Big Canoe, GA: hiking trail and outdoor adventure guide
Explore North Georgia’s ultra-scenic gated mountain community, Big Canoe. Hike, bike or run Big Canoe's incredible 20 mile trail network, float the community's lakes by boat, paddle board, kayak or canoe, and find more great outdoor mountain adventures with our destination guide.
It’s a lifestyle and a state of mind, fully embraced by Big Canoe residents and visitors in this 8,000-acre swath of mountain beauty just over one hour north of Atlanta. With more than twenty miles of scenic hiking, biking and running trails, three glassy mountain lakes, tumbling waterfalls framed by lush, green forest and multiple mountains, Big Canoe boasts a ton of scenic outdoor beauty. And while the community is gated, and offers outstanding swim, golf, and tennis amenities, it seems anything but pretentious: Big Canoe seems to blend seamlessly into its forested acres, simultaneously both upscale and relaxed.
We’ve had the pleasure to visit this mountain community multiple times over the past year, and from our first visit, found ourselves enamored. Behind its gates, Big Canoe offers an award-winning, 20+ mile trail network that explores rushing waterfalls, wildlife, and wildflower-filled meadows, historic log cabins, and mile after mile of gorgeous North Georgia forest. Nestled in its towering mountains and along its serene lakes, the community’s mountain and lake homes are tucked quietly into the terrain – so well that driving its scenic, winding roads, it’s easy to forget you’re inside a gated community.
Big Canoe offers amenities galore. Relax or do some fishing on a pontoon boat rental on Lake Petit, one of Big Canoe’s three glassy lakes. Tee off on Big Canoe’s 27-hole championship mountain golf course nestled in the mountains. Swim at Big Canoe’s rock waterslide, swimming beach, and pools. Or just sit back and soak up some gorgeous North Georgia mountain beauty in Big Canoe’s ample acres filled with trails, mountains, meadows, lakes and waterfalls.
The Canoe Life vibe is equally upscale and laid back: while home prices span from surprisingly affordable to multiple millions, the community’s aura is chill, friendly, comfortable and relaxed. After entering the gates, daily stress seems to melt away magically.
Note: while access to Big Canoe’s trail network, waterfalls and outdoor amenities is restricted to homeowners and their guests, rental guests can gain access during a stay in the community, too.
Big Canoe Discovery Package: our review
Over the past year, we’ve spent several long weekends exploring and photographing Big Canoe, and have stayed in a variety of rental houses within the gates. Each visit, we became more and more hooked on the community’s trails and mountain beauty. To get a deeper dive into the Big Canoe lifestyle, we booked a Big Canoe Discovery Package – a three-day, two-night stay in a mountain home. The Discovery Package includes a private tour of the community, full access to the community’s trails, an 18 hole round of golf per couple, and a $50 gift card that’s valid at the clubhouse restaurants or pro shop.
Checking in at Big Canoe’s main gate, we received a pass to enter and exit through Big Canoe’s two main gated entrances, as well as a community map and directions to the Discovery Package home. The drive to the home is scenic and winding, traveling through one of Big Canoe’s covered bridges, past the beautifully manicured golf greens surrounding Lake Sconti, on the shore of Lake Petit and through a lush forest filled with fern, moss and towering pines.
Our Discovery Package home was located in Big Canoe’s Wildcat neighborhood, one of the community’s newest developments. The home sits on a quiet cul-de-sac street with beautiful wooded views from every room. Two large covered decks allow plenty of space to relax outdoors and soak in the North Georgia beauty. The home’s front door opens onto an airy first floor with views of the forest through a wall of windows spanning the living and dining area. The main floor of the spacious home features a huge master suite, living room, dining room, fully equipped gourmet kitchen, laundry room and half bath. Two more bedrooms, each with private bath, are located on the terrace level along with a cozy family room and outdoor, covered patio. The home is large, light-filled, and the perfect home-base to explore the community.
The Discovery Package home, like the surrounding community, is upscale and modern, with architectural, landscape and design touches that reflect the surrounding forest – an extension of the forest’s natural beauty.
