A nature lover‘s paradise.
From hawks and hikes to cliffs and caves, Cloudland Canyon is little slice of heaven looking down on Chattanooga. If you want to enjoy all the fun that a weekend in Chattanooga has to offer without the hustle and bustle of tourists and the dreary decor of a chain hotel room, book a cabin or pitch your tent at Cloudland Canyon State Park in nearby Georgia, instead.
You’ll enjoy family friendly hikes to gorgeous waterfalls, caves and crevices to explore, picnics, tennis, playgrounds and guided wildflower walks with a nature expert right on the property. When you’re ready to join the crowd, just drive 15 minutes down the mountain to hot spots like Ruby Falls, The Tennessee Aquarium and The Creative Discovery Museum.
We spent three days at Cloudland Canyon State Park during spring break and only had to pack jeans, T-shirts and tennis shoes. Our two bedroom cabin had a fully stocked kitchen, so we loaded up on breakfast and lunch foods, drinks and marshmallows (Hello? S’mores!) at the nearby Wal-Mart on our way in. The cabin had fresh towels, four double beds, a living room with TV and a huge screened-in back porch with rocking chairs for sipping coffee and enjoying the amazing views in the morning before the kids got up.
Hit the Trail
The park has a well-marked, beautifully maintained trail system. Every cabin has a notebook containing information about the park and its trails, plus ads for all the attractions in nearby Chattanooga. We stepped off our porch and right onto an easy mile trail down to a huge waterfall. The kids stopped to poke their heads into little caves and duck under enormous cliff overhangs along the way. There are stone benches for resting, but this hike is a breeze for any age or fitness level with a stunning visual payoff.
Since we traveled to the bottom of the canyon on the first day, we hiked up to the top of it the next day for a five-mile walk. The kids skipped across wooden bridges spanning the streams and scrambled on top of boulders for priceless family pictures. There are incredible views and vistas on the rim with fenced look-outs for safety.
Within 15 minutes of walking, we were eye-to-eye with a group of hawks and felt like we were literally on top of the world. If you’ve ever seen the movie Last of the Mohicans, you’ll swear it was filmed at Cloudland Canyon. The hikes aren’t strenuous, and we saw kids of all ages enjoying the outdoors. We also saw wild deer, family dogs and fish.
Go Cave Crazy
This area of Tennessee and Georgia is renowned for its caves. You can peek into shallow ones along the park trails or visit famous Ruby Falls, the underground waterfall located in a spectacular lit and guided cave. We spent half a day at Raccoon Mountain Caves, Tennessee’s highest rated cave located just minutes from Chattanooga, for an afternoon we will never forget. If you’ve got kids younger than 6, you’ll marvel at the 45-minute walking tour known as the Crystal Palace Tour.
You’ll see one-of-a-kind rock formations lit with colored lights, see fossils embedded in the walls and enjoy the comfort of handrails and walkways. But if you’ve got big kids and a sense of adventure, you’ve got to take a Wild Cave Tour to explore the five-and-a-half miles of subterranean trails.
Accompanied by a professional guide, you’ll crawl on your belly, slide down rock slides and wiggle through holes into rooms containing waterfalls, all while wearing a headlamp and knee pads. We emerged dirty, hungry and eager to do it again next year. We also got a family Christmas picture you won’t see anywhere else!
There’s the town of Rising Fawn located about five miles from the state park, and it contains a few fast food favorites like Subway and Arby’s. If you want to eat like a king, the Canyon Grille is right outside Cloudland Canyon’s back gate. Salmon, filet mignon, crab cakes and rack of lamb are served nightly. After a day of outdoor adventure, we drove the extra 10 miles into Chattanooga for ribs and chicken at Sticky Fingers and steaks with microbrews and giant desserts at The Big River Brewing and Grille Works. We played hard, ate big and slept well!
If You Go
Cloudland Canyon State Park | 706-657-4050 | http://gastateparks.org/info/cloudland
Deborah Bohn lives in Franklin. She‘s mom to two kids and a contributing writer to this publication.