Last Updated on March 3, 2022
It was foggy for most of our morning drive to see the Cloudland Canyon Waterfalls. So foggy that it was tough not to stop and take many pictures as the fog created dramatic landscapes with North Georgia’s fall foliage, farmhouses, and barns.
As we neared Cloudland Canyon on GA State Route 136, the road took us up the side of a mountain. I looked over into the valley and noticed we were suddenly above the clouds, which were brightly illuminated by the mid-morning sun.
Unfortunately, there was nowhere to stop with our car to take in this stunning view, but it gave me hope that we might see a cloud inversion at Cloudland Canyon State Park – something I’ve always wanted to see. I’ve been to Cloudland Canyon several times previously and have never been fortunate to see a cloud in the valley.
We finally got to the state park after driving for a few hours. I jumped out of the car with my camera bag, eagerly running to the overlook view of the canyon, which luckily isn’t too far from the parking lot.
To my joy and excitement, there was a cloud inversion, the cloud slowly drifting back into the distant valley. My camera, a Canon EOS-1N, already had some Portra 400 film loaded, so I began firing my pictures right away to capture this incredible scenery.
The fall foliage, along with the cloud, really created an extraordinary scene; I stood a few minutes in awe, taking it all in. Georgia is a beautiful state, but sometimes it’s hard to believe that this large canyon is in Georgia.
Hiking to see the Cloudland Canyon waterfalls was our main goal for the day. As much as I loved the view of the valley at the overlook, I knew we had to start the trail, or we would never make it home by nightfall. Reluctantly, I turned around and began my descent into the valley.
Quick Info for Cloudland Canyon Waterfalls Trail
Length – Approximately 2 miles roundtrip.
Difficulty – Strenuous.
Steps – 600 steps to see both waterfalls (some steps are metal-grated).
Dogs Allowed? – Yes, on a leash.
Best Time to Visit for Waterfalls: Winter and early spring for more water flow.
Entrance Fees: $5 to park.
Can You Swim at the Waterfalls?: No.
Hiking the Cloudland Canyon Waterfalls Trail
Not only do you get to see a fantastic view of Cloudland Canyon at the top, but Cloudland Canyon State Park also has two pretty waterfalls located on the Waterfalls Trail: Cherokee Falls and Hemlock Falls.
This heavily trafficked trail is a little over 2 miles round trip. And this strenuous trail can be a doozy; it has 600 steps, and your leg muscles might feel this hours later (mine certainly did!). For me, going down is easier, but it is the hike back up that gets my heart racing.
The steps on the Waterfalls Trail vary from wooden steps to metal-grated steps. If you have a dog, they might have trouble with the metal-grated steps. We brought our Leki trekking poles but could not use them for parts of the trails due to these metal-grated steps. The trekking poles were helpful around the waterfalls, however.
Cloudland Canyon Waterfalls Trail is rocky and has many branches, so you will want some good hiking shoes. And be careful where you step, especially down at the waterfalls, as the rocks can be slippery.
You will also probably see some signs along the Cloudland Canyon Waterfalls Trail notifying you to be careful of falling rock. The pathway has a lot of rocky cliffs and giant boulders that are right above your head as you make your descent.
One of these massive rocky cliffs has water that drips down from the green moss hanging on its surface. While trying to take a photo of it, water happened to drip right into my eye. My eye was okay as it was just water, but my eye felt a little icky afterward! I love the image, however, so I am glad I took it even with the water landing in my eye.
Accessing the Cloudland Canyon Waterfalls Trail
The most popular way to access the Cloudland Canyon Waterfalls Trail is from the West Rim Loop Trail, located not too far from the parking lot and the Overlook Trail. You will see signs for the Waterfalls Trail, but you can also access a map here.
You have the option of visiting one or both waterfalls, and there will be a sign near the beginning of the trail indicating which direction to go. It is about 1/2 mile down to see Cherokee Falls and another 1/2 mile down to see Hemlock Falls.
If you want not to climb as many steps, you can see Cherokee Falls and make your way back up to the top of the valley instead of descending further to see Hemlock Falls.
And if you are up for a challenge, after viewing Hemlock Falls, you can continue your hiking journey onto the Sitton’s Gulch Trail. This trail will take you further down into the valley, but it is a strenuous 6-mile roundtrip trail. I’ve only hiked parts of this trail since I always spend too much time at the waterfalls and never have enough daylight time to continue.
Cherokee Falls and Hemlock Falls are spectacular, but if I had to choose my favorite, it would be Cherokee Falls. I’ve heard that sometimes you might not see much water flow, but we’ve been lucky each time at Cherokee Falls as Sitton Gulch Creek plunges off a 60-foot cliff into a shallow pool.
I love photographing this waterfall, and it is a popular photo spot for many. If you want to get that waterfall shot without people in it, you might want to go early as possible. Otherwise, prepare to have lots of patience to wait for people to get out of your frame.
