Cloudland Canyon State Park, once known as Sittons Gulch, is one of the prettiest of Georgia’s state parks, and a beautiful Georgia canyon. It’s located in the state’s Northwest corner about half an hour from Chattanooga, TN in Rising Fawn, Ga.
Located on the western edge of Lookout Mountain, Cloudland Canyon is one of the state’s largest and most scenic parks in Georgia. With its beautiful rugged geology as part of the Cumberland Plateau, this North Georgia park offers ample outdoor recreation, home to thousand-foot-deep canyons, layers of sandstone and shale, wild caves, waterfalls, cascading bear creek, dense woodland, and abundant wildlife.
Hiking and mountain biking trails abound. The most popular hiking paths include the short Overlook Trail, strenuous Waterfalls Trail, and moderate West Rim Loop Trail. Mountain biking is available at the newly developed Five Points Recreation Area and the Cloudland Connector Trail. The park also offers disc golf, a fishing pond, trails for horseback riding, picnicking, and overlooks. Guests seeking an overnight experience can choose from comfortable cottages, yurts, or several different camping and backpacking options.
CLOUDLAND CANYON STATE PARK, RISING FAWN, GA
Cloudland Canyon State Park is a perfect day trip from Atlanta, or if you’d like to stay over-night, there are regular camp and RV sites, as well as backcountry camping. My boys really liked the walk-in sites. It was far enough from the car that you felt in the woods, yet not so far that it was a pain to haul your gear to the site.
Overnight guests can choose from cottages near the canyon edge, a modern campground and spacious, walk-in tent sites. Backpackers can enjoy camping in a hemlock grove on the 2-mile Backcountry Loop.
Here’s a bit more on what to expect at Cloudland Canyon State Park, and the area around Rising Fawn, Ga.
CLOUDLAND CANYON HIKING
Hiking the rim of Cloudland Canyon and exploring their many trails and the rock outcrops was a fun family activity for my crew.
There are two trails with waterfalls. This trail is two miles and can be strenuous. The trail drops quickly down into the canyon depths to two sizable waterfalls, Cherokee and Hemlock Falls. It is approximately ½ mile to Cherokee Falls, and a much steeper ½ mile further down to Hemlock Falls. The trail includes 600 stairs that can be difficult for dogs. Keep this in mind if you are hiking with your pup. If you only have time for one, I thought Hemlock was the more scenic, although both are beautiful. There are 600 steps down to the falls, which isn’t too bad, but remember, that means there are 600 steps back UP to the top, so pace yourself and little ones.
The scenery of the falls varies with the seasons, but in general, winter and early spring offer the strongest and most constant flow.
MORE TRAILS TO HIKE
Overlook Trail. This is a more leisurely hike for beginners and children. This trail runs along the rim of Cloudland Canyon for approximately a half-mile. Be sure and hike down to the Main Overlook, arguably the best viewpoint in the park.
West Rim Loop Trail. Backpacker Magazine rated this trail as one of the top 10 hikes in the United States! This rocky trail is easily accessible from the main trailhead.
Sitton’s Gulch Trail. This trail follows the Waterfalls Trail deep into the canyon, then continues down to the canyon mouth. The trail follows Daniel Creek through open, green hemlock groves and overlooks numerous small waterfalls cascading through limestone crevices, and of course the beautiful Sitton Gulch Creek.
Two Mile Backcountry Loop. Featuring secluded camping sites situated within pristine groves. The trail passes through open woods, progressing down a moderate grade into a hollow.
Meadowlands Trail. This trail begins at the disc golf course; the short Meadowlands Trail meanders down through the fishing pond area of the park, a former farmer’s homestead. Guests are encouraged to stroll around the perimeter of the meadow, enjoying the uniqueness of this environment. In late June and early July, thousands of wild blackberries are ripe for picking.
CLOUDLAND CANYON CAMPING
My boys loved camping in the walk-in camping area. Although you have to carry gear to the campsite, it wasn’t far from the parking lot and once set up, we liked the woods completely around us rather than sleeping close to the car. We camped on site 12 at East Rim Campground but site 16 overlooks a creek and looked like an even better choice. Site selection for the walk-in camping at Cloudland is first-come, first-serve, so get there early to secure a specific location. Cottages and yurts at Cloudland State Park are also available on-site.
There is a trail from the walk-in sites to the West Rim hiking. It’s a pretty walk. At one point we crossed Daniel Creek and my youngest suggested this was a perfect place to play some Pooh Sticks. If you are unfamiliar with the Winnie-the-Pooh story, Pooh and his friends drop sticks on one side of the bridge and then race to the other to see which one comes out first. We’ve had many a fun game of Pooh Sticks on various bridges including this one at Cloudland Canyon.
At Cloudland Canyon State Park, there are lots of camping options including 16 cottages, 72 tent sites, trailer and RV sites, 30 walk-in campsites, 10 Yurts, and 13 backcountry campsites.
THINGS TO DO AT CLOUDLAND CANYON STATE PARK
There is a playground, disc golf course, hiking (mentioned trails above), horseback riding, geocaching, picnic areas, fishing, and even tennis courts available at Cloudland Canyon – although the tennis courts weren’t in great shape during our visit. If you’re looking for more adventure, there are caves at Cloudland Canyon. Maps to Sittons Cave are available at the Ranger’s office if you want to go on your own, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you know what you are doing, it’s very easy to get turned around in a dark winding cave. For the novice, consider a guided walking tour of nearby Ruby Falls.
If you’d rather take to the sky instead of crawling underground, try hang gliding. Lookout Mountain hangs gliding, located a few minutes outside the Cloudland Canyon gate is the only hang gliding outfit between Florida and North Carolina. My 7 year-old enjoyed it so much, he wanted to go up again as soon as his feet hit the ground.
Cloudland Canyon is a short half hour drive to downtown Chattanooga, TN and a great base for a Chattanooga vacation. On the way to Chattanooga, stop at the famous Rock City Gardens which is about half way between Cloudland Canyon, Ga. and Chattanooga, TN.
What: Cloudland Canyon State Park, Rising Fawn, Ga.
When: Something new throughout the year
Cost: $5 parking fee
WHERE TO STAY NEAR CLOUDLAND CANYON
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