Winter Camping

This weekend Derek and I challenged ourselves to 24 hours of winter camping at Cloudland Canyon State Park.

We have camped in spring, summer, and fall, so winter was the last season left to try. We honestly did not know if we would like it or not. It could have very well been a disaster!

We did a lot of research, and we were mindful of the clothes that we packed, including thermals as a base layer and wool socks. We also packed our flannel lined sleeping bag, and two extra blankets.

We reserved Backcountry site #3, which you have to hike to from the trail head and parking lot. Last fall, we stayed at #5. Comparing the two sites, we like #3 better. It is a little closer of a walk from the trail head, and the site itself is prettier. The campsite has a stream running near it, and we had our own mini waterfall all to ourselves!

Convenience was a big factor at this site as well. The fire ring was right next to the picnic table. We had brought our camp chairs, but we never used them. We set our tent up right behind the picnic table. The outhouse was also just a few steps away. This outhouse was much cleaner than at site #5. Timing might have been a factor in this though, depending on how often they get serviced by volunteers.

Overall, we managed to stay warm. We had some frozen fingers and toes at time, but we brought hand warmers, which helped out. Getting into the sleeping bag at night was rough for the first five minutes, but our body heat quickly warmed us up. When we woke up in the morning, we realized that our breath had caused frost to form on the inside of the tent!

I am glad that Derek suggested last year that we start camping. We are still very much beginners, with not the greatest equipment. We have now camped twice at campgrounds, and have backpacked in twice. There are pros and cons for both types of camping. Campgrounds have more amenities, but there is nothing like being outside in the peace and quiet with no one else around.

We want to get hiking backpacks with frames, in order to carry everything on our backs. Things like that cost a lot of money though. In due time. We probably still bring way too much with us on each trip; it’s trial and error. We would like to camp at site #3 again in the spring, which would allow us shed some weight in the form of clothing layers and blankets.

I have been enjoying making YouTube videos. I videoed during our time camping, and I made a video from it. I think this is my favorite video yet!

Ruby Falls

On Christmas Eve, we went to Ruby Falls with my parents. Out of all the major, popular attractions in the Chattanooga area, Ruby Falls was the last one for us to cross off.

We enjoyed Ruby Falls, however, there were both pros and cons.

Ruby Falls is an underground waterfall, located deep within Lookout Mountain. To get to the falls, you have to walk about half a mile through a cave system. Walking through the cave would have been more fun, if it hadn’t been crowded. This was most likely because we did this on Christmas Eve. Perhaps if someone went on a week day, they would have a better experience.

You have to walk through the cave single file, which doesn’t make for a good experience with the tour guide. We had to continuously walk through the cave, and the guide did not stop much to explain anything about the cave.

However, there was a video presentation at the start of the walk, where we learned about Leo Lambert, and his 1928 discovery of the cave and Ruby Falls, which he named after his wife. He went through the cave for 17 hours, much of that crawling, and he had no idea what he would discover. We did enjoy this presentation. But we felt like we missed out on learning more about caves in general.

As a photographer hobbyist, I found it frustrating to try to take photos inside of the cave. You had to take the photo quickly and move on, because as I mentioned earlier, we were continuously walking single file.

We only had to walk half a mile, but it seemed to take forever to get to our end point, because each time another tour group came through, we had to move up against the wall and let them pass.

Ruby Falls is the namesake and the highlight of the tour. When you first enter the large room, you can hear the waterfall, but barely see it. It is so dark in there! Thanks to a music and light show, about five minutes long, you can see Ruby Falls and be able to take some nice photos.

Leaving Ruby Falls was much easier, as our group had the right-away going back, and the other groups had to move over for us.

Also part of Ruby Falls is an overlook, which you get to by climbing a few floors of stairs. It offers a nice view point of Moccasin Bend.

Overall, I am glad I saw Ruby Falls. It’s no doubt impressive, and it’s neat to think that we were in the middle of Lookout Mountain, 1,120 feet below ground.

Ruby Falls itself is 80 feet high, and it’s pool is three feet deep. The water flows down through the mountain, and at some point it flows into the Tennessee River.

If you find yourself in Chattanooga, go visit Ruby Falls. You’ll be glad you did. Just don’t go on one of the busiest days of the year!

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Lula Lake Land Trust

If you live in the Chattanooga area or are visiting Chattanooga and looking for a hike to do, consider Lula Lake Land Trust.

Lula Lake Land Trust is different from other outdoor recreational areas, in that it is a conservation area, and you need reservations to hike here. The Lula Lake Land Trust has open gate days, which are the first and the last weekend of every month. There is a $15 “conservation use fee” per carload.

