Views from River City: Cloudland Canyon

1 month ago Triangle 0

Written by: Nathan Kernell, assistant editor

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. —It’s no secret that Chattanooga and the surrounding areas hold some of the most beautiful and unique outdoor scenery in the country; rock climbers and bouldering enthusiasts especially find some of America’s most suitable terrain for the practice of their sport. 

As recently as 2015, Chattanooga captured Outside Magazine’s prestigious “Best Town Ever” award, becoming the only city to win the award twice thanks to its unique access to hiking trails and other natural phenomena. 

After recognizing the spectacular outdoor experiences that I was missing out on, I made it my mission to visit and photograph the best outdoor locations that the greater Chattanooga area had to offer. My goal is to help build enthusiasm and interest surrounding the Chattanooga outdoor community, while also showing people amazing natural areas they have yet to see.

Cloudland Canyon State Park’s incredible natural water displays, coupled with its ideal, yet fairly strenuous hiking and climbing terrain, made it the perfect destination to kick off Views from River City, a biweekly feature of different outdoor areas deserving of recognition around the Chattanooga area.

Cloudland Canyon’s short 30-minute drive across the Georgia state line allows for easy access, and the $5 daily parking fee is little sacrifice for the scenic viewing pleasures received in return. 

An overlook of Cloudland Canyon.

In addition to the high-quality scenery and hiking that the park provides, the list of other forms of recreation is seemingly endless. From camping sites to gold mining, to even disc golf, the park hosts an array of activities catering to many interests besides hiking and rock climbing. 

My sights were sent on the waterfalls and intense hiking, so the other activities offered by the park would have to wait.

My journey began on the short Overlook Trail, just off the main trailhead. This trail offers a relaxing start that takes visitors right up to the rim of the canyon for a picturesque view of the surrounding terrain. 

Although this offered a good precursor to what was ahead, the real highlights of the trip came on the suitably named Waterfalls Trail, and the West Rim Loop Trail. 

Cherokee falls, featuring a 60ft drop.

As I started down the Waterfalls Trail, my expectations were all over the place. The trail’s description called it “strenuous” and “not suitable for everyone”, but I have limited prior knowledge as for what strenuous really means to a fairly new hiker such as myself. What I will say is that the hike is tough, but not impossible. 

The 1.8 mile round trip distance may seem inviting, but for the nine-tenths of a mile of the hike that is returning to the main trailhead, it is entirely uphill and fairly steep. 

Although 600 steps are included to ease the difficulty of the hike, they seem just as difficult on the way back up. 

Cherokee Falls is seen just a half-mile down the trail, and I found it hard to believe that this was not the park’s most beautiful waterfall. Water gorgeously falls into a bowl-like area that, had it been warmer, would offer the perfect destination for swimming. 

High rock walls surrounded three of the four sides of the crater that was continuously filled by the large fall, and water escaped further down the canyon through a creek that fed more falls down the trail. 

From here I followed the trail along the escaping creek and was led to the end of the Waterfalls Trail and onto a connecting trail called the Sitton’s Gulch Trail. The connecting trail was only hiked long enough to see a bit more of the creek that flowed under a bridge, and I soon turned back to head up the canyon. 

Hemlock falls, featuring a 90ft drop.

On the journey back, another waterfall came into view that I initially mistook for Cherokee again. Upon closer inspection, I realized this one was bigger and more astounding than the first, and had apparently been completely missed on the way down. 

The 60-foot height of Cherokee pales in comparison to the 90-foot drop at Hemlock Falls. The hike to get closer to Hemlock was tougher than the hike up to Cherokee, with numerous large rocks and bushes lying between me and a closer view. 

Additionally, the sheer amount of mist coming off the fall made it difficult to grab a picture worth showing that was from closer than 150 feet. I found myself making mental comparisons between what I was viewing and scenes from Jurassic Park, while the mist continued to soak both me and my camera. 

The return journey was much tougher than the trip down, but it was also nice that the astonishing views from before could be seen one last time before my departure. After what seemed like forever hiking uphill, the main trailhead came into view. 

Before I officially left Cloudland Canyon, I took a brief hike down the West Rim Loop Trail. Backpacker Magazine had previously placed this trail in its list of top 10 hikes in the U.S., so I felt obligated to hike it, if for only a brief few minutes. 

Although this brief trek did not take me far enough to view any of the overlooks farther down the trail, West Rim Loop did offer somewhat of a break from my previous expedition down into the canyon and offered a good ending point to a worthwhile day.

I found Cloudland Canyon to be an ideal camping and hiking destination, even if only for a couple of hours during the weekend. 

The scenic overlooks, impressive natural water displays, and peaceful outdoor experience, as well as the numerous other activities offered by the park, allow for outdoor enjoyment to be at a maximum, not only for seasoned outdoor enthusiasts, but for newbies and families as well.

More photos from Cloudland Canyon available on Instagram @dirty_nate_photos

Nathan Kernell is a junior majoring in communications with a focus in digital media. He enjoys playing on the baseball team and also playing guitar. Nathan has always enjoyed writing so it only seemed fitting to pursue that path in college.