Spend a day or a weekend at Cloudland Canyon State Park
It’s amazing that you can live somewhere for many years, yet never know there’s a hidden treasure right down the road. Cloudland Canyon is that type of place. The park is part of the Georgia State Park system and is located less than an hour south of Chattanooga in Rising Fawn. While it takes no time at all to get there, you’ll want to spend all the time you’ve got exploring this unique natural resource.
The park is 4,388 acres and occupies the west crest of Lookout Mountain. Established in 1938 the park has been a favorite place to camp and hike for generations of adventure-seekers. No matter your skill level or physical condition, there are trails suitable for hiking, biking or horseback riding throughout the park. In fact, there are 22 individual trails totaling 23.3 miles of terrain that goes from tame to challenging.
For beginners, I’d recommend the Overlook Trail. This is about a mile, round trip, and is mostly level ground. The path follows the edge of the mountain and brings you around to the scenic overlook where you get one of the best views of the canyon below. There are benches along the way in case you’d like to rest and enjoy the view. This trail, like all, is marked with colored “blazes” on trees along the route. A map, available for free at the gate, will tell you all about what colors to look for.
If you’re a little more adventurous you might want to try the Waterfalls Trail. This one is just under two miles long, round trip, and has a 350-foot drop in altitude from beginning until you get to the waterfalls. There are two to reward your labors; Cherokee Falls at 60 feet tall and Cedar Falls at 90 feet. If you pick the right time of year you will see plenty of water gushing over the falls. Enjoy your time at the bottom and rest to regain your strength. The climb back up is also 350 feet. And those 600 stairs you descended now seem like they’ve multiplied.
The longest and most taxing trail is probably Sitton’s Gulch Trail. It is named for an early settler of Lookout Valley, Jacob Sitton. The trail follows along cascading creeks lined with boulders. The 6 mile round trip is strenuous starting out at 1,750 feet in elevation, going down to just over a thousand feet, back up to 1,200 feet and back down again to 900 feet. It ends in the parking lot near Sitton’s Cave and Case Cave. The caves are only accessible by permit or if you take the tour led by the Georgia Girl Guides.
All this sightseeing will certainly make you tired, and you’ll want to bed down for the night. There are plenty of opportunities for overnight accommodations in Cloudland Canyon. There are 72 campsites, 16 cabins and even 10 Yurts—fancy, well-appointed permanent tents that sleep up to six. There are also several primitive campsites if you want to hike in carrying all your gear for that real primal experience.
Cottages run $125 to $210 a night, Tent and RV campsites run between $27 to $33 a night and Yurts are available for $100 a night. There’s even a group shelter that seats 175 that would be perfect for retreats or other get-togethers that can be reserved for as little as $75. The group lodge can sleep up to 40 and rents for only $225 a night.
Cloudland Canyon can be a pleasure to explore on your own with self-guided tours, but there are also lots of opportunities for group activities as well. Here in the Spring you can go on a Wildflower Hike, for example. Take a walk through Sitton’s Gulch to observe the abundance of blooming wildflowers in the limestone rich soil. Using a checklist and identification books, we will identify and record many of the species in bloom. The hike is one mile on a flat trail by the river.
How about getting the kids to participate in some Arts & Crafts? You and your whole family can join the park naturalist to learn about the park’s plants and animals and make something special to take home. There are different activities each week.
Have you ever played Disc Golf? There’s a great Frisbee Golf Course in the park. It’s really fun to fling your disc along the fairway then try to throw it into a basket. Just like regular golf, you’re trying to go through the course in the least number of flings.
For more information, go to GeorgiaStateParks.org or call (706) 657-4050.
Louis Lee has been involved in journalism dating back to his days on the high school newspaper staff. After a stint in the U.S. Navy, he worked for a weekly newspaper in Baton Rouge, then returned to college for formal training in television news. He is now an award-winning documentary filmmaker.