Lula Lake Land Trust (LLLT) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization established by the will of Robert M. Davenport in January of 1994. Dedicated to the preservation of lands located within the Rock Creek watershed on Lookout Mountain, the mission of LLLT is to preserve the natural and historic landscapes surrounding Rock Creek and its tributaries through conservation, education, and low-impact recreation.
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Dates for reservations are listed two months out in advance, and dates sell out quickly. The reservations are timed, with the first group of people allowed to enter from 9-10 a.m.

We made our reservations a month out and hoped for good weather. If the weather forecast is not looking great and you want to cancel, you can get a refund if you do so at least 48 hours in advance.

There are multiple trails to choose from, and we picked the most popular, “The Out and Back,” which is 4.2 miles. This is a flat, gravel path, with little elevation change.

We timed our reservation, Oct. 31, for the forecasted peak foliage time, and we were not disappointed! I love photographing fall leaves, so this made our time here more special.

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After a nice stroll, you come to a bridge that goes over Rock Creek. Just after this bridge, you will see the lower falls. There is a stone step path that leads down to these falls, filling into the conservation’s namesake, Lula Lake.

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Head a little further up the trail and you will see the main falls, Lula Lake Falls. This waterfall is 120 feet high. I loved the pop of color at the top of the falls!

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There are two trails leading down to the falls from the gravel path. The first one you come across is meant to use to come back up, after leaving the falls, because this one is steep. The second trail you come to, just a little further up from the first trail, is meant for making your way down to the falls.

There was plenty of space to walk around and check out the falls from different angles.

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What I like the most is that the number of people allowed in are limited. Of course, we saw some people at the waterfalls, but it wasn’t crowded like some other hikes are. There were long stretches of time when we did not see any people on the trail.

At this point, heading back, we decided to deviate from the Out and Back Trail, and take the North Creek Trail back. I do NOT recommend this!

The North Creek Trail follows the creek and turns into the short Ford Trail, at which point you ford the river. We knew there would be a river crossing, but we didn’t know what we’d be up against.

The water was fairly deep, about mid-calf high. Derek took off his socks and shoes and rolled up his pant legs. I told him to go first, and I took his phone and recorded his crossing.

He barely made it a few steps when he slipped and fell! Luckily, he caught himself, and saved his butt from getting wet. Unluckily, he lost one of his shoes! There it went, floating down stream.

However, it was at this time that Derek met his trail guardian angel. A hiking couple were on the trail near us, and must have heard us exclaiming about the shoe, and he came running out on a section of rocks that jut halfway across the creek. With one of his hiker poles, he was able to retrieve the shoe. 

After that, he made it safely across. Then it was my turn, and I was responsible for three shoes now! I decided to go across the creek from the rocks that were jutting out and go diagonally. This ended up being a little easier. I did have my moments when I almost fell though!

Once we were on the shore, we laughed about it. I’m glad we did it and we had the experience, but I wouldn’t want to do it again! It might be easier in the summer if the water levels are lower. After that, the North Creek and Ford Trails meet back up with the Out and Back Trail.

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Overall, this was a great hike. Even with the extra water crossing that we weren’t planning on, it was a great, mostly easy hike, with great payoff in terms of views. I may consider coming back here again sometime, but I think we spoiled it for ourselves for another time by going during the fall with the beautiful leaves!

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Camping and hiking in Cloudland Canyon

This past weekend, Derek and I did something that I never thought we would do. We camped at Cloudland Canyon State Park, but it wasn’t just typical camping in a campground.

We had a backcountry campsite, which is one of 10 campsites that are along the Backcountry Loop Trail. There is a parking lot at the trailhead, and everyone has to hike into their site. Some of the sites are closer, and some are further out than others. Our campsite was No. 5, which was not one of the closer ones, but not too far out either.

We do not have the big camping backpacks with the frames, we only have our regular school backpacks. In order to be able to haul everything we needed, we bought a little two-wheeled utility cart.

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Our campsite was totally secluded. No. 5 had a little off shoot trail from the main trail, which we liked. The backcountry trail loop is a two mile trail, and I assume regular hikers, who are not camping, frequent through there.

This overnight camping trip was not perfect by any means. In fact, it was a comedy of errors. We learned our lesson many times over. We are not too scathed from our experience, and we want to camp there again, maybe even in the winter. Now we know how to do things right.

