Sunday, August 3, 2014

Beech Bottom Trail and Jacks River Falls

     Apparently, it is my habit to put up a bunch of trip reports all at one time instead of right after I finish hiking the trails.  So much for trying to keep the hiking blog current huh?  My wife and I recently decided to tally all of the waterfalls that we have been to in the seven years we have been together.  That total has come to 54, yes that is right fifty four waterfalls.  So, since I have been hiking several more times since the last post and tallying up the number of waterfalls we have been to, I will try to update the blog with trips that are not repeats of what is already on here.  So with that spirit, here goes our trip.
     Memorial Day weekend, my wife and I decided to get out of the house.  Since she loves waterfalls and I did not feel like driving an insane amount of time to go to a falls in our home state that we had not seen before, I talked her into a wilderness hike.  We had attempted the Jacks River Trail before but when we came to the first of forty something water crossings, we decided to turn around.  This time though, I came up with hiking the Beech Bottom Trail to reach the Jacks River Trail and then seeing Jacks River Falls. Round trip, this would be a little over nine mile hike.  The Beech Bottom Trail is 4 miles long and it is another .6 miles on the Jacks River Trail to the falls.
The Parking Area.  At one point it was a fee area but I could
not find a station to pay.  My car is the blue one on the right.
     After talking it over, we set out. Contrary to the directions in the book and living here my whole life, I knew the way to get to the trail head.  Instead of going down Ladd Springs Road all the way, I decided to go Highway 64 to Cherokee Corners and then down the Forest Service Roads to the trail head.  I drive a Chevy Cobalt; this was not the best decision for me to make.  After the rain that we had been having, the road was pretty well washed and rutted out.  I felt like I was back four wheeling in my Jeep, picking the right line so my car would not drag.  It felt like it took forever to reach the trailhead, about an hour or so in reality.  Other than a guy in a Honda S2000, mine was the only car I saw the whole way in.  Sometimes being a man who doesn't always follow the directions isn't a good thing.  Following the directions at the bottom of this post will provide a safer car route than what I took.  It is still bumpy but it is not as bad as the way I went.
     The parking is on the left hand side of the road as you come around a curve, with the trailhead proper

being on the right.  The parking area was just about full when we arrived.  Everything I could find out about the trail said that it was one of the most popular in the area giving easy access to Jacks River Falls.  I could believe it.
     The trail begins pretty much on the state line between Tennessee and Georgia.  After passing the kiosk, there is a sign announcing the Cohutta Wilderness.  The trail then meanders through the forest.  After a mile, the trail drops down and crosses its first creek.  After crossing the creek, the trail begins to climb again.  This is the main climb of the trail and it last for roughly a mile.  After reaching the high point, the trail drops down to Beech Bottom.
An elevation profile of the trail that I have "borrowed" from ChucksNetWerx at Trimble Outdoors
There used to be a hunting camp in this area back in the day, but I did not look too hard for the foundation of any old buildings.  The Forest Service has signs posted all in the area saying that there is no camping allowed between April and October in the bottoms.  If you go after the blackout, the whole place looks like a good area to set up camp.  The trail crosses another creek and meanders through the trees before ending at its junction with the Jacks River Trail.
     Once we reached the end of the Beech Bottom Trail, we turned right to go to the falls.  We started running in to people left and right on this trail.  I was surprised but with it being a holiday weekend, I shouldn't have been.  We just normally do not see so many people on the trails we hike.  After turning onto the Jacks River Trail, it is .6 miles to the falls.  This trail was more narrow and more overgrown in places than the Beech Bottom Trail.   Jacks River Trail is a single track while Beech Bottom follows old roads and I would consider it a double track trail.  The only hard part of this trail was the creek crossing right before the falls.  The rocks are at angles and could pose a hazard with slick soled footwear
Panorama of Jacks River Falls
     Once we reached the falls, it was crowded.  I had heard that the falls were a popular swimming hole but I had no idea they were this popular.  Outside of the Boy Scouts we saw going to Cloudland Canyon, I do not believe that we have seen as many people on a trail in the Cherokee Forest.  I would say the number of people there ranks with our hike to Abram Falls in the Smokies.  Everyone was having a good time and there were plenty of dogs around.  Mia, our 8 year old Chihuahua did not like seeing all the other dogs, but Chihuahua's have that rep.
     After taking all of our pictures and watching the water for a little bit we went back to the creek crossing to eat our lunch.  There were several nice places that people could set up camp from November to March but there was the nice little sign again...
So we ate the snack lunch and rested for about 30 minutes while Mia barked at the dog parade going by.  Everyone apparently got a kick out of our 5 pound Chihuahua doing a 9 mile hike but that is what she knows.  I had heard that there was a "short cut" back to Beech Bottom that would pretty much cut the .6 miles off of the hike back to the car.  There used to be an old trail that ran to the right of the creek that the Forest Service chose to stop maintaining when the area became a Wilderness.  I saw several groups of people going up this old trail and talked Jackie into following it.  It might have been shorter, but the trail ended at a creek crossing and it was a 30 minute bushwhack back to Beech Bottom.  I ended up carrying Mia and hiking up the middle of the creek due to a lab and golden retriever that Mia thought wanted her as a snack.  When we finally hit Beech Bottom Trail again, I told Jackie that our short cut was a bad idea.  Then the thunder rolled.  We began to high tail it back to the car since we did not have rain jackets or my tarp.  On the way back, we had just crested the high part of the trail and turned a curve when the top fell out of a tree 50 yards behind us and crashed to the side of the trail and rolled down the ridge.  That was a little unnerving.  No one was hurt though.  We walked a little faster after that though.  We were glad to reach the car.  The sky had turned jet black than the thunder sounded like it was right on top of us.  For all of our running to get back to the car, we saw no lightning and it did not rain a drop on us.
     Overall, I would give the trail a rating of 3 of 5 stars.  The trail would be more scenic during the fall, and there might be some views during winter, but during the spring and summer it is a green tunnel.  For a group hike to go see the falls and maybe swim, it would be nice.  With the trail being wide, people would be able to talk and carry on freely.  On a physical scale, I would say the trail is moderate, but that is really on due to the length.  It took us roughly 5 1/2 hours to hike to the falls and back, with a 30 minute break in between.  The thunder probably helped to motivate us to hike faster on the way back.   If you are interested in an easy way to see Jacks River Falls or just for a long hike in the woods, I would recommend this trail, but probably not during the summer.

Directions: From Cleveland, TN, head east on TN 74/Waterlevel Hwy. to the US 411 exit; turn right at the end of the exit, heading south. Continue on US 411 for 6.6 miles and turn left on Willis Springs Rd. Go 3.1 miles and turn left on J Wilson Rd. In .9 mile, continue straight on Peavine Sheets Creek Rd. In 5.2 miles, turn left to stay on Peavine Sheets Creek Rd. Go 1 mile and take a sharp right on Big Frog Loop Rd. Continue 4.3 miles to Beech Bottoms trailhead parking.  (borrowed from  I am not good a typing directions so thanks again ChucksNetWerX.  I did use his track on my Backpacker GPS App just to see how it worked)

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