Little-Known Fact: Cloudland Canyon State Park straddles a deep gorge cut into the mountain by Sitton Gulch Creek.
Transfixed, I stand on the rocky outcropping, watching a pair of peregrine falcons soar, circle, and dive in the steady breeze. Are they hunters or lovers? Suddenly a gust of wind tears the hat off my head. I turn just in time to see it fall to the floor of Cloudland Canyon. It's lost, and when I turn my eyes back to the birds, they too have disappeared.
That's a sign to get moving, but I take one last look into the gorge. From this overlook I can see most of the Y-shaped canyon. Its 1,000-foot sandstone walls were carved over the past 30 million years to the west by Daniel Creek and to the east by Bear Creek. The trees at the bottom display all the muted colors of fall: rust and ocher and deep forest green. This is the focal point of Cloudland Canyon State Park, a 2,200-acre parcel in the northwest corner of Georgia. It's a natural wonder unlike anything else in the state.
I continue my hike along the 6.5-mile Backcountry Trail, one of two loop trails in the park. The trek begins with a steep descent into the canyon. After crossing Bear Creek six or seven times, the trail ascends the other side and heads into a deep forest. The ground is so uniformly covered with leaves that the trail is hidden, and I'm dependent on the red blazes to find my way. I manage to finish the day's hike without getting lost and settle in for a crisp, clear Georgia night.
On Sunday morning I try the second loop. The head of the West Rim Hiking Trail is at the main overlook near the parking area. (The first quarter mile is paved in asphalt and wheelchair accessible.) From here I have a magnificent view of Sitton Gulch, and I spend a moment contemplating the layers of shale and sandstone that reveal the geologic history of the area.
A short spur trail soon cuts off and leads down a long series of wooden steps and boardwalks to two magnificent waterfalls. At the upper falls a sheet of water pours over a bowl-shaped rock wall and plummets 50 feet into a large pool. Daniel Creek continues down to the lower falls, where it cascades over a 90-foot cliff. Despite the dazzling height, the most spectacular feature of this waterfall is the monolithic boulder that juts out of the settling pool.
After backtracking out of the gorge, I continue along the 4.5-mile West Rim Trail. In contrast to the more remote but less view-intensive Backcountry Trail, this one is almost entirely on the edge of the canyon, offering seemingly unlimited vistas and several smooth boulders for picnicking. Eventually the trail turns its back to the canyon and loops back through another stunning forest.
If you're looking for solitude, plan a trip during the winter, when the car-campers retreat and prime backcountry sites are there for the choosing. Trust me, the peregrines will be all the company you'll need.
Cloudland Canyon State Park
Rt. 2, Box 150
Rising Fawn, GA 30738
Georgia Department of Natural Resources
205 Butler St., Suite 1352 East
Atlanta, GA 30334
Reservations: (800) 864-PARK
Cloudland is located 120 miles northwest of Atlanta and 30 miles south of Chattanooga, Tennessee.
From Chattanooga, take I-24 south to I-59. Get off at the Trenton Exit and follow the signs to Cloudland Canyon State Park. From Atlanta, take I-75 north to Exit 133, Hwy. 136. Drive west 16 miles past LaFayette.
Depending on individual weather preferences, you can visit Cloudland Canyon any time of year. Summer temperatures can range anywhere from 50 to 90 degrees F, while winter temperatures are generally 20 to 40 degrees F. Snowfall varies, and rain is probably most common in April.
There are some annual special events ~ such as Wildlife Weekend in March, Wildflower Program in April, and Overnight Backpacking Trip in October ~ that you may want to plan your trip around.
Peregrine falcons soar above the canyon where you can find coyote, raccoons, fox, squirrels, rabbits, and turkey. It is safe to say there are no bears.
Information not available.
Maples, poplars, white oaks, Virginia pines, beech, sourwood, mountain laurel, and rhododendron highlight the landscape.
There are various camping options:
- On the back side of this trail are 30 walk-in (walk up to a half-mile to site) campsites with tent platforms and picnic tables. They are without power or water, with access to one bathhouse. A small stream flows nearby, but the water must be purified before drinking. These sites are open April through October only.
- There are also 75 tent and trailer sites with power, water, hot showers, washers, and dryers for $13 per night.
- Pioneer camping accommodates groups of 15 or up to a maximum of 25 per site. These sites have water and pit toilets.
- Primitive camping along a 7-mile trail is $3 per person. There are two designated sites with no facilities.
- There are also cottages, group shelters, and picnic shelters available.
- Reservations (800/864-PARK) are recommended for all sites, but not required. They must be made at least two days prior to arrival but no more than 11 months in advance.
- Swimming pools are open Memorial Day until Labor Day. A playground and tennis courts are also available.
Contact park office for information.
Georgia State Park Pass is $2 per vehicle. An annual park pass (valid at any Georgia State Park except Jekyll Island, Lake Lanier Islands, and Stone Mountain Parks) is $25. Senior citizen and disabled veteran discounts are available.
Backcountry travel is by permit only. Hikers must register at the office.
Primitive campsites are $3 per night, and walk-in campsites are $8 per night. More developed tent and trailer sites are $13 per night.
Pioneer camping is $20 per night; each additional person is $1 per night.
Cottage costs are two bedrooms, $60 per night Sunday through Thursday and $75 per night Friday and Saturday, with a maximum capacity of 8; three bedrooms, $70 per night Sunday through Thursday and $85 per night Friday and Saturday, with a maximum capacity of 10.
Swimming pool admission is $1.50 (children under 2 are free). An annual swim pass is $20 adults, $15 children, $15 senior citizens, and $50 family (up to six immediate family members).
- Fires are allowed in the designated campsites.
- Stays are limited to 14 days.
Purify all water before drinking.
Leave No Trace:
Contact park office for information.
All LNT guidelines apply.
Photocopied park maps are available at the office. A geologic guidebook is also available.
Topo maps that include Cloudland Canyon (maps 24 and 44) are available for $2.50 (plus shipping) from:
Georgia Geological Survey/Map and Publication Dept.
19 Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. SW, Rm. 400
Atlanta, GA 30334
Other Trip Options:
- The James H. "Sloppy" Floyd State Park is about 45 miles to the southeast.
- Farther east is the Chattahoochee National Forest.
- Other nearby attractions include Chief Vann House State Historic Site, New Echota State Historic Site, Chickamauga National Battlefield, and Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, Tennessee.