Hike or run the southern half of the Lake Loop Trail, catching nearly-continuous lake views and beautiful sunsets at Fort Yargo State Park near Athens.
LOCATION:Fort Yargo State Park near Athens, Georgia
Fort Yargo State Park is a popular hiking, trail running, mountain biking, fishing, and camping destination, thanks to its short drive from both Atlanta and Athens. The highlight of the park is a large, 260-acre lake with a meandering shoreline that’s shaded by pine and hardwood trees. Circling the lake, the Lake Loop Trail spans seven scenic miles. This out-and-back hike travels through some of the park’s more remote and scenic areas and runs nearly level, making it equally great as a beginner-friendly hike or ultra-scenic trail run.
Fort Yargo Lake Loop: the hike
The adventure begins at Fort Yargo’s picnic area (view maps and driving directions), hiking southbound (the lake is the trail’s left side). The trail passes a small island, a wooden dock, and the park’s boat ramp before reaching a wooden bridge at a third of a mile.
The hike crosses the bridge, catching great views of Fort Yargo’s Marbury Creek Lake from both sides, and catching reflections of the opposite shore in the lake’s rippled surface. Reaching land at the bridge’s end, the hike veers left to follow the Inner Lake Loop through a power line clearing. The trail’s surface is sandy as it hugs the lake shore, and scraggly shrubs and trailing vines blanket the landscape.
The hike reaches a second power line clearing at .8 mile. A quick pause in the sun-drenched, grassy clearing catches views of wildlife, as hawks soar overhead, grasshoppers buzz and butterflies flutter in the grass. The hike turns left, following a dirt road northbound for a short stretch through the clearing. The hike veers left to dart back into the forest, following signs for the Inner Loop.
The hike traces the contours of the lake, exploring a forest of pine and rolling elevation on several small hills. The hike veers left at a fork in the trail at 1.25 miles, and then crosses a wooden bridge at 1.75 miles. The trail reaches an intersection at 1.9 miles, turning left to once again follow the Inner Loop, and crosses over the lake’s dam.
Views from the grassy, raised dam are broad and open. The lake’s outlet flows through the dam, exiting in a small stream visible far below in the forest. Reaching the end of the dam, the trail veers left, hiking northbound along the lakeshore and passing Fort Yargo’s cabins high on a hill on the right.
This stretch of trail is a particularly great spot to catch a sunset, with the lake’s glassy surface doubling the light show in its reflections. (If you’re chasing the sunset, be sure to leave plenty of time to hike back to the trailhead before dark.)
Reaching the park’s campground area, this hike turns around, doubling back on the same trail to the trailhead. (Alternately, continue hiking through the campgrounds to circle the upper portion of the lake, completing the hike in a loop. The full loop is a great hike, but travels through some of the park’s busier recreation areas… while we’ve done both, we prefer the scenery of this 5-mile out-and-back.) Reaching the park’s picnic area, the adventure completes at 5 miles.
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.
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33.966267, -83.736400 // N33 57.976 W83 44.184