Located in Georgia's most northwestern corner, the 2,350-acre Cloudland Canyon is easily one of the most scenic state parks in North Georgia. However, because it is tucked so out of the way, not even Georgia's most passionate hiking enthusiasts have made their way into its boundaries. Within its seclusion, the nature of Cloudland Canyon has managed to distill its best features into one beautiful venue. Towering boulders and canyon cliffs provide the perfect overlooks for the sparkling streams that snake their way throughout the park, creating beautiful waterfalls along the way. The Cumberland Plateau and nearby Lookout Mountain provide the best sweeping views over the park, but also mark the beginning of Cloudland Canyon's scenic Waterfall Trail that shows off some of the state parks best waterfalls, Cherokee Falls and Hemlock Falls. Although the out-and-back hike is only 2 miles, it drops over 400 feet as it travels down the canyon wall to the waterfalls.
|Trail Length:||2.2 miles||City/State:|| Rising Fawn,
|Elevation:||400 feet gain
The Cloudland Canyon Waterfall Trail departs from the East Rim parking area from the West Rim/Waterfall Trail trailhead, although it only follows the West Rim Trail for a small portion of the hike before splitting off. From the nearest town of Rising Fawn, Cloudland Canyon State Park is just a quick 30 minute drive north on I-59 with the Exit 11 taking hiker's right onto the park's main road. After passing through the camping/visitor's area, the East Rim parking lot is located on the left, although the road dead ends shortly after, so it is hard to miss.
The Waterfall Trail starts at the West Rim / Waterfall Trail trailhead, starting its decline right away through a light forest of cedar. Before dipping down into the trail, taking a glance over the canyon walls from the parking lot is highly recommended. While the East and West Rim Trails provide better views along their pathways, the view from the parking lot certainly isn't a bad one.
The first mile of the trail encompasses two junctions, so hikers need to be careful to take the right turn unless they fancy taking a nice twelve mile hike above the canyon. The first junction is only a few hundred feet into the trail. A left will continue on with the much longer West Rim Trail, while right descends deeper along the canyon walls, hikers will want to keep right. As hikers head deeper, tracing the towering limestone canyon walls, they'll notice a number of posted signs warning of the danger of falling rocks overhead. While there has never been a major incident with this, it still merits paying attention while hiking along the majority of the trail that traces the wall.
As the trail continues downwards, skirting the rough limestone, hikers will undoubtedly feel like they are walking over wooden boardwalks and stairs more than they are the hard packed dirt trail. It was only a few years ago that hikers had to navigate the narrow dirt trail all the way down the canyon, but the stairs have made the trail less hazardous, but still just as strenuous.
After the long, wooden stairway way the navigates what would have been a tricky section of hiking, visitors will cross a boardwalk that runs over a stream. This stream, named Sitton's Gulch, feeds the first of hike's waterfalls, but hikers can only hear it in the distance. However, even further in the distance they will be able to spot the second of the hike's waterfalls, Hemlock Falls. Unfortunately, this distant vista does the waterfall little justice.
Half a mile in, the second junction appears, right bypasses the first waterfall, but continues onto the second. Hikers will want to keep left and travel along the curve that travels down to Cherokee Falls. This set of waterfalls fueled by the Sitton's Gulch stream plunges 60 feet down in a beautiful blue pool of water from a huge arced rock outcrop. Hikers who visit after a solid rainfall will find the falls more intense with spray easily wafting over to the vista point along the trail. However, as the stream varies with seasonal rainfall, it can be a little less intense during drier years, but it is no less amazing. With the abundance of moisture, the canyon limestone and boulders in the area in this area are thick with lichen, vines and a variety of colourful mosses.
Although hikers will undoubtedly want to explore the large boulders surrounding Cherokee Falls, there is still yet another waterfall to see. After hikers retrace their steps to the previous intersection, they should take the remaining trail for the last leg of the hike. After just over a half mile, visitors will reach the wooden viewing platform for the Hemlock Falls.
Bigger and better than Cherokee Falls, Hemlock Falls drops a stunning 90 feet from another arced rock outcrop into a boulder-filled canyon below. Unlike Cherokee Falls, hikers can't get up close to Hemlock Falls as the lookout platform is raised above a graveyard of large slippery boulders.
After taking in the majesty of this final waterfall, it's time to turn back and return to the canyon's East Rim. As an out-and-back hike, it is a simple matter of hikers retracing their steps. However, after travelling down a 400-foot drop in elevation, travelling another 400 feet back up is no easy task.