Gulch Gazing in Georgia
Someday, you might be driving to, from, or through, Chattanooga, Tennessee. And along the way, you might be looking for a place to stay. We found ourselves in that situation last winter, heading home to Michigan from Montgomery, Alabama, driving along I-59 as we headed to I-75. I searched for a place just a little more off the beaten path. A place that would be more than just an overnight stop. A place where we could explore a bit before heading back on the road toward cold northern weather.
Searching my maps, I found Cloudland Canyon State Park. Tucked in the very northwest corner of Georgia, it looked perfect. I could tell that once we left the interstate, a twisting nine-mile ascent to Cloudland might present a bit of a challenge. Plus, it appeared the campground was full. Should we give it a try? Of course! Bill, driving Lucky Us, our 2015.5 Leisure Unity MB, took us easily up the rise as I gazed down the steep slope below.
Once we arrived at the park, we sought out a campsite. We typically make reservations, but we were returning from a six-week trip to Florida and wanted the freedom of stopping when we wanted. Fortunately, a friendly campground host and park ranger were able to find a spot for our rig.
Cloudland Canyon is situated on the Cumberland Plateau, on top of Lookout Mountain. This 3,538-acre gem, one of Georgia’s largest and most scenic parks, beckons you to explore more than 60 miles of hiking trails and 30 miles of biking trails. Its rugged geology boasts deep canyons, sandstone cliffs, and picturesque waterfalls, carved by waters now known as Sitton Gulch Creek, which cut a 1,000-foot deep gorge into the mountain long ago. Hiking trails range from easy to strenuous, and the biking trails from beginner to expert. Other amenities include backcountry camping, caving (experienced wild cavers only, not for us), disc golf, and fishing.
Since we were leaving the next morning, we chose two trails, one taking us along the rim to the most photographed overlooks, the other taking us to one of two waterfalls.
We first hiked the Overlook Trail, an easy, one-mile (round-trip) trail along part of the canyon’s rim. This mostly flat trail has benches along the way where you can stop to enjoy the view.
Next, we chose the strenuous Waterfalls Trail, so labeled because it involves a steep hike down 600 steps to Cherokee and Hemlock Falls. The park map warns visitors that their leashed dogs may have trouble walking down the metal-grated stairs. On our way, we saw several people carrying their dogs on the steps. Poison ivy grew in several areas, including through those steps.
We walked about one-half mile to Cherokee Falls. Hemlock Falls, about another half-mile further along the trail, would have to wait for our next visit.
And now that you’ve read this far, I’ve got a helpful tip for you: once at the park, we found an easier route down that avoids those switchbacks we took to get there. From the park, take SR-136 left, then turn left on SR-189 (Scenic Highway) to Lookout Mountain.
Next time you’re in the area, a visit to Cloudland Canyon is definitely worth it.
When You Go
Cloudland Canyon State Park is located at 122 Cloudland Canyon Park Road, Rising Fawn, Georgia, 30738. The park can be reached at 706-657-4050; make reservations at reserveamerica.com or 800-864-7275.