Unicoi Lake Trail: hike a scenic two miles on the lake shore at Unicoi State Park near Helen, GA Georgia Hiking Trails

Unicoi Lake Trail

Hike a scenic two-mile loop on the shores of Unicoi Lake, catching beautiful reflective views in North Georgia's Unicoi State Park just north of Helen.

trail info

2 miles
(round trip)

LOCATION:Unicoi State Park, near Helen, Georgia (maps & directions)

GEAR: Osprey Stratos 24 Backpack, our hiking gear list and Canon 6D Camera

WEAR: Our ultra-soft Atlanta Trails shirts and our favorite outdoor apparel

OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 778 Trails Illustrated Map

The sun hangs low on the horizon, casting the forest in a golden glow. The waters of Smith Lake turn glassy as the mountain winds begin to still. The colors of early autumn paint the forest on the far shore of Smith Lake, reflecting in the lake’s glassy surface and doubling the beauty of the lake’s winding shore. And weaving and winding throughout this beautiful scene, the Unicoi Lake Trail loops through it all, catching view after beautiful view of the lake, nestled in the mountains of Unicoi State Park.

Our favorite hikes near Helen, GA: follow the Unicoi Lake Trail, looping around a scenic, glassy lake at Unicoi State Park

The 50+ acre Smith Lake is well known as one of the top fishing, boating, and swimming areas near Helen, thanks to multiple docks along its shore and a wide, sandy swim beach. The Unicoi Lake Trail connects the fishing docks and swimming beach to the parking areas and popular Unicoi State Park Cabins, our favorite places to stay at the park. But it’s not only a great way to get around the state park: the trail makes for a great hike, thanks to the generous lake views and beautiful forest along the way. And the two-mile loop rolls gently around the lake, making it a great beginner-friendly hike for families with kids, or a fantastic running route for visitors at Unicoi Lodge.

Unicoi Lake Trail: the hike

Several parking areas and trailheads are scattered throughout this loop, making a number of starting points for the hike possible. (And, if you’re staying in the Barrel Cabins, the trail is easily accessible from the cabins – perfect for an early morning run!) This route begins at the park’s Visitor Center on the lake’s eastern shore (view maps and driving directions) and follows the loop in a counter-clockwise direction. From the Visitor Center, the hike begins trekking southwest, descending to the lake and passing through a grassy marshland on its shore. Beautiful cross-lake views extend from several large wooden docks along the shoreline.

Hike the Unicoi Lake Trail, one of our favorite hikes in Unicoi State Park near Helen, GA

The trail veers northbound, rolling elevation and passing under a canopy of enormous pine. The trail veers to the northwest, hugging the contours of the lake, and turning left at .5 mile to cross a large wooden boardwalk spanning the lake’s inlet at Smith Creek. Upstream several miles, this gently flowing creek tumbles over a towering cliff in the stunning double cascades of Anna Ruby Falls.

After crossing the boardwalk, the hike passes through the sandy beach and swimming area on the lake’s north shore. The lake’s small marina lies just past the beach, offering paddleboard and kayak rentals, and the dock makes a great spot to catch additional cross-lake reflective views.

Catch beautiful reflective views from the shore of Smith Lake at Unicoi State Park in North Georgia

From the beach and dock, the trail veers southbound, rolling gently and following the lake’s meandering shoreline. At just over 1 mile, the trail passes the pavilions and parking area near the lake’s dam, and then swings eastbound, crossing the Unicoi Lake Dam alongside a paved road. At 1.4 miles, the trail makes a sharp turn to the northwest, departing the road and diving back into the forest.

Explore a beautiful lakeshore forest at Unicoi State Park near Helen, GA

The trail skirts the park’s cabin areas and climbs high above the lake, beginning a steady climb to the trailhead. The hike reaches the Visitor Center at 2 miles, completing the adventure.

More of our favorite trails at Unicoi State Park

Spending a few days in the park, or in the area with some daylight and energy to spare? The Smith Creek Trail departs from a nearby trailhead at the park’s campground, following a winding, historic gold mining ditch and exploring a scenic forest on the way to the beautiful Anna Ruby Falls. (Or for a shorter route, exit the park and drive to the Anna Ruby Falls trailhead, making a gentle climb along a paved trail to these outstandingly beautiful twin waterfalls.)

And the area offers some of our all-time favorite hikes in North Georgia, too. Chase waterfalls at Raven Cliff Falls or the short, kid-friendly Helton Creek Falls. Explore a historic gold mine on the banks of the tumbling Dukes Creek in a scenic hardwood forest at Smithgall Woods State Park. Or for a fantastic workout with some sublime mountain summit views, hike the Appalachian Trail at Unicoi Gap, looping over the view-packed summit at Rocky Mountain.

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Unicoi Lake Trail Map, Directions & Details

Unicoi Lake Trail Map
Unicoi Lake Trail Map
This map is not a substitute for official trail maps or topographic maps.

Driving Directions


$5, or included with a Friends of Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites membership.

GPS Coordinates

34.727783, -83.720533     //     N34 43.667 W83 43.232

Elevation Profile

Unicoi Lake Trail at Unicoi State Park: elevation profile
Leave No Trace: Atlanta Trails is an official Leave No Trace partner

Please Remember

Always leave no trace, tell someone where you're going, pack safety and wayfinding essentials, don't rely on a mobile phone to find your way, and follow these trail etiquette tips.

Eric Champlin is a writer and photographer who loves to hike, run, backpack, kayak and cycle the southeast. He’s the editor and founder of Atlanta Trails, Asheville Trails, and Trailful, digital magazines that highlight the South’s best outdoor adventures and top Southern-worthy outdoor gear. His mission? To inspire others to get fit outdoors and explore the South’s incredible scenic beauty.
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