Hike the Dockery Lake Trail from the scenic shores of a glassy mountain lake, exploring a creek-filled forest and hiking to the Appalachian Trail near Big Cedar Mountain.
LOCATION: Chattahoochee National Forest near Dahlonega, Georgia
OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 777 Trails Illustrated Map (find it at Trailful Outdoor Co.)
Serene lake views. Beautiful forest. Access to the Appalachian Trail. The Dockery Lake Trail spans a scenic stretch of North Georgia wilderness, climbing from a small, serene mountain lake, passing a tumbling waterfall, and climbing through a stream-filled, rocky forest to the Appalachian Trail. Studded with backpacking campsites along the trail’s length, and with lakeside campsites at the trailhead, the trail makes for an excellent overnight adventure.
And though long-range mountain views on this hike are limited, a 1.9-mile southbound hike on the Appalachian Trail from the end of the Dockery Lake Trail catches stunning, long range views from Preachers Rock. Combined, these two trails offer an ultra-scenic workout that explores some exceptionally beautiful North Georgia forests, and one of our state’s best views from a sun-drenched rock outcropping.
Dockery Lake Trail: the hike
The adventure begins at a trailhead near the lake’s shore (view maps and driving directions), following the western contours of Dockery Lake. The trail passes a picnic area, catching views of the lake’s glassy water to the right of the trail. The hike veers northbound at .25 mile, departing the lake loop trail and visiting a spillway waterfall just north of the lake.
The trail descends elevation over the next half mile, winding through wide switchbacks in a forest spotted with dense groves of mountain laurel. The trail makes five creek crossings over the next half mile, continually descending as it wraps to the west, north, and finally, the east. The final creek crossing reaches the lowest elevation on this hike; it’s nearly all uphill from here as the hike begins a steady climb to the Appalachian Trail.
On the uphill, the hike makes two more creek crossings and passes two backcountry campsites. The trail reaches a wide creek crossing at 2 miles, where a tumbling creek plummets over fields of fallen boulders crusted with lichen and green moss, forming a tiered set of small waterfalls.
The trail continues its climb, winding through switchbacks and making two more creek crossings at 2.55 and 2.65 miles. The hike catches limited views of the rolling, neighboring summits through trees on the right before passing a grassy campsite just off-trail at 3 miles. The trail makes its final ascent to the AT, making its last outbound stream crossing at 3.35 miles before reaching the Appalachian Trail at 3.55 miles.
From here, this hike turns to retrace its outbound steps in reverse to return to Dockery Lake. Reaching the lake’s east shore, the hike passes through the campground, completing the stream-filled adventure at 7.1 miles.
Extend the hike: Appalachian Trail to Preachers Rock
Add some more mileage and beauty to the adventure with a 1.9-mile one-way trek on the Appalachian Trail, scoring views from the Preachers Rock overlook on Big Cedar Mountain. At the junction of the Dockery Lake Trail and Appalachian Trail, hang a left to follow the AT’s iconic white trail blazes southbound to the summit overlook.
Note: slippery rocks and fast moving water can be extremely dangerous! Please don’t climb, stand on, swim near, or jump from any waterfall.
Dockery Lake Campground
This adventure offers several options for overnighting in this beautiful wilderness area. Camp lakeside at the Dockery Lake Campground (first come, first camp; fees). Or pack it in and backpack the trail to any of the Dockery Lake Trail’s campsites (first come, first camp; free).
Wherever you camp, please pack out what you pack in and leave no trace.
Always leave no trace, pack out everything you pack in, and if you see trash, pick it up and pack it out.
Stay on the marked trail, tell someone where you're going, pack safety and wayfinding essentials, and don't rely on a mobile phone to find your way. Please always practice good trail etiquette. And before you go, always check the trailhead kiosk, official maps, and the park or ranger office for notices of changed routes, trail closures, safety information, and restrictions.
Love the trail?
This trail is maintained thanks to the hard work of countless volunteers and donations from supporters of the Chattahoochee National Forest. Please support them by making a donation or joining a volunteer day. Let's work together to keep these fantastic trails maintained and open for use!
Free parking for day use. See the USFS website for camping info. Trailhead access is via a gravel Forest Service road.
34.673217, -83.976967 // N34 40.393 W83 58.618