Readers of Northwest Florida Outdoor Adventure might be wondering why I’m featuring an article focusing on a location other than Florida. Yes, this adventure takes place outside of the state of Florida in our neighboring state of Georgia, but exploring nearby destinations is a good thing, especially if you’re looking for a great weekend escape that has terrain and scenic views that are very different from what Floridians are used to.
The weather couldn’t have been more perfect on this trip to Cloudland Canyon State Park in the northwest corner of Georgia. Touted to be the most scenic of all of the Georgia parks, Cloudland Canyon, located on the western edge of Lookout Mountain, did not disappoint. From the short drive up the twisting and winding Hwy 136, visitors can immediately get a sense of the ruggedness that’s in store. Hardwoods dominate the rocky landscape casting deep shadows and adding a sense of mystery to the area.
Upon entering the park the first stop is the Visitor Center where visitors can check-in for camping and cabin reservations. Visitors can also obtained detailed hiking maps here and browse the gift shop/camp store for souvenirs and last minute items. The staff can also direct you to G3, located on-site, where visitors can rent bicycles, play disc golf and sign up for guided cave tours with the Georgia Girl Guides.
The park itself is a natural wonder. Starting at the main overlook and picnic area visitors can gaze into a canyon that reaches depths of 1900′. Carved over time by two creeks, Daniel and Bear creeks, the gorge gives visitors a glimpse into the geology that makes up the mountain. From sheer cliff faces to waterfalls to the thickly forested canyon floor there are pleasant surprises waiting at almost every turn.
The Trails at Cloudland Canyon
At the main overlook hardy explorers will find a trail head leading to several trails: Overlook Trail, Western Rim Trail and the Waterfall Trail. The 2 mile round trip Waterfall Trail contains over 1200 steps descending to the floor of the gorge where visitors can enjoy Cherokee and Hemlock waterfalls (no swimming allowed.) This trail is both strenuous and time consuming, but does have plenty of benches for resting and catching your breath. The waterfall trail also connects to Sitton Gulch Trail at the bottom of the falls.
The Western Rim Trail is notably the most scenic hiking trail in Georgia with breathtaking views of the canyon, nearby town of Trenton, Lookout Valley, Sand Mountain and the western edge of Lookout Mountain. This 4.8 mile loop trail passes through multiple rock overlooks before dipping back onto the cool wooded paths.
At the base of the Waterfall Trail hikers can pick up 2.5 mile Sitton Gulch Trail. This loop trail follows the course of the babbling creek as it winds its way through the gorge, passing small waterfalls and boulder-strewn pools, amazing rock formations and a variety of hardwoods and flowering plants. Sitton Gulch is considered difficult to strenuous due the terrain elevations and the 1200+ steps of the Waterfall trail.
In addition to these trails are two backcountry trails, a 2 mile Backcountry Loop Trail and 7.1 mile Bear Creek Backcountry Trail (permit required.) If that’s not enough trail to satisfy the hiking spirit, nearby 5 Points Recreation Area has 21 more miles of trails to satiate even the most avid hiker.
Flora and Fauna of Cloudland Canyon
Hardwood trees abound at Cloudland Canyon; hemlock groves, maple trees, oaks, hickories, and sassafras can all be found here. In the spring mountain laurels, fringe trees, Virginia spirea, trillium and flowering tulip trees line the trails giving it a pleasant floral scent. Fall gives way to a spectacular autumn leaf display highlighting almost any trip.
Cloudland Canyon has a wildlife viewing area complete with a viewing stand overlooking a seasonal pond where visitors have the chance to spot deer, turkey and fox. Also common to the area are black bear, red-tailed hawks, screech owls, chipmunks & flying squirrels. As an added bonus, on a dark night in the springtime campers are often treated to a firefly display.
Camping at Cloudland Canyon
There are several types of lodging available at Cloudland Canyon ranging from primitive & walk-in camping, tent & RV camping, Yurt, Pioneer camping and cottages. There are campsites and cottages on both the east & west rim of the canyon and reservations are strongly encouraged. The only drawback when reserving a campsite is that campers are not able to choose a particular site, but receive them on a first come-first served basis.
To reserve a campsite or learn more about Cloudland Canyon and the surrounding area please visit the website at Georgia State Parks.
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