John and I seem to work together best when we plan a trip at the very last minute. We booked our reservations for Cloudland Canyon State Park less than 24 hours before we departed just like we'd done for our trip to The Great Smokey Mountains. Our reservation for a 'walk-in campsite' was ideal for the weekend, because they are all within one half mile of a parking area and conveniently connected to the West Loop Trail (we didn't know that until we got there)!
After work on Friday, John and I hit the road from Birmingham to the northwest corner of Georgia with our pup Maria in my newly purchased Subaru Outback. We got to the parking lot of the walk-in campsite area around 7:30 p.m. and were nestled in our tent before nine. We would need a good night's rest to prepare for the hike ahead of us.
The West Rim Loop Trail was once ranked as a 'top ten hike in the U.S.' by Backpacker Magazine. The 4.8 mile “lollipop” loop trail lies atop the western edge of the canyon and provides incredible views of the ravine below. Naturally, John and I had to check it out, and it did not disappoint. A short connector path leads to the trail from the walk in campsites.
The flat and grassy 'Walk-In Campsite Connector Trail' follows the same stream that flows through the walk-in campsite area. We connected to the loop and were welcomed to our first viewpoint after a short climb up a boulder littered slope. As we traced the western rim of the canyon rim, the views continued to become more stunning. All of the main viewpoints have large stone platforms with well maintained railings, but various clearings allowed us to see the entire canyon from nearly every angle. The further south we hiked, the more clearly we could hear the water flowing below us.
Once we had crossed over Daniel Creek, we connected to the waterfall trail and began our descent of over 1,000 stairs. The Waterfall Trail is fairly short at just 1.8 miles, but it is more difficult than its length may imply.
John and I chose to go to Cherokee Falls first when the trail came to a 'T'. After about a half mile descent, we arrived at a great opening where the falls had made a nice, wide pool. We didn’t stay long, since we were expecting rain and wanted to make it to Hemlock Falls as well.
Descending further downstream of Daniel Creek lead us to the less trafficked Hemlock Falls. We barely made it down to the viewing platform before the rain started to drizzle on us. Maria and I ran up ahead to snag some pictures before the three of us took shelter under the platform we had just walked down from. After a 30 minute rest, we hopped back onto the trail and continued back to our campsite. The Waterfall Trail is rated 'strenuous', but John and I had no problem finishing this trail and the 'moderately strenuously' West Rim Loop Trail in 4 hours, including a 30 minute rain break!
When we made it back to our tent, we set up our Eno Hammock and relaxed 'til the sun started to set. The rain was persistent throughout the night but our Eureka! Apex 2 tent kept us, Maria, and our gear warm and dry. Even with the rain, we had an easy, fun, and relaxing weekend in the mountains!