Our first lesson is to bring a hatchet next time, and skip the bundles of firewood. Because of the wood, we had to make two trips back and forth from the car to the campsite. We learned that campers are allowed to use any wood at the site, within reason, for campfires.

Things went fairly smoothly in the evening. Rain was in the forecast, so we hung up a tarp over our tent, to keep us dry. We have a beginner’s pop up tent, that is not water proof, but it suits our needs fine. It drizzled on and off while we ate dinner, but never amounted to much. We enjoyed the evening by the fire.

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What we weren’t prepared for was how DARK it got at night. We’re used to camping near others, so you have everyone’s lantern light and campfires, and even the glow from buildings like the camp office or the bathhouse. It felt very weird, and somewhat scary, to be alone in the woods in the dark.

Before we went to bed, we opened up the top and side parts  of our tent to expose the screens underneath, to let in air flow. It was quite warm when we went to bed, at 70 degrees.

It poured on and off all night long. We stayed nice and dry until suddenly, we were quite wet. I guess the wind must have shifted, causing the rain to come right into our tent! In the dim lantern light, Derek struggled to get the tent closed up again. Another lesson learned. Leave the tent fully closed when rain is in the forecast!

Our tent is small, so we can’t put everything inside. Our shoes were outside, underneath the tarp. But when it’s raining sideways, this does not help! Our shoes got soaked. Derek’s socks and jeans also got soaked, because they were folded up in the front corner of our tent, which was a full puddle of water by the time we got everything zipped up. Another lesson we took away from this is to bring an extra change of socks, and bring plastic bags for anything we want to stay dry.

The rain finally moved out at about 6:45 a.m. We got up, and again, were shocked at how dark it was. The wood was a little damp, and so were the Duralogs. Lesson No. Four: Duralog packaging is not water proof! Keep the Duralogs dry so they light easier!

We were both worried for a minute that we would not be able to get a fire started, therefore no warmth, no hot tea, and no breakfast. Things were tense, but the fire eventually did get going. It should also be mentioned that a cold front came through after the rain, so it was quite chilly early in the morning.

Once the sun came up and we had food in our stomachs, we could laugh at our misfortunes.

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The Backcountry Loop Trail connects with the Bear Creek Trail. This is a trail that we had never been on, so we decided to check it out.

Unfortunately, we were steered wrong by the map that we had. The map listed that it was .5 miles to Bear Creek, before continuing on for another 7.1 miles. I thought to the creek and back would make a nice one mile hike. This was not so. Apparently the map was labeled incorrectly, or perhaps it was .5 miles from where it intersects with the Overlook Trail. Even the dotted line representing the direction of the trail was wrong, too.

The hike was easy at first, but then we went down a lot of switch backs to get down to the creek. We saw our first bright orange salamanders!

By the time we got back to the campsite, I think we had hiked nearly three miles total. It was a gorgeous hike, but we just were not prepared to go that far!

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Once we got back, we started to pack up our campsite. We had to be out by 1 p.m. Imagine our surprise when a bunch of Boy Scouts, Boy Scout leaders, and some parents came into our campsite. They were very nice to us, but I was unhappy that they showed up too early. We had to rush through our packing up. We left at about 12:30, a full 30 minutes before they should have even been there.

All in all, we had a great time, and it was an adventure, to say the least.

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Hike to Glen Falls

I am so happy that hiking season is returning! There are some extreme hikers that will hike year round, but we prefer to do it while staying cool, and not having to carry twice as much water.

On Labor Day, Monday morning, we got up early and we headed to the Glen Falls Trail. We started out small; this wasn’t even a mile and a half, but it was a good start nonetheless.

We were on the trail at 7:30 a.m. and we had the trail and waterfall to ourselves.

We hiked this trail last January, and this time around we had a totally different experience. The water was practically gushing compared to last time.

We wanted to take off our shoes and go wading in the water this time. We brought a towel so we could dry off our feet afterward. Last time, we learned our lesson, that the wet rocks in the base of the falls were quite slippery in our hiking boots. Our bare feet offered more traction.

The water was cold, but refreshing. It was a little scary in some places, where it was deeper and the water was rushing fast, but we waded back and forth safely.

This is a fairly easy hike that is good for beginner hikers and families. The parking lot is small though, and fills up quickly. I recommend getting to this trailhead early, or going on a weekday.

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Overlook Trail

The Overlook Trail is the easiest trail at Cloudland Canyon State Park, but not without some amazing views.

The trail is accessed by the West Rim parking lot. The trail heads to the right, away from some of the harder trails like the Waterfalls Trail and the West Rim Loop Trail. The trail hugs the edge of the mountain rim, which allows for some great views.