On the trail: Big Canoe’s best hiking trail adventures
Named the Best Hiking Community of 2015, the mountains of Big Canoe offer over twenty miles of trails perfect for a scenic hike, bike, trail run or sunrise-chasing stroll.
Self-admitted trail addicts, we explored every mile of the community’s extensive trail network. While every one of Big Canoe’s trails are well-worth a visit, these stood out as our all-time favorites:
Nature Valley Park: Upper Falls Trail & Lower Falls Trail
4 MILES, ROUND TRIPHike through Nature Valley Park to explore two beautiful, tumbling waterfalls, a lush stream valley and a historic log cabin and water wheel. Not ready to end the fun? Nature Valley, the largest park at Big Canoe, offers a number of other trails that combine easily for a longer adventure. Up for a challenge? The difficult, 2.8 mile out-and-back on the Nancy Womack Trail hikes to two more waterfalls and the near-summit of Mount Oglethorpe, the original starting point of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. Or drive the 4×4-worthy Jeep Trail for an awesome offroad adventure.
VIEW TRAIL INFO & MAPS
Meditation Park: John Williams Trail and Covered Bridge Trail Loop
2.2 MILES, ROUND TRIPLike its name implies, the trails of Meditation Park are tranquil and peaceful, offering a cool retreat along the banks of the rushing Blackwell Creek. Hike a loop on the John Williams Trail and Covered Bridge Trail, meandering along the banks of the creek, exploring dense coniferous and hardwood forest, multiple spilling waterfalls and a large rock island.
VIEW TRAIL INFO & MAPS
Waterford Trails: Toad’s Pond Trail and Blackwell Springs Trail Loop
1.1 MILE FIGURE-EIGHT LOOPThe Waterford Trails are relatively short (and relatively easy), but packed with abundant scenic beauty. Two narrow, singletrack trails skirt the banks of two small ponds, visiting an arched wooden bridge, a tall earthen dam and marshy flats. Hike this trail at dawn or dusk for the best chance to view deer and other wildlife near the water, and to catch beautiful sunrises and sunsets reflecting on the ponds’ glassy waters.
VIEW TRAIL INFO & MAPS
Indian Rocks Park: Indian Mounds Trail & Lake Petit Trail
1.2 MILES, ROUND TRIPExplore Big Canoe’s Native American History, passing a serious of mysterious rock mounds on the Indian Mounds Trail. Then dip through a grassy, stream-filled valley, passing several small waterfalls on the Lake Petit Trail, hiking to a quiet cove on the shore of Big Canoe’s largest lake.
VIEW TRAIL INFO & MAPS
Wildcat Park: Red Loop, Blue Loop, Perimeter and Connector Trails
4.8 MILE TRIPLE LOOPGently rolling and ultra-scenic, this four-trail combo in the Wildcat Neighborhood explores shady stream-filled forests, sunny meadows with abundant wildflowers, and Wildcat’s popular recreation areas. Combine these four paved trails for a fantastic early-morning run or rolling bike ride. After our Wildcat morning runs, our trail pup, Jake, loved visiting the large, fenced dog parks on the Red Loop Trail to work off a little extra energy.
VIEW TRAIL INFO & MAPS
After our Discovery Package stay, Big Canoe invited us back to map, profile and photograph their extensive trail network. Check out our full review of Big Canoe’s trail network for maps, directions and detailed info on every one of the community’s 20+ miles of trails.
On the water: Big Canoe boating
On Saturday, we explored the lakes of Big Canoe by renting an electric pontoon boat, touring through Lake Petit’s glassy coves and past its wooded island. To help preserve the community’s quiet, natural mountain vibe, all powered craft on the lake must be electric – and we loved the smooth ride and blissful quiet of the boat’s electric engine.
Rent a pontoon boat from the Big Canoe Marina, or explore the lake on a rental canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboard (SUP). We found Big Canoe’s three lakes to be the perfect place to enjoy a relaxing afternoon on the water or catch a stunning sunset over the surrounding mountains.
