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.

Camping at Cloudland Canyon_1

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.

Camping at Cloudland Canyon_22

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.

Camping at Cloudland Canyon_21

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!

Camping at Cloudland Canyon_23
Camping at Cloudland Canyon_40

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.

Camping at Cloudland Canyon_18
Camping at Cloudland Canyon_41
Camping at Cloudland Canyon_36
Camping at Cloudland Canyon_13

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.

Overlook Trail_1
A view of the canyon with Winter Falls in front.
Overlook Trail_6
Close up of Winter Falls.
Overlook Trail_9
Sitton’s Gulch is at the bottom of the gorge. We hiked down there in January.
Overlook Trail_14
Overlook Trail_16

West Rim Loop Trail

This past Sunday we hiked the 4.8 mile West Rim Loop Trail at Cloudland Canyon. This is our third hike we have done at Cloudland Canyon.

This is considered a “lollipop” trail, because it is sort of in the shape of one. The first and last mile are the same, you retrace your steps, and the middle miles are a loop.

I usually research hikes before we set out, and most people suggested to do the loop clockwise. This is so that the first half of the loop is in the forest, and you save the best views along the edge of the rim for last.

The trail follows the Waterfalls Trail at the beginning, so there were quite a few people, but as soon as the trail split off, we didn’t see many people.

This trail starts out by following Daniel’s Creek, and there is a bridge crossing. Toward the beginning of the trail we were able to see the top of Cherokee Falls, which was neat to see, because we have seen it from the bottom, part of the Waterfalls Trail.

West Rim Loop Trail2

On the first part of the trail, we came to a neat out cropping of rocks. It was around this area that we caught site of a large woodpecker. I am sad that I was not able to get a picture.

West Rim Loop Trail19

Another highlight of this trail was getting to see the town of Trenton down below. I work in Trenton. With the help of my camera zoom lens, we were able to find the town’s square, and my office building.

West Rim Loop Trail36
West Rim Loop Trail37

Spring is definitely coming, and I cannot wait until it is in full force. The pollen makes me sneeze, but I was quite happy to see the trees in bloom.

West Rim Loop Trail15

This hike in particular made me feel a little homesick for Pennsylvania. There were certain view points of the canyon that looked exactly like the view point areas of the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, located near our previous home.

West Rim Loop Trail25

We started out with coats, because it was only in the 40s, but quickly warmed up and we put the coats in the backpack. I am looking forward to ditching the outer layer completely, and not lugging the extra weight!

I enjoyed this trail, but I was quite tired by the end. We tend to keep picking hikes where the ending is hard because of a steep ascend back up the mountain!

With the addition of this hike, we have hiked approximately 22.5 miles so far this year!

Sitton’s Gulch Trail

Yesterday we hiked Sitton’s Gulch Trail. This is the second hike that we have done that is a part of Cloudland Canyon State Park.

There are two options for hiking Sitton’s Gulch, because it is a there-and-back type trail. You can start the hike on either end, depending on how far you want to extend the hike.

If you start at the West Rim parking lot, you have to take part of the Waterfalls Trail down into the canyon to meet up with Sitton’s Gulch. If you go this way, the full trail is 6 miles long, three miles each way. When you’re coming back up, the stairs could be a strenuous ending.

The other end of the trail is located in Trenton, Georgia, in a residential neighborhood. We decided to start from this end of the trail. This way, we stopped our hike where Sitton’s Gulch meets the Waterfalls Trail, and did not have to go up or down any stairs. We have already been on the Waterfalls Trail, so we did not miss anything new. Doing the hike in this direction made it just over 4 miles.

Even though we shortened the hike, this is the longest hike Derek and I have ever done.

The trail is fairly easy, in that the path is mostly free from rocky and tree roots. However, there was a gradual incline the entire way, which was tiring at times.

The trail follows Daniel Creek, which was running fully after a few days of rain. There are many spots where the water flows down and over rocks, creating small waterfalls and rapids. There are many paths that split from the main trail to get a closer look at the creek.

The largest waterfalls are toward the end of the trail (or the beginning, depending on which way you go.)

One waterfall located high up even creates a small water crossing, depending on the amount of water flow.

We packed a lunch and enjoyed the view from the largest falls at the end, before turning back.

Cloudland Canyon has easily become my favorite place for hikes!

Sitton's Gulch Trail3
Sitton's Gulch Trail25
Sitton's Gulch Trail14
Sitton's Gulch Trail19
Sitton's Gulch Trail39
Sitton's Gulch Trail73
Sitton's Gulch Trail74
Sitton's Gulch Trail64
Sitton's Gulch Trail67

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.

Waterfall Trail70

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.

Waterfall Trail17
Waterfall Trail18

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.

Waterfall Trail41
Waterfall Trail41_1

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?

Waterfall Trail22
Waterfall Trail56

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.

Waterfall Trail61
Waterfall Trail63

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.

Waterfall Trail31
Waterfall Trail50
Waterfall Trail51
Waterfall Trail52

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.