Georgia Trails: Hike the 5.1-Mile Lake Russell Trail in Habersham and Banks Counties

Hike 5.1 miles on the easy-to-moderate Lake Russell Trail in Habersham and Banks counties, Georgia, to see Lake Russell and scenic views.

By Tim Homan

Lake Russell and the surrounding wildlife management area are named for the late US Senator Richard B. Russell, who served his Georgia constituency from 1933-71, over half his life.

Lake Russell Trail is a loop that begins and ends at the Nancy Town Lake parking area. The loop is designed and blazed to be walked in a clockwise direction, crossing the spillway first. The final 1.8 miles of the trail, however, follow recreation area roads, all of which are open to vehicular traffic when the recreation area is open. During the off-season, the main recreation area road is gated beyond the Lake Russell boat ramp.

The beginning of this trail crosses the spillway immediately below the dam at Nancy Town Lake. Concrete steps, a stride apart except for one gap, make the crossing relatively easy for most people during low water levels. When the spillway is releasing a high volume of water, however, the gap can be slippery and difficult to negotiate. After heavy rains in winter, the spillway could be particularly difficult without a bridging board (4 or 5 feet will work fine).

After it climbs the bank, the trail turns to the right and parallels scenic Nancy Town Creek downstream. The wide easily walked path reaches the upper end of 100-acre Lake Russell at 0.3 mile. For the next 1.3 miles, the trail closely follows the lake’s forested southeastern shoreline, occasionally winding around deep, inviting coves. This section of the loop gently undulates to match the shoreline terrain. Where the lakeside is flat, the footpath remains at bank level, but where hills drop into the green water, the treadway rises onto slope, usually only 10 to 30 feet above the lake. Here the shoreline forest alternates between stands of pine-shortleaf, loblolly, and Virginia, their trunks sometimes fire blackened-and smaller groves of hardwood. Many of the pines are dead or dying, victims of a beetle infestation.

After crossing a bridge halfway around a large cove, the route rises up and away from the lake for the first time. The loop dips to the Lake Russell Dam at mile 2.3. The walk over the dam affords a good view of the long, narrow lake and its surrounding ridges. Once the trail re-enters the forest, it turns left and descends to the floodplain below the dam. Here the path crosses a bridge over Nancy Town Creek, follows the outside arc of the spillway, and then makes a short climb back to lake level.

The remainder of the foot-travel-only trail follows a gravel road closed to vehicular traffic. After traversing a hillside above a cove, the road bends away from the lake at mile 2.9 and ends at a paved road at mile 3.3. Here you have a choice: you can either turn left and complete the loop by road, or you can turn around and backtrack the way you came.


Miles 0.3-2.4: Green water views of 100-acre Lake Russell.


Travel US 441-GA 365 North from Cornelia and follow signs for Lake Russell Recreation Area. Approximately 4.5 miles beyond where GA 365 ties into US 441, turn right at the Clarkesville exit (GA 197). At the stop sign turn right onto Old Highway 197. Continue approximately 2.5 miles on Old Highway 197, turn right onto Dicks Hill Parkway, then proceed less than 1.0 mile before turning left onto Lake Russell Road.

Continue approximately 2.0 miles on Lake Russell Road, then turn left onto FS 591 at the sign for Nancy Town Lake. After 0.1 mile tum right into the trailhead parking area next to the dam at Nancy Town Lake.

Lake Russell Trail begins at its trailhead sign next to the dam.

Tim Homan

This hiking guide to the Lake Russell 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.

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