Hike 2.4 miles in a loop on the easy-to-moderate Bottoms Trail in Unicoi State Park in White County, Georgia, to see streams and good views.
By Tim Homan
Sandwiched between the city of Helen and the Chattahoochee National Forest’s Anna Ruby Falls Scenic Area, Unicoi State Park, formerly an outdoor recreation experiment station, embraces 1,081 acres of forest, field, and lake. Perhaps better known to many for its restaurant, conference lodge, and barrel-shaped cottages, Unicoi also has hiking trails that allow visitors to savor the park’s wildlife and wildflowers apart from the crowds. The name “Unicoi” comes from the Cherokee word meaning “where the white man lives.”
From its stair-step trailhead, the hiking path drops 90 yards to a second set of trail signs before turning to the right. (The green blazes guide the Unicoi-Helen Trail)
The Bottoms Loop descends through a second-growth oak-pine forest dominated by tall shortleaf and eastern white pines. The growth rate of these eastern white pines has been rapid. You can age these trees by counting the whorls of branches, one whorl per year.
At the bottom of the first hill, the trail passes tennis courts and crosses a branch and park road in quick succession. The wide, well-signed walkway arrives at its loop at 0.5 mile. This description follows the loop to the left, or clockwise. One-tenth mile farther, the green- and yellow-blazed trails split apart. The signed “early exit” route begins 100 yards from this junction.
For the next 0.8 mile the treadway winds through an area of small streams, rosebay rhododendron thickets, and low ridges. At mile 1.4 the path dips to the level floodplain – the bottoms – of Smith Creek, a clear, cold mountain stream. Here the trail crosses three bridges before entering a narrow, grassy field that affords open views of nearby low mountains.
From the field, the treadway turns to the right and reenters forest with the wide walkway. The remainder of the loop rises easily near a Smith Creek tributary lined with rosebay rhododendron.
Mile 1.4: Trail parallels Smith Creek for a short distance. Mile 1.6: Small field affords an open view of low mountains to the north.
From Helen travel GA 75 North. At Robertstown turn right onto GA 356 East and continue a short distance, following signs to Unicoi State Park. Once inside the park (traveling east from the Helen area), continue on GA 356 East across the Unicoi Lake Dam, then turn right onto the paved road that leads to the park’s conference lodge and restaurant. Immediately after the turn, you will see a set of trail signs to the left. These signs direct day hikers who are walking from elsewhere in the park.
Proceed up the hill, pass through the gap in the buildings, turn left, and park in the back of the lot behind the restaurant.
This hiking guide to the Bottoms Loop Trail is adapted from The Hiking Trails of North Georgia by Tim Homan and is published in cooperation with the publisher Peachtree Publishers. With his meticulous attention to detail and accuracy, Homan has long been recognized as the authority on North Georgia hiking trail by serious hikers. His other books include Hiking Trails of Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock and Citico Creek Wilderness, Hiking the Shining Rock and Middle Prong Wilderness and others. For a complete inventory of his books see his Amazon Author Page. For an inventory of Peachtree Publishers books including its Nature books for children, go to the Peachtree Publishers website.