Mom: Georgia’s Cloudland Canyon State Park is a slice of paradise south of Chattanooga
Drive high into the North Georgia mountains, and you may discover a vast canyon. Two waterfalls start at the rim and cascade down the crevasse. A place like that deserves a magical name like Cloudland Canyon State Park in Rising Fawn, Georgia.
Western North Carolina is my second home, so for a week-long camping adventure, we wanted something new. My husband and I hadn’t been camping in Georgia since before the kids were born.
Nobody recommended it to us; I chose Cloudland Canyon based on the appearance and the name. Having used this method for selecting a bottle of wine, I know it isn’t foolproof. Yet, because no parks near the beach had availability, we rolled the dice.
Somewhere on Interstate 75 northbound, I asked my husband, “Do you think this place is really as cool as it sounds? What if it’s just yurts and marketing?”
The name fit! As we approached the park, it felt like we were driving in the clouds. And sure enough, canyons aren’t just a feature of the American West.
In addition to typical state park overnight choices, the park is up to speed on the “glamping” trend with a yurt village. Yurts, cabin-sized semi-permanent tents, are traditional dwellings of Mongolian nomads. The yurts at Cloudland Canyon are fully furnished with futons and bunk beds. Outside, they have attached wooden decks with Adirondack chairs on one side, and a gravel grilling area with picnic table on the other. The yurts are situated in a ring with a playground in the center. Pricing is comparable to staying in a cabin, and I’d take a yurt over a hotel room any day—great bang for the buck.
However, our older kids were bitten by the camping bug with their Scout troop, so we opted for a walk-in tent site. I love a walk-up! You’re close enough to run to the car, but it doesn’t feel like you pitched your tent in a parking lot. Plus, the extra space between sites gives privacy and room to breathe.
Springtime in the mountains was too cold for my ambitious hiking plans. We hit the park’s highlights on the flat, one-mile Overlook Trail. From there, we viewed the V-shaped canyon and the expansive vista beyond. We saw a total of three waterfalls, and although the third was barely visible as the leaves were coming in, the sound was nice ambiance.
Another longer, moderate trail starts on the other side of the canyon rim. Two rangers called this walk their favorite hike.
The parks’ two-waterfall hike is the most strenuous. The first half is all downhill, creating a serious uphill return climb. Two days into our stay, I finally got confirmation of my suspicion that the difficulty of this hike could be trimmed by walking to the first cascade and turning around. Even reducing the length of this hike seemed like a recipe for my children’s misery in the cold weather.
Our sunshine solution was 30 minutes away across the Tennessee state line in Chattanooga. The city is at a much lower elevation, so while we shivered in the mountains, the town offered warm respite.
Because Chattanooga wasn’t the focus of our trip, we weren’t sure what to do with ourselves. We already had a splurge planned for our return trip through Atlanta, so an impromptu hundred-plus dollar trip to their famous aquarium was tempting, but not wise. Our trip was already so full, we hadn’t decided how to spend our time in Chattanooga.
After drinking instant coffee on the camp stove, the desire for a good cup of coffee led us Rembrandt’s Coffee House in the Bluff View Art District, where we strolled among outdoor sculptures. When we reached the Hunter Museum of American Art, we found a clear pedestrian bridge that the intrepid members of the family crossed. Watching the traffic below made me feel too woozy to think of this as a delightful vacation activity. Later, we crossed the river to enjoy the Tennessee Riverpark and explored the surrounding neighborhood of funky shops and restaurants. We ate ice cream, having to choose between a doughnut sundae or a freshly baked waffle cone. An amateur artist shared chalk with us to scribble pictures at a public art space called Chalk Alley. On the way back to the site, we made a quick side trip to the historic Chattanooga Choo-Choo and vicinity. Note: Some visitors to the Choo-Choo rated it poorly because they had the incorrect notion it offered rides. Train rides are available at the Incline Railway to Lookout Mountain or the Tennessee Valley Railroad.
We’ll have to head back to Cloudland Canyon in warmer weather to tackle those waterfall hikes, and when we do we’ll definitely make sure to include time to enjoy more of Chattanooga.
You can go
Cloudland Canyon State Park is located in Rising Fawn, Georgia. It is open 7 a.m. - 10 p.m. daily. Parking is $5. For reservations and more details, visit https://gastateparks.org/CloudlandCanyon.