, because the river is very heavily used to beat the heat.)
By the way, the Jacks River Trail is not far from the trailhead for the Beech Bottom Trail, which is the one trail that goes to the Jacks River Falls without crossing the Jacks (you cross it over twenty times before you reach the falls, going either direction on the Jacks River Trail). It is by far the easiest way to reach the falls. To reach the Beech Bottom Trail, continue on 221 to a right on FS 62 and continue to the trailhead. It is about five miles to the falls, going this way. The falls is downstream from Beech Bottom Trail, about .6 miles on the Jacks River Trail.