A Chattanooga-area outing, Cloudland Canyon State Park’s top natural sights make a big first impression.
Just above Trenton, Georgia, on the western bluff of Lookout Mountain, and only about 20 miles south of the Chattanooga metro area, the 3,500-acre state park has easy-to-get-to scenic overlooks and waterfalls that a large number of visitors enjoy each week. The densely forested park also features many other outdoor amenities to enjoy.
The main scenic overlook, shown above, is — obviously — the most visited point on the park map. The view is breathtaking, and you can park within 700 feet of it.
The Cloudland Canyon State Park main overlook
One of the most-photographed outdoor spots in northwest Georgia, the main overlook has a view that never stops changing. Each passing cloud can provide a change in lighting. At times, the view is above the clouds. Sometimes you can see many miles to the north. With a mixture of evergreens and hardwoods including a great number of small maple trees, the autumn colors can be incredible.
The main overlook is about 1,635 feet above sea level and can be enjoyed with minimal climbing of rocky steps. The lower spots in the valley viewable in the distance are about 675 to 700 feet about sea level.
The bluff vistas are right on the canyon’s edge, but the fencing provides safety while you enjoy the view.
Cloudland Canyon Waterfalls Trail
On fair weather days, hundreds of people will brave the steep path at the nearby Waterfalls Trail to take in the views at Cherokee Falls and Hemlock Falls.
The Waterfalls Trail begins at the same location as the Overlook Trail. You simply go left rather than right when you walk from the parking lot to the edge of the canyon. The elevation drops rather quickly as you walk down into the canyon to where Daniel Creek starts its steep descent. You’ll walk down some stairs, then past a large rock overhang and then some more stairs.
According to the park’s trail webpage, there are a total of 600 metal steps on the Waterfalls Trail.
Less than half of those steps down the trail, the first waterfall you come to is Cherokee Falls.
The hike to Cherokee Falls is a little under 4/10 of a mile, one way. The trail that brings you to the foot of the falls goes from about 1,765 to 1,530 feet above sea level. Depending on where you park, that would equate to an out-and-back hike of about 8/10 of a mile with a 235-ft. elevation change which would roughly equal going down — and then back up — the stairs of a 21-story building.
Those who are determined to see both named waterfalls must endure more stairs, wood decking and rocky dirt trail. You will go slightly below 1,360 feet above sea level to get to the viewing platform at Hemlock Falls. Getting back to the top from Hemlock Falls is a climb of about 405 feet, or almost like going up the stairs on a 37-story building.
Other things to look forward to on the Waterfall Trail include large trees, rock formations and many cascades. The hike to both waterfalls is about 1.8 miles, round trip.
Not far below Hemlock Falls, you will encounter more special places and many more metal steps as the waters of Daniel Creek continues to tumble towards the valley. If you've made it this far, you might as well go to the bridge that crosses the creek and beyond.
At this point about nine-tenth of a mile from the rim where you started, you are on Sitton’s Gulch Trail which continues towards the mouth of the canyon. Just below this bridge, the park’s best hemlock grove will greet you along with more waterfalls, boulders and cliff walls.
Hiking the Sitton’s Gulch Trail
The steepness of the trail subsides at the waterfall shown above, and there are no more stairs below 1,300 feet above sea level. At about 1,100-ft. above sea level, the trail levels out even more as it passes the point where Daniel Creek meets Bear Creek to become Sitton Creek.
This is creek-side gorge hiking at its best. Hikers will enjoy a smooth, well-maintained trail that’s covered with crushed gravel for much of the distance.
From the top, you use the Waterfalls Trail for that first nine-tenth of a mile, and it’ about two miles to the Sitton’s Gulch lower trailhead where a gravel parking lot is located in the valley at about 800-ft. above sea level. Therefore, if you cover the entire distance of the Sitton’s Gulch Trail, your hike from the top and back is going to be within a few yards of being six miles, round trip.
For more trail scenes, visit Galleries: Additional Cloudland Canyon State Park photos.
