I have been on a kick lately to learn to hike 20 miles in a single day. Unfortunately, I seem to be stuck somewhere around 11 mi at the moment, so I decided to at least make it a hard 11 miles if nothing else. To get 11 mi at Cloudland Canyon you need to take West Rim Loop Trail, Waterfalls Trail, Sitton’s Gulch Trail, Overlook Trail, and Case Trail. Each of these is pretty spectacular and will make you feel like you’ve stepped into the setting of a J.R.R. Tolkien novel, especially in winter.
Waterfalls Trail – features two huge waterfalls. Cherokee Falls is like something out of a tropical sunscreen commercial, with its huge collection pool at the base. Hemlock Falls is more J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy elf homeland style.
West Rim Loop Trail – If rock faces are your thing, this is your trail. It winds through rhododendrons then climbs through a series of well made switch backs to the rim of the spectacular canyon. The trail then runs over rock faces, through fields of huge boulders, and in general there’s a lot of limestone about. There are numerous overlooks of the canyon. The backside of the trail is equally beautiful as it passes through a fairly substantial forest meadow with a picturesque stream flowing through.
Sitton’s Gulch Trail – This trail runs from the Waterfall’s Trail to a rear parking lot on the edge of the park. It is 3 MILES one way and 6 MILES out and back – the park website is confusing. All 3 miles run along the substantial and Middle Earth worthy river along a wide and obvious trail through boulder fields then flat forest flood plain. There are two side trails, Case Trail (which leads to a cave) and Wildflower Trail (which in season probably goes to some wildflowers). This is a great trail if you enjoy trail running as it undulates up and down and never really climbs hard enough to wear you out at a steady jog.
Overlook Trail – Frankly, despite the name, this is the least interesting of all the trails I hiked. It is a paved 1 mile trail following the rim of the canyon near the main parking area. There is a nice view of a distant waterfall on the far side of the canyon, but nothing much else in terms of excitement. However, if you need that last bit of mileage before going back to the car, this will get you there.
Is it goat approved: No. The stairs going down to the falls are the metal grill type – this is nearly impossible for most goats to handle going up and down because they freak out when asked to walk over grills due to how ruminates visually perceive depth.
How you get there: Google Cloudland Canyon State Park. It’s a very well known location.
Time for hike: The 11 mile round trip hike requires you to hike from the main parking area first down West Rim Loop Trail, then Waterfalls Trail, then Sitton’s Gulch Trail out to the parking lot. This is followed by Sittons Gulch back into the park, with a quick side trip on Case Trail to the cave, then continue on Sitton’s Gulch back up to the parking area on the insane stairs and around the Overlook Trail. With the stairs it took me about 5 hours to do the whole thing.
Best season to hike: Winter and probably spring for the wildflowers. The popularity of the park apparently sky rockets during the summer. In extremely snowy/icy weather the trails to the bottom of the canyon may be closed – I had some difficulty crossing ice on Waterfalls Trail at one point.
Trails to Take
The hike requires you to hike from the main parking area first down West Rim Loop Trail, then Waterfalls Trail, then Sitton’s Gulch Trail out to the parking lot. This is followed by Sittons Gulch back into the park, with a quick side trip on Case Trail to the cave, then continue on Sitton’s Gulch back up to the parking area on the insane stairs and around the Overlook Trail. The trails are extremely well marked with sign posts. The only trail I had issue with was West Rim Loop Trail as there are several side trails that go to the cabins, camping, and yurt areas. However, if you read the sign posts you won’t get turned around.
- It costs $5 a car to park in the park. I believe all the external parking areas are fee areas as well.
- The park is home to several caves. If you are going to go on a cave tour they have changing areas to allow you to change clothes and avoid spreading white nose disease, an extremely lethal disease that is causing bat population declines. Since bats eat bugs, save the bats!
- There are some really long stretches of stairs to go to the bottom of the canyon. Dogs can handle these stairs IF they are fairly large. If you are bringing a Chihuahua be prepared to carry it down and back up in your hands as the spacing on the stairs and the sheer number of them will probably be an issue.
- All camping within the park is reserved – if you want to back country camp you must reserve ahead of time.
- All caving in the park is by permit only – if you want to cave, plan ahead of time.
- If you want to take pictures of the canyon from West Rim Loop Trail come in the afternoon – in the morning the sunlight is angled in such a way that the far walls of the canyon are very hard to photograph.
Definitely in the running for Best Park in Georgia!