Georgia: Cloudland Canyon State Park
On the western edge of Lookout Mountain nestled on just under 3500 acres lies Cloudland Canyon State Park. Although we visited during the early spring, it was still cold but that did not deter us from getting out to see the canyon. We decided to take it easy on our first day and just do the Overlook Trail, which is a flat, paved area overlooking the Canyon. Standing there we admired the thousand foot deep canyon fringed with forest and sandstone cliffs. It was quite lovely, but when I heard the sound of the falls, I knew I was going to have to venture further.
We went to the trails bulletin board and decided on the Cherokee Falls Trail, which is about 300 stairs down with a bit of trail in between staircases. As we made our way down the first flight of stairs, we met people on their way out of the Canyon. One woman looked up, saw the staircase we had just descended, and sighed, "oh no, not more stairs!". Hmm, I think I have been here before. We hiked on undeterred.
As we came to a fork in the trail, just above the falls, we saw a sign indicating a choice: Cherokee Falls to the left or Hemlock Falls to the right. We had read in the park literature that Cherokee Falls Trail had 300 stairs whereas Hemlock Falls had 600 stairs. Not a big decision for me: Cherokee it is! It was getting late, and we were both pretty tired, so we ambled down a few more staircases before calling it a day and beginning our hike back up.
We came to hike and the park offers a good selection of trails from which to choose. The strenuous climb down into the canyon is worth the effort. Two waterfalls grace the rock face, tumbling over the huge boulders. The views from the trail are amazing and the sound of the falls is mesmerizing. The climb down into the Canyon is challenging and the climb back up requires you to take your time with all those staircases. It is marked as a strenuous trail with a big elevation change and steep grade but we saw people from every stage of life making their way up and down the canyon.
Back at camp, we cooked dinner outside and watched as a heard of deer bounded through the woods to our right, and then reverse course and dart back to the left! Wildlife is abundant in the park so bring your binoculars. We recommend visiting Cloudland Canyon in early summer or fall to catch the beauty of the trees but it is quite lovely even in the dead of winter.
There are two campgrounds for RVs with 62 campsites. The East Rim Campground is close to the trailheads with sites spread over a sparsely wooded field. There are also cabins you can rent, 16 in all, to the right of the campground built on the East Rim of the Canyon overlooking the Waterfalls Trail.
The West Rim Campground is more wooded and the sites large and level. It is an easy hike from the campground there to the West Rim Trail, rated as moderately strenuous. The Yurt camp is between the East and West Rim campgrounds with 10 Yurts to rent. There are also 28 walk-in campsites and backcountry campsites for those hearty tent campers. Both the RV campgrounds are well maintained and have the typical amenities of fire rings, picnic tables, and barbeques on each site. The bath houses were well maintained and placed in the campground for easy access.
Things To Do
Cloudland Canyon is all about taking advantage of its setting. The Park offers 30 miles of mountain bike trails, an 18-hole Disc Golf Course, and guided wild cave tours scheduled in season. Check the Park website for special events, guided night and wildflower hikes and cave tours. For us, it is all about the hiking and the Park offers 30 miles of trails from easy to strenuous:
The 1-mile Overlook Trail is paved and flat beginning at the parking area and skirting the Canyon's East Rim. It offers wonderful views of the canyon and the sound of the waterfalls easy to hear. If you are not a hiker and just want to enjoy the scenery, this is a good trail for you!
The 1-mile Meadowlands Trail leads to an observation deck overlooking a meadow and fishing pond. Grassy paths offer visitors a way to explore the meadow.
The 2-mile (round trip) Backcountry Loop offers access to the backcountry campsites. Its gently sloping trail leads hikers down through the woodlands to a small stream. The return hike is 200 feet uphill to the trailhead. The trail is marked with red blazes.
Rating: Moderately Strenuous
The 5-mile (round trip) West Rim Trail winds through the forest, over a creek and along the West Rim of the Canyon, offering great overlook views. After a mile, there is a 3-mile 'lollipop' loop that returns to the entrance trail. The West Rim Trail was rated as one of the top ten hikes by Backpacker Magazine. The trail is blazed in yellow.
The 2-mile (round trip) Waterfalls Trail clambers down 600 steps and winding trails from the canyon rim on the East side to the bottom of 2 waterfalls. Between staircases, there are level places to rest and even a bench tucked into an overhanging boulder. The elevation change is dramatic and steep.
The 6-mile (round trip) Sitton's Gulch Trail winds down the canyon and woodlands running alongside boulder-strewn creeks. The Sitton's Gulch Trail begins with the Waterfalls Trail and ends near Sitton's Cave. Dark blue blazes mark the trail.
The 14-mile Cloudland Connector Trail links the main park area to the 5 Points Recreation Area. Great for mountain bikers and hikers alike.The CCT can be accessed from four trailheads and runs 14 miles one-way. It is a multi-use trail for hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders.
Hit the Reset Button
Whenever you have the opportunity to challenge yourself to do more than you think you can - take it. Hiking these steep and rocky trails offers opportunities for great views and physical challenge but it also offers the opportunity to improve focus, observation, and concentration. Keeping an eye out for the trail blazes, watching your footing on steep and rocky terrain as well as enjoying the woodlands, wildlife and scenery around you will keep you rooted in the present. And, learning to be present - engaged in the moment, leads to more enjoyment of life. Don't miss this! Be present and experience your life.
Don't Forget To Bring
- Camera (or cell phone camera) The canyon offers several great photo ops from the overview trail as well as the West Canyon Rim. If you have a steady hand, a video of the waterfalls could be terrific!
- Hiking boots. The mountains are lovely, the terrain is steep, and boots will help you keep your footing.
- Trekking Poles. If you are going hiking, these little "helpers" can keep you more stable on the trail.
Cloudland Canyon is a wonderful step into nature. The canyon vistas and waterfalls are lovely while the forests offer a peaceful retreat from a stressful daily grind. RV camping is our preferred way to enjoy the state parks, but most offer cabins, yurts, and tent camping as well. Costs are minimal and the experience is worth far more than the cost of a campsite!