The trail is an easy, flat gravel path, which goes on for one half mile, before turning back to complete the full mile.

When we went a few weeks ago, Winter Falls was heavily flowing, which was a beautiful sight. Hemlock Falls was also easy to spot below.

Following the path, there are two main overlooks to check out, which are accessed by walking down stone steps.

I enjoyed these overlooks because it offered a view of the canyon that we had not seen before. We were able to see little sections of Sitton’s Gulch, which we had hiked in the winter time.

I think hiking enthusiasts might want to overlook the Overlook Trail (ha) for more strenuous hikes, but I think this trail is well worth it.

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A view of the canyon with Winter Falls in front.
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Close up of Winter Falls.
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Sitton’s Gulch is at the bottom of the gorge. We hiked down there in January.
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Glen Falls Trail

This past weekend Derek and I hiked the Glen Falls Trail.

This trail is located about halfway up Lookout Mountain, on the Tennessee side. This hike has varying lengths, depending on how long you want to make it. Our hike ending up being about 1.5 miles.

There is a small parking lot on the side of the road at the trailhead. The trail is an easy one, not too much elevation, not too rocky.

Your first glimpse of the falls is across the way while you’re on the trail. The trail leads to a small wooden bridge. The view of the waterfall is hidden from here, behind the rocks, but if you choose to keep going up, you have a better view of the waterfall from above.

The trail splits after the bridge. You can go straight, which I believe ends up at another parking lot, but we went to the right, up stone steps. You go through a small cave like tunnel. The trail follows the stream/creek, to the upper portion of the falls. I was not able to find out what this body of water is called.

You can get quite close to the upper falls, by walking across the stream of water. Be careful though! We found out the hard way that rocks covered by rushing water are extremely slippery!

From there, we also decided to climb up a bunch of rocks that offered a really nice view. This is not technically part of the trail, but this area does offer a lot in the way of exploring.

We were excited to go on this hike because last week we ordered hiking shoes. All this time we were wearing footwear that wasn’t really appropriate for trails. We both got Columbia shoes. I have always wanted hiking boots with red laces! Crossing the stream put the shoes to the test, and yes, they really are waterproof!

We have now seen five waterfalls on four different trails in the span of a month. When we first set out to hike in the fall months, I never expected that I’d be able to see so many different waterfalls, or any at all, for that matter!

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Cloudland Canyon State Park

Yesterday we went to Cloudland Canyon State Park, located in Dade County, Georgia. Cloudland Canyon is a part of Lookout Mountain. This is about a 40 minute drive from where we live.

We have hiked a lot in the last six months, and Cloudland Canyon was the last major hike that was on my hiking to-do list. We hiked the 2 mile Waterfalls Trail.

This trail in particular is better after a large rain event, because these water falls are dependent on the amount of rain. The falls tend to be dry in the summer. The waterfalls are at their heaviest flow in the winter and early spring. This is why we saved this hike for last.

It rained all day Wednesday, and Saturday morning called for partly cloudy skies, so it was the perfect timing.

It costs $5 to get into the park, and you get a little tag to put on your windshield.

We parked at the West Rim Loop Parking Lot. We started off on the West Rim Loop Trail, before catching the Water Falls Trail. There is plenty of directional signage along the way.

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You descend metal grate stairs to get down into the canyon. You reach a fork, with one direction leading to Cherokee Falls and the other to Hemlock Falls. We headed to Cherokee Falls first.

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It was a cold morning, but the exercise quickly warmed us up, and we shed layers as we made our way down the canyon.

It is quicker to get to Cherokee Falls, with less steps, too. Plus, you can get close up to these falls, where the water cascades down into a pool. Because of that, I think more people probably go to Cherokee Falls.

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After spending some time at Cherokee Falls, we retraced our steps back to the intersection, and then headed to Hemlock Falls.

Here you descend even further into the canyon, with many more steps. I wonder if anyone has ever counted?

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Hemlock Falls is viewed from further away, on a wooden platform. I think that both falls are equally beautiful, but it’s a lot more work to get to Hemlock Falls.

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Unfortunately, after viewing Hemlock Falls, it was time to turn back around and go up all the stairs that we just came down on. Here’s where the real exercise begins! There are plenty of sections with benches to stop and rest along the way, though.

We had a cold snap for two days, and because of all the recent rain, there was lots of ice everywhere, adding an extra layer of beauty to the surround nature. I enjoyed taking many photos of the ice.

