Hike a 2.4 mile loop on the easy Unicoi Lake Trail in White County, Georgia, to see Unicoi Lake and forest.
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.”
This loop trail’s official beginning and ending is at the back end of the restaurant parking lot, near the park conference center and lodge. This description, however, begins and ends at the picnic area parking lot to the left of GA 356 just before it crosses the Unicoi Lake Dam. The 2.4 mile figure represents the total distance of a complete loop-around the lake, across the dam, and back to the picnic area.
The wide pathway closely follows the western shoreline of Unicoi Lake through a mixed deciduous evergreen forest. On this side of the 53-acre lake, the treadway is often at or near water level. The loop meanders near or through many of the park’s activity areas. At the first such area, the path crosses the beach, climbs onto the wooden deck, then continues to skirt the lakeshore.
The trail crosses successive bridges over an unnamed Smith Creek tributary and over Smith Creek itself, the lake’s source, at 0.8 mile. Across the second bridge, the path turns right and follows Smith Creek downstream through a picnic area shaded by tall eastern white pines. Look for trout where the stream begins to slacken.
The loop turns away from the lake for the first time at mile 1.3. Near the trading post, where it approaches a paved road, the trail turns right onto a graveled treadway. After it passes in front of the trading post and crosses another bridge, the path turns 90 degrees to the right onto an old road. The remainder of the loop follows this wide walkway beneath a row of cottages set back from the lake. The Unicoi Lake Trail reaches the junction of two paved roads – GA 356 and the road that leads to the park’s campgrounds – at mile 2.0. The official ending segment of the trail crosses the camping approach road, crosses GA 356, and then continues a short distance to the restaurant parking lot.
Much of the trail; Unicoi Lake.
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 from Helen) turn left into the picnic area parking lot just before GA 356 crosses the Unicoi Lake Dam. You can begin the loop through the back of the grassy picnic area. This is one of several access points for the Unicoi Lake Trail.
This hiking guide to the Unicoi 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.