If you start at the valley trailhead, you can go the entire distance or shorten it by turning around at some point. For example, turn round at the bridge for a hike of about 3.5 miles, the spot where the trails split for a hike of about four miles, or at Hemlock Falls for a hike of about 5.2 miles.
A gate at the lower trailhead prevents you from entering the parking lot outside of park hours.
The West Rim Loop Trail
A hike on the West Rim Loop starts from the same place as the Waterfall Trail. You can make your way to the shared trailhead from the main mountaintop parking lot, the rim-side cabins or the RV campground — all of which are on the east rim of Daniel Creek’s gorge. On the west side of Daniel Creek, people staying in the yurt village, the west rim cottages or camping areas have easy access to the trail. For day hikers, there’s also a gravel parking lot on the west brow of Lookout Mountain.
It’s a very scenic five-mile loop. Highlights include five overlooks, small caves and some great stream and creek areas.
A wooden bridge crosses Daniel Creek just above Cherokee Falls. At that spot, the variety of trees and blooming bushes provide some sights you won’t easily forget.
Overall, the West Rim Loop Trail is surprisingly smooth. There are some areas where you will be walking on a lot of rocks and roots. Those are mostly found in the steeper spots, especially near the small caves and the creek. You will also see some log steps.
It’s easy to shorten a West Rim Loop hike by turning around at the bridge or one of the overlooks.
Also at the park
While, on a busy weekend, thousands of people see the main overlook and hundreds see at least one waterfall, hundreds more enjoy the other trails and the various lodging options. In addition, dozens of birders, rock climbers and horseback riders also visit the park each week. Caving is also possible, but it must be prearranged.
An 18-disc golf course and a trailhead for the Meadowlands Trail and fishing pond are located near the highest area of the park.
Pictured, from left: A scene from the Meadowlands Trailhead. Disc golfers prepare to tee off at hole no. 1.
Take a look at the Meadowlands and fish pond area:
The park also features an Interpretive Center, a well-stocked visitor center and children’s playgrounds.
The Interpretive Center which features educational displays both indoors and outdoors, is located near the main overlook.
Visitor Center/gift shop
Near the main entrance, the Visitor Center features snacks, soft drinks and a large inventory of state park souvenirs such as t-shirts and hats. Campers and cottage renters check in here.
Camping and other lodging
The lodging options include 16 cottages, a yurt village with 10 yurts and a bathroom facility, and a group lodge. For campers there are 72 campsites with electricity for RVs, tents or trailers. In addition there are 30 walk-in campsites, 13 backcountry campsites and four pioneer campsites. All the rentals, including six picnic shelters, should be reserved in advance. They can be booked online at gastateparks.reserveamerica.com.
Thanks to the development of the Five-Points Recreation Area just east of the state park, and a long connecting trail, mountain bikers can enjoy a total of about 30 miles of trail in, and adjacent to, the state park. About seven miles are in the state park and about 23 miles are in the recreation area.
The area is also where some trails are considered to be multi-use and horseback riding is possible.
The Five-Point trails have been used for endurance mountain racing in recent years. Additionally, newer trails connect the Five-Points Recreation Area to wilderness areas of Lookout Mountain to the north.
Mountain bikes are available for rent at the state park. Ask about them at the Visitor Center or at the Interpretive Center.
A $5 parking fee is charged at the state park. An annual $50 park pass that can be used at most Georgia state parks is available.
The highest point in Cloudland Canyon State Park is about 1,990 feet above sea level while Lookout Creek in the valley below is only about 710 feet above sea level. That equates to an elevation different of about 1,300 feet between two points that, if you draw a straight line between them, are a little less than a two miles apart. But of course, it’s not a straight line in a car. It’s a very scenic six mile drive up the mountain.
This park is one of the southernmost places in the eastern U.S.A. where you can enjoy hiking among hemlock trees. You will find hemlock groves near the creek in areas that are between about 1,300 to 1,500 feet above sea level on the Sitton’s Gulch Trail, the Waterfalls Trail and the West Rim Loop.
The gorge was known as Sitton’s Gulch until it became a state park in the late 1930s.