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I think this is one of my favorite hikes that I have done so far. There are different trails here, ranging from easy to difficult. There is a one mile overlook trail (half a mile out and back) that I think we will do next time, and combine that with just Cherokee Falls.

Rock City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights

This week we went to Rock City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights. This is the second time we have been to Rock City.

We have been to quite a few Christmas light set ups in a few different states. Most of them have been bigger than Rock City, but I think Rock City holds up to the others!

There was one initial disappointment. I was looking forward all night to taking a photo of the star on top of the waterfall, from the little balcony that juts out off to the side.

Turns out, we completely bypassed that area. The waterfall was actually shut off. We did see the star at the top and off to the side, though.

We went through the whole thing and ended up at the exit, and I said, “But what about the view of the waterfall????” At first I thought that we had missed an entire section, but that wasn’t possible because there were workers guiding us down the paths at each section.

Later that night, I was still concerned about it, so I watched YouTube walk through videos! When I realized that yes, we did see the whole thing, I felt better. But honestly, I think this is a missed opportunity on Rock City’s part!

My favorite section was the Arctic Kingdom, which was filled with penguins. There were tons of string lights there, and they were all in frosty colors like blue, purple and green, which just happens to be all my favorite colors. It was so pretty there.

We also enjoyed the view of the city lights from Lover’s Leap, and the synchronized lights to music in the Magic Forest. The synchronized lights reminded me of the lights in Hershey Park, Pennsylvania, which we have seen many times.

There were social distancing measures in place as usual. Tickets have to be bought online, where a timed entry is reserved. In certain spots where distancing was difficult, masks were required.

This was a nice holiday themed outing, and I recommend it to anyone looking for something festive to do in the Chattanooga area.

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Lookout Mountain hike

As I am writing this, everything in my lower body hurts! Yesterday Derek and I did a hike on Lookout Mountain. We picked the trail from Cravens House to Sunset Rock, which is 3 miles out and back.

Derek and I like to hike, but 3 miles is the longest we have ever hiked here in Chattanooga. Usually we stick to 1-2 mile trails. This is also the hike that I have wanted to do the most since first hearing about this particular trail.

A sign at the start of the hike says to allow one to two hours round trip, but it took us almost four. This included at least 45 minutes out at Sunset Rock, though. We also took our time on the way up, stopping for lots of photos along the way.

We went on a beautiful, cool October day, which means that the trail was busy. We had to step off to the side many times to let other groups come and go.

The scenery was gorgeous on the trail. About half way to Sunset Rock you walk alongside towering rock cliffs. We even saw some rock climbers!

The trail starts out quite easy, which can be deceiving. I think that the closer you get to Sunset Rock, the harder the trail gets. If you come here, make sure to wear good hiking shoes, and always look down while walking! The trail is extremely rocky in some sections. The last section of the trail is a set of very steep stone steps. It wasn’t so bad going up, but coming down was much harder. My legs felt like jelly after that!

Sunset Rock is the end goal of this hike, 1.5 miles from Cravens House. Sunset Rock is a large flat area of rock on the side of the mountain, offering some fantastic views.

“In late October 1863, Confederate Generals James Longstreet and Braxton Bragg stood on Sunset Rock on the western side of Lookout Mountain. Below was the Union Army, attempting to open a supply line through the valley. Longstreet and Bragg planned their attack, which culminated in the Battle of Wauhatchie on October 28-29, 1863.”

Sunset Rock was very crowded while we were there, but everyone was respectful of each other, and even though we had to wait at some of the areas, everyone got their turns to check out the different views and take pictures.

Derek got some fantastic pictures of me. I am excited about how they turned out. Yes, they do look a little daring, but I felt safe the whole time. Well, I did freak out a tiny bit thinking Derek was too close to the edge getting some shots of me.

I would think that to avoid a crowd at Sunset Rock, you would either have to hike early in the morning, or maybe in the wintertime. However, the Sunset Rock area is large enough that everyone had their own little sections to themselves.

The hike back is considerably easier, and faster since it’s a gentle decline.

Back in the parking lot, we checked out the Cravens House, owned by Robert Cravens, which was there during the Civil War. Some fighting during the Battle of Lookout Mountain occurred by the house on Nov. 24, 1863. After the battle, the Union troops used the house as headquarters.

I am currently reading The Smoke At Dawn by Jeff Shaara, which is about the Battles of Chattanooga, one book in a series about the Civil War. It was thrilling to have just read about that battle taking place on Lookout Mountain, and then to be there the next day!

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