Having left Deep Creek Campground and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park behind us, my four daughters and I headed to our weekend camping and hiking destination, Cloudland Canyon State Park, Georgia. It's difficult now to imagine that 200 million years ago the entire range was under the ocean. What's even harder to fathom is that the little Sitton Gulch Creek –1,000 feet below– still carries on its work forming the landscape to the delight of everyone who visits.
With its close proximity to Chattanooga, Tennessee, camping here gave us a great mix of Southern culture and outdoor activities. If you get tired of one, you are safe in the knowledge that the other is not all that far away.
TIP: Be forewarned that Chattanooga's traffic can be seriously congested and plan accordingly.
Cloudland Canyon State Park
A quiet but curvy road led up to Cloudland Canyon State Park which is located on the western edge Georgia where it bumps up against Tennessee to the north and Alabama to the west. This mountainous part of Georgia was different from our other adventures to coastal Georgia (Savannah and Skidaway Island State Park), but also familiar (to us) as it's reminiscent of western North Carolina with its pine, rhododendron, and thick mountain laurel foliage. We paid the $5 per vehicle entrance pass, checked in at the park visitor center, and picked up a few camp essentials: ice, a bundle of wood, and a trail map.
Cloudland Canyon State Park Things to Know:
- Park entrance fee: $5 per day (or for the duration of your camping stay)
- Park Visitor Center: maps, wood, ice, other camping supplies, ice cream bars
- Park Hours: 7am - 10pm; after hour gated access code for campers
- Astronomy Program: 1st Saturday of the month from 8-10pm; meet at the disc golf course entrance
- Activities: Biking (rentals available), fishing, disc golf ($4/person/round), hiking, caving (permit only)
Cloudland Canyon State Park Campground Tent Walk-In Sites
After your check-in at the Cloudland Canyon State Park visitor center, make sure you keep the campground map handy as there is no signage directing you at the campsite location. Also, when reserving online, pay close attention to the campsite you reserve - they vary from 105 feet to 2500 feet in distance from the parking lot. What you gain in convenience by being close to parking, you lose in privacy and beauty. What did we choose? Proximity to the parking lot and the bathroom.
Note Bene: It turns out that our site (#30) was often mistaken as a crossroads, so we met many of our fellow campers as they searched for the correct path. We even nicknamed it the "Meet and Greet" site. However, once the initial confusion was over, we enjoyed its size and convenience.
We also found that we were sharing our weekend with the red salamander - handsome, isn't it?!
Cloudland Canyon State Park Campground Things to Know:
- Reservations: $20/night; 30 walk-in campsites available
- Facilities: hot showers, flush toilets, potable water at the comfort station
- Campsites: vary from 105 feet to 2500 feet in distance to the parking lot (and bathroom).
- Bathrooms: dated; not cleaned our weekend- showers had numerous spiders and various insects (dead & alive)
Cloudland Canyon State Park Campground East Rim & West Rim RV/Tent Sites
Curiosity often gets the best of us (it's our one weakness), so we drove through the East and West Rim campsites just to get an idea if they were better options for us on another stay. The West Rim spots seemed to be more wooded than the East Rim, and therefore offered more privacy which is especially hard to come by in an area with over 70 sites. If you have a lot of gear and prefer an easier car camping experience, then the East and West Rim campsites might be a better option for you rather than the walk-in sites.
Cloudland Canyon State Park East & West Rim Things to Know:
- Reservations: $32/night; 72 RV/Tent campsites available
- Facilities: hot showers, flush toilets, electric/water hookups
- Campground Loops: West Rim appears more wooded than East Rim
Cloudland Canyon State Park Picnic Area/Interpretative Center
Convenient to the main trailheads, bathrooms, and the Interpretative Center, Cloudland Canyon State Park offers a number of picnic tables as well as reservable picnic shelters for large group gatherings.
Cloudland Canyon State Park Picnic Shelter Things to Know:
- Reservations: $30/day use 7am-10pm
- Group Size: up to 50 people (5 picnic tables)
Cloudland Canyon State Park Trails
With gorgeous canyon views and impressive waterfalls, there are a variety of hikes ranging from easy to strenuous.
Hike Overlook Trail (Easy)
At only one-mile round trip and minimal elevation change, the Overlook Trail traces the rim of Cloudland Canyon and offers the easiest access to the stunning canyon views. Follow the light blue blazes. This is a great trail if you have young ones, or are looking to introduce your family to hiking with the promise of a fantastic view at the half-way point.
Hike West Rim Loop Trail (Moderate)
Technically, the West Rim Loop Trail is a lollipop trail when starting from the Main Trailhead. However, we turned it into a loop by starting from the access path at the Walk-In Campground (also can be accessed for a loop from the West Rim Campground, West Rim cottages, and Yurt Village).
This turned the 5-mile lollipop trail into a 3-mile loop hike on a well-marked trail through rhododendrons, mountain laurel, and occasional blueberry and raspberry bushes. We spotted numerous sassafras trees among the pines and hardwoods. If you are hiking with kids, there is plenty of opportunity to have some water play with creek and stream crossings along the way. Your budding herpetologist can look for a variety of snakes, salamanders, and lizards that call this part of Georgia home. Going counterclockwise, the best views are on the first half of the hike, and the kids enjoyed the boulders at the end.
Things to Know:
- Caution: If you do the loop this way, watch out that you don't accidentally turn down the lollipop part - keep left at the junction (there is a map present).
- Hike: Follow the yellow blazes and watch out for rocks, roots, and abundant poison ivy along the way.
