Chiseled by wind, water, ice and gravity, Cloudland Canyon is Georgia's most mystically named state park. West and south of Chattanooga, Tennessee, the park features hiking, camping, swimming, and even tennis. A few miles from the entrance of the park is one of Georgia's oldest and most well-known attractions, Rock City.
Cloudland Canyon is situated near the northern end of Lookout Mountain and offers a marked contrast within the park boundaries, from the rugged beauty of the canyon to the nearby rolling hills. While the park no longer maintains the extensive backcountry trail system it once had, the walk into Cloudland Canyon is challenging even for experienced hikers.
Cloudland (or Sitton Gulch as it was known prior to 1939) was purchased in parcels by the state beginning in 1939. Until that time the only access to the area was through Tennessee or Alabama. That year Georgia began work on Highway 136 to connect U. S. 41 to the recently purchased park. The Civilian Conservation Corps did much of the early work on Cloudland Canyon including the signage along the highway. This is a winding two-lane highway whether you approach from the east or the west. Be prepared for switchbacks and low-gear driving to ascend to Cloudland Canyon.
On the top of Lookout Mountain the terrain changes to rolling hills. Even from a few hundred feet away the canyon is not visible. The entrance from Highway 136 is well marked, on the north side of the road. A is required, or yearly system passes may be purchased at the Ranger Station. Once inside a park office offers books and T-shirts, and the rangers we talked to were very knowledgeable on the hiking and the natural history of the area, our two favorite subjects.
Once, more than 200 million years ago, a great ocean covered this land. Lookout Mountain was created by either a single earthquake, or more likely, several earthquakes. When it was first formed the entire mountain was still underwater, but slowly the water subsided, until the rim of the canyon was a beach on this ocean. As the great ocean dried Daniel Creek took over and continued eroding the rock.
From the Ranger's office continue down the road to the last parking area (if you stop at the office turn right at the first stop sign, if you don't, bear right at the V). This park is normally lightly used, so parking is rarely a problem, even on weekends. From this lot it is only a few steps to the first magnificent view and the start of the West Rim Trail.
Within a few feet of the parking lot spectacular scenery hints at pleasures to come. The view from the rim of the canyon opens to the Cumberland Plateau. On a clear day the vista can seem endless, with another hill just beyond the last. The best time for dramatic views is late Winter and early Spring, before the haze of Summer takes over. Well-planned overlooks afford frequent scenic views of the Canyon. Daniel Creek drops from the rim of the canyon to the floor in a series of cascades and waterfalls, two of which are visible from the Waterfall Trail.
The Rim Trail continues to the V of the canyon, where Daniel Creek starts its 900-foot drop, then on around to the west rim of this canyon. About .8 of a mile from the parking lot the Waterfall Trail comes off the Rim Trail to the right. This descends a series of steps to a large rock overhang. Shortly after the overhang the trail splits. The left trail goes to the upper falls. The trail to the right goes to the more dramatic lower falls. Both trails (or should I say "series of steps") are short.
The park varies in altitude from 800 feet to almost 2,000 feet at Cloudland Canyon's rim, and the park is immense, covering 2,300 acres of land. From the rim the floor of the canyon is as much as 900 feet below.