July 29, 2013

36 hours in Cloudland Canyon

Filed under: travel — Frederick Noble @ 6:16 pm Share RSS

breakfastWhat with the incessant rain of late, we degenerates haven’t gotten our usual summer of camping. Our usual spot had another poor forecast for the weekend so we poked around for a place where we might have at least one night without a downpour. Cloudland Canyon and Chattanooga won out so we hurriedly tossed our gear in the car and sped up 75 north.

By the time we arrived at Cloudland Canyon State Park, the office was already closed for the evening. We figured out our camping spot with help from the camp host and got set up in time to fix dinner, but without time to do much else. At only $28, it was worth paying for the extra night so we’d have a full day (and an extra meal of grilled delights.) We didn’t bring any firewood and the $5 bundle sold at the camp wouldn’t last two nights,  so we made do with some charcoal and the handy built-in grill the park has at some sites.

Pro tip: as people pack up and leave, see if they left any firewood behind. Grab it before new folks begin checking in. The woods are thoroughly scavenged at state parks. Buying firewood from the park isn’t cheap either.

We got properly checked in at the ranger station and picked up some trail maps. Cloudland Canyon offers more trails than you could possibly hike in a couple of days.



The west rim trail offers some of the most beautiful scenery in the country, including sweeping panoramas of the canyon below. If you hike to the end of the gorge you get a look over the town and valley beyond. The sound of the creek echoes up the canyon, often intermingled with the voices of people playing in the many falls below. In the summer, however, you can’t see the falls from this hike. I recommend you turn back when you reach the end of the gulch. The trail continues on, but loops back into the woods for a long, somewhat dull hike.

Mind the gap!

treeAfter that 5 miles, we were ready for a dip in the waterfalls below so we began the descent into the chasm. The trails are marked fairly clearly, though I recommend you take the trail map with you at all times. We encountered one woman who’d gotten lost, and some intersections lack signage. Others have been creatively modified.


tree guts

Over the 36 hours in the park, we saw wild turkeys, this baby praying mantis, a hornet’s nest, butterflies, squirrels, beetles and more – without really leaving the beaten paths. The park is surrounded by more wilderness, so there’s plenty of life to gawk at.

Down and down and down further still, passing dramatic formations of shale and incredible piles of boulders, until we reached the creek.


Despite the roar we’d heard from the rim above, the creek itself isn’t that big. The whole thing snakes through some portions no wider than a yard or two, but numerous trickles come down the cliffs so the creek gets a big larger as you go (using this route, at least.)

fallsObey all signs at all times!


It said no wading, swimming, or… something. Ah, fuck it.

fallsI’ve been accused of being a bad influence. There were eight or so people lurking around the edges of the pool when I arrived, snapping photos and obviously aching to do everything the signs warned us against. I don’t think I made it all the way across the pool before half the onlookers began shedding their clothing and making their way across the slippery rocks into the cool, absolutely perfect water.


If it’s too chilly for you, you can slink around the left edge of the pool to walk behind the falls. Though I’ve made it look deserted in these photos, there was a constant flow of traffic to this site. Some folks just stopped for a moment, got a photo and walked on. Some serious hikers brought a hammock and lounged for hours. Though it’s not the pristine, secluded spot I’d prefer, it’s worth the hike and the small crowd.


We trekked downstream, abandoning the trail to follow the creek itself until we reached the rim of the next fall. Bolts jutted out of the flat rocks where a viewing platform probably stood, but now you’re not even supposed to, say, bring a picnic of salami, cheese, olives and apples and sit on the rim looking at the valley below, or the water trickling over the steps beside you.

lunch spot



It is a long way down to the platform looking at the face of this falls. We’d already had ample exercise and still had a long hike back up ahead of us so we turned back.


Next time, I’ll drive to the parking lot that is at the bottom of the gorge and hike up the creek-side path. Instead, we finished lunch and turned back to return to the other falls for another dip.


upThen the hike back up. Oh boy.

The firewood we’d saved and scavenged became fuel for dinner, a delicious roast pork loin with peppers and onions for tacos.


Chocolate and a nightcap or two are perfect accompaniment for a long session of staring at the fire channel. By the time we hit the bed,  we were pooped. Despite the air mattress going flat as a pancake, barely insulating us against the cold, pokey gravel below, and the camp getting more crowded with the arrival of the weekend, we slept through most of the night. A few raindrops spattered on the tent in the morning, sending us packing. Good thing too – my legs have yet to recover.

We sped over to Chattanooga, probably only half an hour away, for the rest of the weekend. Stay tune for that tale.

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