- Time: 2 hours
Hike Waterfalls Trails: Cherokee Falls and Hemlock Falls (Strenuous)
The approximately two-mile round trip strenuous Cherokee Falls and Hemlock Falls hike starts at the same point off the Main Trailhead, and after a short descent splits.
Hike to the left takes you to Cherokee Falls with a reward of a 60-foot cascading waterfall fed from Daniel Creek.
Return to the split and go right for a much steeper hike involving 600 steps down - which of course, means 600 steps back up! Daniel Creek continues from Cherokee Falls and plummets down 90 feet as Hemlock Falls. The stairs are a mix of well maintained treaded metal variety, wood, and at times stone, and can be very steep.
Things to know:
- Caution: Watch out for the substantial amount of poison ivy on the trail edges.
- Hike difficulty: 600 steep steps down
- Warning: no climbing or wading allowed at waterfall bases
- Water flow varies - best time is winter and early spring; check before your hike to avoid disappointment.
- Time: 1.5 -2 hour hike (includes time spent at base of each waterfall)
Nearby Attractions to Cloudland Canyon State Park:
Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park
Established as a National Park in 1890, covering over 10,000 acres, and hosting two separate visitor centers, the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park is the largest (and oldest) of America's Civil War parks. The 1863 battles marked a turning point in the war. Although the Confederates won at Chickamauga, the Union gained control at Chattanooga, crippling the Confederacy supply line.
TIP: If your Junior Ranger wants a badge, you need to leave enough time for the two battlefields.
Interested in reading more about the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park - Read our blogpost:
Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center
Begin at this visitor center, both for the 26-minute introductory film, The Campaign for Chattanooga: Death Knell of the Confederacy, that sets the scene, and because historically, the battle started at Chickamauga. Pick up a Junior Ranger booklet and check out the Civil War exhibits, particularly the excellent Fuller Gun Collection. Afterwards, consider driving the free cell phone tour and stopping at the eight highlighted stops. The park staff also offers multiple programs such as living history demonstrations, guided hikes, and car caravan tours.
Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center Things to Know:
- Hours: 8:30am-5pm; closed Christmas Day and New Year's Day
- Admission: Free
- Address: 3370 LaFayette Road, Fort Oglethorpe, GA
- Parking: Free
Lookout Mountain Battlefield Visitor Center
Located just outside Point Park, this visitor center has exhibits on the siege and battle for Chattanooga. The highlight of the collection is the impressive mural The Battle of Lookout Mountain by James Walker, an eyewitness to the battle. After answering the last bit of questions, turn the Junior Ranger booklet in for that hard-earned badge!
Lookout Mountain Battlefield Visitor Center Things to Know:
- Hours: 8:30am - 5pm daily; closed Christmas Day and New Year's Day.
- Admission: Free
- Address: 110 Point Park Road, Lookout Mountain, TN
- Parking: Pay at kiosk near Point Park Gate- need your license plate number (we paid $4 for 2 hours)
Walk across the street to the 10-acre memorial park, Point Park, pay your park fee, and then pass through the massive castle gate modeled after the US Army Corps of Engineers insignia. A stroller-friendly paved walkway takes you through the various historic monuments, battery positions, and scenic overlooks. Highlights: New York Peace Memorial, the Moccasin Bend overlook, and the Ochs Memorial Observatory. Ask at the gate for the times for the ranger-led walking tours of Point Park or the Living History Programs --- which often involve musket gunfire.
Point Park Things to Know:
- Hours: 8:30am - sunset
- Admission: $7/ adults 16 years & older; free 15 years & younger or with America the Beautiful Pass
- Parking: Pay at kiosk to the left of Point Park Gate- need your license plate number (we paid $4 for 2 hours)
Born from the imaginative mind of Frieda Carter and her love for European folklore and fairy tales, Rock City combines gorgeous gardens, spectacular vistas, and adorable gnome figures into a delightful, whimsical escape. Early morning arrival will allow you to enjoy the grounds and views at your own pace- leave yourself a couple of leisurely hours. First, enter the enchanting Grand Corridor, squeeze through the Needle's Eye between the two towering boulders, walk with trepidation across the 180-foot Swing-a-Long Bridge, gaze at the lovely 90-foot High Falls, and clap your hands at the fanciful finale, Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village. For even more fantastical fun, count the gnomes that you find as you meander your way on the Enchanted Trail. We found 58!
Rock City Things to Know:
- Hours: 8:30am-8pm
- Admission: Price varies based on date and time of visit - see Rock City website for pricing options.
- Address: 1400 Patten Road, Lookout Mountain, GA 30750
- Amenities: Free parking, onsite restaurants, gift shop
Southern Belle Riverboat
If you've spent a few days adventuring from your basecamp at Cloudland Canyon State Park, chances are your step count is pretty high from exploring all that the region has to offer. Perhaps it's time to sit back and allow the beauty, scenery, and history come to you for a change! A cruise on the Southern Belle Riverboat might just be the ticket.
Friendly, knowledgeable historians narrate all of the cruises and put into perspective the historical significance that the Tennessee River played in the region. From the base of Lookout Mountain to the center of Chattanooga, the Southern Belle Riverboat experience ranks at the top of most who visit.
Southern Belle Riverboat Things to Know
- Admission: Price varies based on date and time of cruise - check Southern Belle Riverboat website for options.
We had an amazing time in the Chattanooga area! The weather cooperated and we were able to spend all our time out-of-doors. We hope to return soon and check out other places that make Chattanooga such a well-rounded vacation destination such as the Hunter Museum of Modern Art, Tennessee Aquarium, and the International Towing Museum.
Let us know in the comments suggestions for our next visit! We'd love to hear from you.