Stepping outside at the beginning of September, there is a faint chill in the air. Summer is gathering her green belongings while Fall’s cool breezes drift through seasons door. Today we are day tripping to northwest Georgia to visit Cloudland Canyon State Park. This park is one of Georgia’s gateways to the Appalachian mountains. I have been enjoying this park since I was a youngster. It’s 10am and cool enough for a flannel. We load up the car and head north!
Driving up I-75 the trucks and cars barrel up and down the freeway. Light rain falls as we pass through Marietta up towards Calhoun. The crisp morning is a beckoning call to the mountains.
We pull off the freeway onto the Lagrange exit. Fast food restaurants and auto repair shops give way to small white farm houses, old barns, grazing cattle, country churches and rocky mountain brooks. This is the Georgia I know and love.
The winding, wooded roads in rural Georgia climb higher into the blue September skies. Well kept hay-baling equipment sits at the edge of barns while large gardens fade into an Indian Summer. The forests still have summer’s lush green hues, and the shady woods deepen as we approach the park’s entrance. The parks expanse covers well over 3000 acres.
We arrive at the visitor center of Cloudland Canyon. It’s even cooler up here in the mountains under the shade of hemlock and alder trees. We are well over two hours north of Atlanta, and the hustle and bustle seem to be so very far away.
Inside the park’s visitor center we meet Woody, our guide for the day. Woody has a calm, level-headed way about him. He greets us warmly and invites us into his ranger office as we discuss our tour of the park and talk about his work here.
Woody has held a passion for the parks since he was young. He grew up fishing and hunting in Georgia with his family. His childhood spent outdoors developed a deep seated respect in Woody for the natural world he is a steward of.
Originally from Athens Georgia, Woody recently moved here to serve as the assistant park manager. He and his wife live at one of the park’s residences and homeschool their children. They love knowing their children have the opportunity to learn and grow in this natural wonderland.
Woody worked hard to reach this position here in the Parks System. For a number of years, he worked in the Health Industry and the automotive industry. He knew that his passion was with the Park Service, so he took the required courses and persisted in applying for the job he wanted. His resolve paid off, and now he is working full time at Cloudland Canyon.
Before walking down to the falls we tour the Interpretive Center. The center has taxidermized Georgia Wildlife inside: a black bear, foxes, and songbirds – all victims of the road or other incidents. They serve as quiet reminders of the wildlife whose lives hang in such a delicate balance. Two slider turtles bob in a tank, peering up at us. This center is used for teaching classes, and provides hand-on activities for park visitors.
We left the Interpretive Center, and begin our trek down to the falls. We pass the cabins while we walk down to Cherokee Falls. Cloudland Canyon has recently renovated cabins, and a collection of canvas yurts. The park also has RV campsites, pioneer campsites, a group shelter and even a large group lodge.
The first view of the canyon is extraordinary. The sheer walls give way to a white waterfall cascading down into the canyon’s depths. From our perch we look down on the back of a soaring red tailed hawk. We are on the edge looking down to where clouds float and birds of prey soar. Off in the distance we can see the town of Trenton down in the valley.
We hike along the edge of the canyon’s rim towards the descent to the waterfalls. On the way down, Turtle Rock looms high over the trail. It shelters a wooden bench from the sun and rain. This massive rock has stood firm here for thousands of years, waiting patiently as the seasons whirl by.
Delicate ferns feather the edges of the trail. Drops of water cling to the mossy sides of the vertical rock walls. The cool, clean mountain air flows slowly through the canyon’s passages. This canyon is full of shadows, deep greens, small bright flowers, and cool smooth rocks.
We eventually reach the bottom of the first flight of stairs. These wood and metal stairs traverse the mountainside giving visitors a safe passage down. Not long ago, a rocky trail was the only way down to the falls.
Cherokee falls is broad and tall. The cold pool of water sits clearly at the bottom of this rocky basin. Shaggy hemlock trees cast the misty gorge in shade. The recent rains have ensured that the falls are rushing down in sweeping sheets. Both of the waterfalls down in the gorge are fed by Daniels creek. From Cherokee falls we descend to Hemlock falls. Farther down the stairs, Hemlock falls is secluded and quiet. Hikers brink hammocks to string up under the towering trees in the canyon.
It would be easy to spend days or weeks down by the falls. Listening to the methodical motion of the waters is peaceful beyond description. This rugged park with it’s gulleys, boulders and cascades is a natural wonder indeed. Come visit Cloudland Canyon and explore these treasure for yourself!