Hike Cloudland Canyon from the bottom

Sitton's Gulch Creek flows alongside the trail. (Photo: Bob Butters)

Authored By bobbutters

Cloudland Canyon State Park on Lookout Mountain is one of Northwest Georgia’s best-known attractions. Perhaps you’ve gazed at the spectacular view of the canyon from one of the overlooks on the rim, then hiked down to see the two waterfalls, traversing the infamous 600-step staircase in the process.

Now, there is a relatively new option for a moderate hike of approximately 4.5 miles round-trip, which takes you to the 90-foot-high Hemlock Falls without having to do a strenuous climb. 

When I first hiked Sitton’s Gulch Trail, which runs along the bottom of the canyon, several years ago, it was only accessible by hiking down from the top of the mountain. But a new trailhead at the mouth of the canyon allows the trail to be hiked from the bottom.

Just like on top of the mountain, a $5 one-day Georgia Parks Pass, available at the parking area, is required to park here. And don’t get excited thinking there are restrooms. It turns out they are just changing rooms for cavers who come to explore nearby caves.

Before Cloudland Canyon State Park was created in 1939, the canyon was known as Sitton Gulf. The trail generally follows alongside Sitton’s Gulch Creek, the epitome of a fast-flowing mountain stream, and eventually rises to a higher elevation than the creek. There are two small loop trails on the right soon after starting out. One marked the end of the trail before this new access became available. There is an alternative route that passes through an area claimed to be good for wildflowers. I don’t think the loop as shown on the trail map is accurate, as it’s depicted as climbing up the side of the mountain, when in reality it basically stays level with the main trail. 

Sitton’s Gulch Trail is easy hiking, as it’s primarily smoothly packed gravel (with a light covering of leaves this time of year). There are a few inclines, but nothing I’d consider especially strenuous. By the time you reach the turnaround point at Hemlock Falls in just over 2 miles, you’ve gained about 400 feet in elevation. At about a mile and a half in, you pass the convergence of Daniel Creek and Bear Creek, which is the beginning of Sitton’s Gulch Creek. The trail is now following Daniel Creek. 

In about another half-mile, you’ll come to a stairway leading to a long L-shaped bridge that passes over the top of an unnamed waterfall. This is the official end of the Sitton’s Gulch Trail. From here, you can see Hemlock Falls just a short distance farther. If temperatures have been below freezing, watch for ice on the viewing platform caused by the spray from the falls.

From here, you can retrace your route back to the trailhead, or, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can climb the 600-step stair system you passed shortly before reaching the falls and continue on to the 60-foot-high Cherokee Falls. You can even climb on up to the canyon rim to take in the view from one of the overlooks, or you can hike back out and drive up to the top. The Waterfalls Trail system is listed as 2 miles round-trip from the top.

Visit Cloudland Canyon State Park’s website for more information about the park.          

On the park website’s home page, scroll down to the Google satellite map. Where Highway 136 reaches the base of the mountain, there is a road on the right, No. 187, or Canyon Park Drive (in a residential neighborhood). In the loop at the end, the trail entrance-which doesn’t really show up on the map-is in the lower right-hand corner.

Bob Butters explores nature and the outdoors, primarily in and near the South Cumberland region, and publishes the blog www.Nickajack-Naturalist.com.