Straddling a thousand foot gorge on the western edge of Lookout Mountain, Cloudland Canyon is one of Georgia's most stunning natural landmarks. Established in 1938, Cloudland Canyon State Park encompasses 3,538 acres of rugged canyons, waterfalls, cascades, and wild caves. Known for having one of Backpacker Magazines “Top Ten Hikes In The U.S.”, this state park contains easy access to jaw dropping vistas without needing to even break a sweat. Following the east rim of Cloudland Canyon along the picturesque Overlook Trail, visitors get a chance to take in all of the areas natural beauty while learning a little more about its history.
Overlook Trail | Cloudland Canyon State Park Map
Google Maps | Cloudland Canyon State Park
Having just hiked the Waterfalls Trail, which ventures deep into the heart of Cloudland Canyon, we decided to cool down from the 600 stair climb back up the mountain by taking a stroll along the Overlook Trail. This 1 mile roundtrip takes visitors to the Main Overlook near the mouth of the gorge and ends at the Bear Creek Overlook on the far eastern end of the canyon. Beginning at the Main Trailhead, we walk over to the Winter Falls Overlook once again and take a closer look at it.
Unofficially, this waterfall is named “Wet Falls” by locals and park staff due to the fact that it only runs during periods of heavy precipitation. If it were to run more consistently, it would dwarf Georgias tallest waterfall, Amicalola Falls, by nearly twice the height! The falls can easily be seen streaming down the mountain with the naked eye, but it takes on a whole other level when zoomed in through a camera lens.
Running the length of the cliffs edge along the Overlook Trail are thickets of wild blackberry vines and the towering plumes of goats beard. Nature abhors leaving a void in the landscape, even on the edge of a 1,000 foot gorge. Starring out over the canyon, its easier to notice the sloping ridges that make up the top of Lookout Mountain. At first one might think that like most of the Appalachian Mountain range, it initially began with tall peaks that eroded away over time, but that is not entirely the case.
This natural formation arose through the friction caused by the shifting of plate tectonics during a period in the Earths history known as the Appalachian orogeny, where South America, North America, and Africa joined to form one single landmass just before the creation of Pangea. If you couldn't guess it by the name, this is indeed when the Appalachian Mountains were formed. At this time, most of that landmass was covered by a large sea, leaving Lookout Mountain completely submerged underwater.
So what does this have to do with the curved, sloping ridges? Well, as water levels began subsiding, it revealed the top of this mountain as a floating island chain. The ridges overlooking the valley became sandy beaches until the erosion caused by Daniel Creek and Bear Creek over several 100,000 years deepened the canyons depth to 1,000 feet, where it currently sits today.
Following the trail, we walk past the Interpretive Center to the entrance of the Main Overlook. A wide staircase carved out of the natural sandstone leads through a winding path covered in bright magenta colored magnolia blooms. The scent of this southern native is intoxicating.
After a small scramble down a few massive boulders, we land right on top of the Main Overlook. The scenery stretching out as far as the eye can see, with overhead views of Trenton, is absolutely jaw dropping. If you happen to have a few quarters on you, theres a tower viewer up for grabs which offers a close up view of the surrounding area. Stumbling across pictures of this view while researching a trip to the region convinced me to carve out some time to stop here for a visit. This overlook and most of the parks original structures were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps just before the parks opening in 1939.
Turning our gaze over to the right of the overlook, we spot several hikers walk out onto a bluff along the Bear Creek Backcountry Trail on the opposite side of the canyon. As one of Cloudland Canyons original back country trails, Bear Creek used to be the parks longest trail at 9 miles long until the recent acquirement of the Five Points Recreation Area.
First acquired and restored by the Lula Lake Land Trust, the property was graciously handed over to the state of Georgia to become a public park. Formerly used as a coal mining area, the Five Points section encompasses over 23 miles of biking, hiking, and equestrian trails. Connecting the state park to the recreation area is the 14 mile Cloudland Canyon Connector Trail, which is popular with long distance hikers and trail runners.
Reaching the end of the Overlook Trail, we find the entrance to the Bear Creek Overlook at the far eastern end of the parking lot. Most people are unaware that this overlook even exists so its usually less crowded if not totally devoid of people. One gets the best view of the canyon surrounding Bear Creek on the climb down to the cliffs edge. The entire valley below us is alive with the sounds of rushing water emanating from the creek and from what I’ve read from several accounts to be a few hidden waterfalls.
Despite only being able to spend several hours here, it was enough to realize that Cloudland Canyon is deserving of a much longer visit the next time I pass through Northwest Georgia. Better yet, why not combine this state park into a Canyon Climbers Club road trip, where we visit each of Georgia's Canyon State Parks. Georgia’s Canyon Climbers Club is for those who want to scale the top of Amicalola Falls, explore the floor of Providence Canyon, brave the swinging bridge in Tallulah Gorge and master the staircase in Cloudland Canyon.
Up next, well be traveling to the north end of Lookout Mountain to hike the Glen Falls Trail. This short out and back is one of the hidden gems on the outskirts of Chattanooga thats not to be missed. Until next time, see y’all on the trails!