It was foggy for our morning drive to see the Cloudland Canyon Waterfalls, making it tempting to stop and take many pictures of the fog rolling through the grassy North Georgia farmland. As we neared Cloudland Canyon on GA State Route 136, the road took us up the side of a mountain. I looked into the valley and noticed we were suddenly above the clouds, brightly illuminated by the mid-morning sun.
Unfortunately, there was nowhere to stop 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 but was never fortunate to witness.
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 canyon overlook not far from the parking lot.
To my utmost joy and excitement, there was a cloud inversion! The blanket of clouds was slowly drifting back into the distant canyon. Immediately, I fired many shots with my camera, a Canon EOS-1N, to capture this breathtaking scenery. Satisfied, I put the camera away and stood in awe, taking it all in. Georgia is a beautiful state, but it’s sometimes hard to believe that this enormous canyon is in North Georgia.
Hiking to see the Cloudland Canyon waterfalls was our main reason for visiting this state park. As much as I loved the view 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 canyon.
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.
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Hiking the Cloudland Canyon Waterfalls Trail
Not only do you see the fantastic view of Cloudland Canyon at the top, but Cloudland Canyon State Park also has two pretty waterfalls on the Waterfalls Trail: Cherokee Falls and Hemlock Falls.
This popular trail is a little over 2 miles round trip and challenging since it has 600 steps! Your leg muscles might feel this hours later (mine certainly did!). Going down is easier for me, but the hike back up gets my heart racing.
What should you expect on the hike? The steps on the Waterfalls Trail vary from wooden steps to metal-grated steps. If you bring your dog, they might have trouble walking on the metal-grated steps. We brought our Leki trekking poles but could not use them for parts of the trails due to these steps. They were helpful around the waterfalls, however.
Cloudland Canyon Waterfalls Trail is rocky and has many branches, so wear good hiking shoes. And be careful where you step, especially down at the waterfalls, as the rocks can be slippery.
You’ll probably also notice the signs along the Cloudland Canyon Waterfalls Trail notifying you to be careful of falling rocks. The pathway has several rocky cliffs and giant boulders that are right above your head as you descend.
And if you visit after a recent rain, you might see water dripping off the massive rocky cliff covered in green moss. While trying to photograph the cliff, water dripped right into my eye. My eye was okay, but it felt a little icky afterward!
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 near the parking lot and the Overlook Trail. You will see signs for the Waterfalls Trail, but you can also access a map here.
You can visit one or both waterfalls, and there will be a sign near the beginning of the trail indicating the direction for each waterfall. It is about 1/2 mile down to see Cherokee Falls and another 1/2 mile down to see Hemlock Falls.
If you don’t want to climb that many steps, you can see Cherokee Falls and make your way back up to the top of the canyon 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 arduous 6-mile roundtrip trail takes you further into the canyon. I’ve only hiked parts of this trail since I always spend too much time at the waterfalls and never have enough daylight to continue.
Cherokee Falls and Hemlock Falls are spectacular, but if I had to choose my favorite, it would be Cherokee Falls. Sitton Gulch Creek plunges off a 60-foot cliff into a shallow pool. I’ve heard that sometimes you might not see much water flow, but we’ve been lucky each time.
I love photographing this waterfall, a popular photo spot for many, especially in the fall. If you want to get that waterfall shot without people in it, you might want to go as early as possible. Otherwise, prepare to have lots of patience to wait for people to get out of your frame.
If you venture further down to view Hemlock Falls, you’ll 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 close 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.
Photographing Hemlock Falls is also easier with fewer people near the falls since there is a viewing platform. But if you are trying to get the streamy, flowy waterfall look for your image with a tripod, you’ll need to be careful with people walking on the platform as it vibrates slightly with the movement.
More Information for Visiting Cloudland Canyon State Park
While Cloudland Canyon Waterfalls Trail is a popular hiking trail, there are many things to do when you visit this beautiful state park. Below, I’ve listed more information that might be helpful for your visit.
Cloudland Canyon State Park is at 122 Cloudland Canyon Park Road, Rising Fawn, Georgia 30738. Plug this address into your GPS before your trip. We lost cell service several times on our drive. On the way back, I exited the GPS on my phone and could not pull up the route 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 spectacular in fall with all the vibrant leaves. You’ll see many farmhouses, barns, cows, and horses along the way.
Cloudland Canyon State Park is open daily from 7am to 10pm. But the trails are open from 7am to sunset.
Fees and Parking
It is $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. You can expect many visitors when the weather turns pleasant in fall or spring!
Activities 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 been able to stay the night at Cloudland Canyon State Park, but you can reserve campsites (tent, trailer, and RV). You can also stay in one of their yurts or cottages. The exteriors look nice from what I’ve seen.
You’ll find the Interpretative Center and many picnic tables not too far from the park entrance and the overlook. There is also a small public restroom, a luxury compared to outhouses at other hiking trails in North Georgia. Regardless, I always carry hand sanitizer, as some of these restrooms do not have hand soap!
A Note on My Photos
A Bit Tricky
Photographing with 35mm film at Cloudland Canyon was a bit tricky on the day we went. There are many shadows, highlights, and contrast scenes with various colors and tones. If you venture onto the Cloudland Canyon Waterfalls Trail, it is more challenging since it is much darker in the canyon, and most of the time, you are in shadow.
For the images of the cloud inversion at the overlook, I used Portra 400 35mm film. The overall scene here was super contrasty as my shadows were in the forefront of the exposure, and I had more highlights in the background with the rising sun.
Remembering the rule for scenery 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. By overexposing, I correctly exposed the cloud’s tones, and I am pleased with the result!
One is Not Enough
Film is expensive, 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 several spots at the overlook to take photos. 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. You can never go wrong with Portra 400!
Next, I loaded up Eterna 250T, a film stock I had never used. 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, the Hemlock Falls exposures shot on Eterna 250T came out great, however. And the waterfall images made the 600-step hike worth it!
Have you been to Cloudland Canyon State Park before? What was your experience? Please share below!