Exploring New Trails at Lake Russell WMA: Sourwood and Ladyslipper Trails

This weekend I explored two new trails in the Lake Russell Wildlife Management Area (WMA): Sourwood and Ladyslippers. Both of these trails are on the end of the WMA near Lake Russell and are best accessed either from Lake Russell National Recreation Area or via Nancy Town Road.

I’m just getting to know this end of the WMA. In the past, I’ve done quite a bit of hiking and running on the other end of the WMA, over near Currahee, but over the last 4 to 6 weeks I’ve started venturing over to this end of the WMA as I seek out new trails.

Sourwood Trail

Sourwood Trail is roughly a 3 mile loop where 2 miles consist of single-track trails and the final mile consists of gravel forest service roads. I ran the single-track trail portion of Sourwood Trail on Saturday morning as part of a longer run.

Sourwood Trail consists of the loop created by the blue arrow. The blue arrow portion consists of forest service roads, the rest is all single-track trails.

You can access Sourwood Trail from several different locations. I accessed Sourwood Trail by parking at the spot where the trail crosses Nancy Town Road within the WMA. The road to this location isn’t always open. If it’s closed, you can park about a mile further up the road where the gate closes across the road going into the WMA.

I parked where the trail crosses Nancy Town Road. However, if the road into the WMA is closed, you can park at a gravel lot where the star is located in the image above. From there, it’s about a mile down a gravel road to the trail.

Your next best option for accessing Sourwood Trail is to go into the Lake Russell National Recreation Area, park at Nancy Town Lake and find the trail head, on the left, on the road heading away from Nancy Town Lake towards the WMA.

The trail can also be accessed by walking up the road away from Nancy Town Lake until you see the trailhead on the left where indicated by the blue arrow.

The primary sight to see on Sourwood Trail is Nancy Town Falls, which you can see as the featured image of this blog post. It’s located at the end of a short out-and-back section of the trail.

Nancy Town Falls is located at the end where the star is shown, at the end of a short out-and-back section of trail.

The trail itself is in decent repair though not heavily used. The portion between Nancy Town Lake and the falls has quite a bit of elevation change. First, the trail has a steep climb, and then once you cross Nancy Town Lake, there’s quite a bit of downhill elevation. Once you reach the falls, from there back to the road is a very pleasant section of trail without a great deal of elevation change.

Ladyslipper Trail

I completed part of Ladyslipper trail during my run on Saturday and then hiked the rest of the trail on Sunday with my two dogs.

The trail starts from Nancy Town Lake. Think of Ladyslipper Trail as being the shape of a lollypop. If you start from Nancy Town Lake, you’re starting at the end of the stem. The stem is a one mile climb of moderate intensity. The climb begins as a single-track trail through the woods but eventually merges with a historical, now closed, forest service road called Red Root Mtn. The loop part of the lollypop course is a loop off of Red Root Mtn.

The section in blue is the out-and-back “stem” of the trail. The section in green is the loop. I ran the blue section on Saturday and then hiked the green section on Sunday.

If you start from Nancy Town Lake, the entire trail is between 6-7 miles long. Knowing I only had about 90 minutes to spend on the trails, I opted to park in the WMA, along Red Root Rd, where the Ladyslipper trail meets the road. This meant I only hiked the loop.

Most of the loop is easy to follow. However, there are three places where you could easily get turned around.

There are three points where you can get a little turned around.

If you’re following the loop counterclockwise, the first point where you can lose track of your place is at the bottom of the descent off of Red Root Mountain. After a steep descent, at the base of the mountain the trail seems to hit a “T”. If you go left, you’ll follow an unmarked portion of trail that cuts off more than half of the loop portion. If you want a shorter hike, by all means, go left at the spot marked 1. If you want to cover the entire loop, go right.

The blue line is an unmarked trail that cuts off more than half of the official trail.

If you’ve continued around the loop counterclockwise, you’ll next come to point 2. You reach this point just after crossing a wildlife opening and then crossing a small stream (stream pictured below). Just across the stream you hit the end of Stephens, a forest service road. You will naturally want to go left on this road to close the loop. However, if you do, the road will end almost immediately. It feels like you’re going the wrong way, but go right instead of left at this intersection. The road will quickly turn back on itself and head back in the expected direction.

Finally, at point number 3, it’s easy to miss the spot where Ladyslipper trail veers off to the left of Stephens. At this point, there is a wildlife opening, and you might be tempted to skip right past this spot thinking that it’s just a wildlife opening and nothing more. However, just to the right of the wildlife opening is the continuation of Ladyslipper trail.

Ladyslipper trail is poorly marked and parts of it are in bad shape. It’s still thoroughly enjoyable, but you do need to be reasonably able-bodied to handle the creek crossings as well as some of the steeper portions of the trail. While much of the trail is pretty easy, there are portions that are pretty strenuous, in particular a very steep portion coming down off of Red Root Mountain. There aren’t any specific sights to see along the way, but there are several very nice sections of hardwoods as well as some sections of thick pine that are beautiful to pass through.

Next Up!

The next bit of trail I want to explore in the WMA is a section of unmarked trail leading to a water fall at the top of the generically named Reservoir 44 that is on the edge of the WMA.

Location of suspected waterfall and approximate trail locations based on Strava heatmap data.

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