Into fishing? Lake Petit is well stocked with a variety of native fish. Gear and fishing permits are available for sale at The Shack at the Big Canoe Marina.
In the water: Big Canoe swimming
Since we weren’t interested in the Discovery Package’s included 18 hole round of golf, we were offered a pass to the Big Canoe Swim Club instead. We found Lake Disharoon to be the place to be for fun in the water at Big Canoe. The Swim Club at Lake Disharoon features a sandy beach perfect for relaxing and catching some rays, an ultra-fun inflatable water obstacle course, a huge pool and an exhilarating, two-tier rock waterslide. Paddleboards, kayaks, canoes, beach volleyball and picnic areas with grills are also available, making for a full day of summertime fun on the water.
We found more in-water fun at the Wildcat Recreation Center in the Wildcat neighborhood near our Discovery Package house. The Wildcat Recreation Center offers a beautiful pool for relaxing and swimming, and a kiddie pool with fun play features for the kids.
Work out, golf, or just relax
We’re huge fans of the water and trail – but the community offers many more active and outdoor amenities for purchase, too.
Keep up your workout routine at Big Canoe’s Fitness Center, a large facility equipped with a wide variety of cardio machines, free weights, a five-lane saline lap pool, and indoor tennis and racquetball courts. The Fitness Center also offers many professionally-led group exercise programs, including yoga, pilates, tai chi and zumba.
Into golf? Book a tee time to play a fantastic round or two with mountains, forests, and streams as your backdrop. The beautifully manicured greens and fairways of Big Canoe’s three 9-hole courses meander through varied and challenging terrain. Practice greens and a driving range are also available near the fully stocked pro shop at the Big Canoe Clubhouse.
Tennis enthusiasts can also enjoy outdoor courts at Big Canoe. The tennis and pickleball complex features eight hard and clay courts as well as a tennis shop loaded with equipment and supplies.
And while we (unfortunately) didn’t find time to treat ourselves, Big Canoe also offers a full-service spa at the Fitness Center, with treatments including massage, reflexology, and hot stone treatments.
Refuel: Big Canoe dining
Inside the gates of Big Canoe, we loved dining at the Mountains Grill and Blackbear Pub at The Clubhouse. The restaurants offer fresh, upscale menus in a rustic, casual atmosphere perfect for a quick lunch or an elegant dinner overlooking the beautiful, mountain-framed waters of Lake Sconti. Our favorite eats included the chipotle seafood tacos, grilled Atlantic salmon, goat-cheese-topped portabello sandwich, and flame-grilled fajitas.
For a quick and casual bite, Duffers offers a selection of burgers, sandwiches and cold drinks located next to the golf course and pro shop. Between our trail adventures, we grabbed grilled cheese and egg salad sandwiches at Duffers, and enjoyed lunch on the outdoor patio with a view of the courses, lake, and mountains.
We found plenty of options for dining outside the community as well. One of our all-time favorites is Home, located just outside Big Canoe’s north gate. The Home menu features farm-to-table fare using locally sourced meat, fish and produce to create a varied and seasonal dining experience. With its excellent wine list, full bar, and comfortable, contemporary atmosphere, Home brings a cosmopolitan ambiance to the mountains. Our favorites from the well-crafted menu include the lump crab cake sandwich with truffle fries, smoked trout salad, and wood-grilled salmon.
Other casual dining options are available in the nearby Foothills Shopping Village, along with an IGA grocery store. Fuego Mexican Grill, one of our favorite spots for a cold beer and nachos, offers an extensive selection of Mexican-inspired cuisine. Next door to Fuego, Forno offers tasty pizza, Italian sandwiches, and pasta in a casual atmosphere.
Big Canoe: getting there
Big Canoe’s Discovery Package is a great way to experience Canoe Life, and catch a three-day experience of living within the Big Canoe gates like a local. See the Big Canoe website for booking information and details.
While Big Canoe hosted our Discovery Package visit, all opinions and experiences are our own. Thanks to Big Canoe Company for the enjoyable stay!