Hike the Oak Ridge Nature Trail to catch scenic views of Carters Lake from a small peninsula and inlet, looping through beautiful North Georgia forest.
LOCATION:Carters Lake near Ellijay, Georgia
OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 777 Trails Illustrated Map (find it at Trailful Outdoor Co.)
Carters Lake is nestled in the North Georgia mountains near Ellijay and Cartersville that’s especially popular in summertime months for swimming, boating, and fishing. But the lake has a few great opportunities for hiking, too – including the waterfall-filled Tumbling Waters Nature Trail and the on the Oak Ridge Nature Trail.
This hike offers some of the best trailside scenic views of the lake and explores a quiet, grassy inlet and fern-filled forest. It’s a relatively easy hike, rolling elevation as it dips and rises along the lake’s shore. The hike follows two trails: a short loop explores an inlet with a small, grassy wetland, where amphibians chirp and fog often settles in the early morning. And an out-and-back hike on the same trail traverses a small peninsula that extends into Carters Lake, where lake views are extensive, the sunshine is plentiful, and the lake’s cool, clear water is perfect for a mid-hike summertime cool-off.
Oak Ridge Nature Trail at Carters Lake: the hike
The adventure begins at a trailhead on the northern shores of Carters Lake (view maps and driving directions), passing beneath the large signed trail entrance. The hike descends into a forest of contrasts: vibrant green foliage stretches to reach dappled sunlight, contrasting with the iron-rich, orange clay soil and fallen pine needles on the forest floor. Overhead, spindly young pine and deciduous trees stretch high to reach the sun.
The hike reaches a trail junction at .15 mile, offering a choice: one route continues straight to explore a peninsula, and one veers right to explore an inlet on a short loop. This hike veers right, trailing southwest and reaching the lake’s shore at .35 mile. The trail loops northbound, following blue blazes as it contours the shore, reaching the grassy edge of the inlet at .5 mile. The trail arcs northeast, climbing through a fern-filled forest after crossing a small wood bridge. The hike follows a trickling creek upstream, completing the short loop and reaching the main trail at .75 mile.
The route turns right, retracing its outbound steps towards the lake’s peninsula. At the trail intersection at .85 mile, the route continues straight this time, descending toward the lake’s shore.
The hike reaches the open shore of Carters Lake at 1.15 miles. Sparse pine trees dot the peninsula, and vast, panoramic views of the lake surround the trail’s end. The lake’s nearly-clear water laps gently on the shore, its glassy surface reflecting the blue sky and clouds overhead and the tree-filled shoreline on the horizon.
After soaking up some sun on the peninsula, the hike turns, retracing its outbound steps to the trailhead. It’s a moderate workout on the return hike, as the trail climbs gently. The hike reaches the trailhead at 1.62 miles, completing the adventure.
More hiking adventures at Carters Lake
Camping at a Carters Lake campground, or in the area with energy and daylight to burn? Don’t miss a hike on the nearby Tumbling Waters Nature Trail. It’s a short, scenic, kid-friendly hike through a beautiful forest that crosses a high span bridge and visits a series of cascading waterfalls.
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!
$4 (daily), or included with a Carters Lake Annual Parking Pass.
34.617183, -84.639617 // N34 37.031 W84 38.377