We waited a solid hour to get our pictures as a group of people were doing yoga poses on the rocks in front of Cherokee Falls. It is a gorgeous waterfall, so I did not blame them for wanting to get lots of pictures of it with some pretty awesome yoga moves.
If you decide to venture further down to view Hemlock Falls, you will not be disappointed. Water plunges 90 feet off a rock cliff into a small pool with a large boulder. There is a viewing platform to view this waterfall as you cannot walk down closer to it.
Water flow at Hemlock Falls can vary, and I’ve been there when it was mostly dried up with little flow. But I’ve also visited when water was gushing off the side of the cliff. To better ensure your success in seeing more water flow, it might be best to visit after heavy rain. Summer or early fall might not be ideal if North Georgia is under a dry spell.
It is also a bit easier to photograph Hemlock Falls as fewer people are near the falls since there is a viewing platform. But if you are trying to get the streamy flowy waterfall look for your image, you will need to be careful with people walking on the platform as it vibrates slightly with the movement.
More Information on How to Visit Cloudland Canyon State Park
While Cloudland Canyon Waterfalls Trail is a popular hiking trail, there are many things to do when you visit this state park. Below I’ve listed more information that might be helpful for your visit.
Cloudland Canyon State Park is located at 122 Cloudland Canyon Park Road, Rising Fawn, Georgia 30738. I recommend plugging this address into your GPS before your trip. We lost cell service several times on our drive. On the way back, I exited GPS on my phone and could not get the route to resume due to a lack of cell service.
We took GA State Route 136; part of this route is the Lookout Mountain Scenic Highway – a gorgeous drive with some elevation gain. You’ll see lots of farmhouses, barns, cows, and horses. North Georgia is lovely in the fall season with its many yellow, orange, and red trees.
Cloudland Canyon State Park is open daily from 7 am to 10 pm. However, the trails are open from 7 am to sunset.
Fees and Parking
It is only $5 to enter and park at Cloudland Canyon. But if you have the annual Georgia state park pass, you don’t have to pay for parking. More information and how to purchase this pass can be found here.
There are many parking spaces, but I recommend coming early to ensure you get a spot if you visit during peak seasons or weekends. When the weather turns cooler and nicer in fall or spring, you can expect a lot of visitors!
Activiites and Amenities
Cloudland Canyon State Park is probably one of the nicest state parks in Georgia. Families, couples, and solo travelers can enjoy mountain biking, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, picnicking, and other activities. They even have disc golf and caving for experienced cavers (permits required).
I’ve never had the opportunity to stay the night at Cloudland Canyon State Park, but they have campsites (tent, trailer, and RV) you can reserve. You can also stay in one of their yurts or cottages. The exteriors look nice from what I’ve seen.
Not too far from the park entrance and the overlook, you’ll find the Interpretative Center along with many picnic tables. There is also a small public restroom, a luxury compared to outhouses at other hiking trails in North Georgia. And for that reason, I always carry hand sanitizer as some of these restrooms do not have hand soap!
Film Photography Notes
Photographing with film at Cloudland Canyon was a bit tricky on the day we went. There are lots of shadows, highlights, and contrast scenes with various colors and tones. If you venture onto the Cloudland Canyon Waterfalls Trail, it can be even trickier as it is much darker in the valley, and most of the time, you are in shadow.
For the images of the cloud inversion at the overlook, I used Portra 400. The overall scene here was super contrasty as my shadows were in the forefront of the exposure, and with the rising sun, I had more highlights in the background.
Remembering the rule for scenes with white clouds, snow, or white sand, you want to overexposure the scene by about two stops, which I did for my cloud inversion photo at the overlook. By overexposing, I correctly exposed the cloud’s tones.
Film is expensive at the moment, but this is one of those rare occasions where I felt it necessary to take many exposures to guarantee I got the shot. For instance, I did this at Brasstown Bald and ended up with sixteen sunrise photos, which I don’t regret shooting.
I shot seventeen images at the overlook at Cloudland Canyon, and I am glad I did since I only got four decent exposures. Some are at different angles since there are other overlook spots. Cloud inversion is something that I rarely see, so I wanted to ensure I got at least one exposure that I love! The last few frames of my Portra 400 roll were used at Cherokee Falls. I feel like you can never go wrong with Portra 400.
Next, I loaded up Eterna 250T, a film stock I had never used before. While I heard that it is a good film and popular with making motion pictures, I do not think it was the best choice for Cloudland Canyon as the colors were way too vibrant and contrasty. This is seen especially in the trail photos I took along the hike. Eterna 250T is a tungsten-balanced film, and since I was shooting daylight, I had to do a lot of editing in Lightroom to balance the color shifts.
Luckily for me, the Hemlock Falls exposures shot on Eterna 250T came out great, however. And the waterfall images made the 600 steps hike a little more worth it!
Have you been to Cloudland Canyon State Park before? What was your experience? Please share below!