It was the last weekend in October, and instead of joining the crowds and participating in the Halloween festivities, I was packed and ready to set out into mountains for a few days. To begin this 26-mile hiking weekend, a drive out to Cloudland Canyon was required. According to Wikipedia, this is one of the largest and most scenic state parks in the state of Georgia. Just short of Chattanooga, TN, Cloudland Canyon State Park is located at the northwestern tip of Georgia.
After residing in Georgia for a little over two years, I was beginning to miss those rural southwest Virginia mountains where I grew up. Autumn was finally here again and this year I wanted to use my new camera. I grabbed an older model Nikon DSLR back in February. Look at the used ones in the link. You can get them fairly cheap now and the functionality has been incredible. I thought I’d bring it along to capture the Autumn colors. If only it was full frame! So far, I can’t complain. I shot all these images with a Nikon 24mm f/2.8 manual focus AI lens. Things are old school so if you’re into manual stuff or video, these suckers are great and a fraction of the cost for newer lenses. After seeing how close The Great Smokey Mountains were, that trip was planned. The hike would involve 10 miles on Friday at Cloudland Canyon, camp, then make our way through Chattanooga to the lower Appalachian Mountain Range via the Dragons Tail, a crazy curvy, and dangerous scenic route that takes you along many breath-taking mountain views. Just off the Dragon’s Tail, we should find the trail head, Twenty mile to Gregory Bald, that lies in the southern part Great Smokey Mountains near the North Carolina state line. This hike would be broken up into two days. The first day, we hike to the top of Gregory Bald (9 miles), absorb the views, camp, then make our descent back on Sunday to the car (7.2 miles). We should reach an elevation of 4950 ft or so.
We arrived at the Canyon a bit before lunch. Since we were early we decided to stop at the visitors center and check into our backcountry campsite. It was at this moment I realized I had forgotten my jacket. Not only did the visitors center have a cool mug and magnet for Gabrielle, they had a well-made, rugged fleece that would soon keep me warm for the next couple of nights. We finally made it to our campsite parking area where we would take off for the first ten miles, then set up camp about half of a mile from the parking area. The backcountry trail started off through a well maintained, leaf-covered trail that eventually popped us out on the west rim trail and the first lookout that you see above.
Before we set foot on the west rim trail we wanted to see the popular waterfall attraction. In order to get to the falls, we had to descend down a never ending flight of stairs that led us deep into the canyon. Once there we noticed there were no falls. They had dried up due to the lack of rain in the recent months. We walked through the dried up creek bed to observe a few of the unusually large boulders that had been carved out of the creek throughout the years.
We then climbed the stairs back up to the trailhead of the west rim loop and continued on our hike. The countless views were gorgeous! The leaves had already begun to change but were not quite where I expected as November approached. The trail climbed up and down around the edges of the canyon walls that delivered many lookouts to access the views of the canyon. As we passed our half-way point, we decided to sit and enjoy the view while having a snack for some calories to make it the rest of the way.
As we started to approach the end of the west rim trail loop, the sun was quickly starting to hide behind the treetops and showing an array of vivid colors throughout the canyon. Finally after 9.8 miles, we made it back to the backcountry campsite to set up camp. We were so tired we didn’t even bother with setting up the tent! We put up our Hammocks , threw in our Therm-a-Rest Sleeping Mats ,and new down, Lightweight Sleeping Bags, and voila!