Cloudland Canyon State Park in Northwest Georgia was was the main destination of our 2011 Thanksgiving road trip with our camper. We left Michigan on a Friday night with our truck and camper headed for Georgia with a 1 night stop at Van Buren State Park in Ohio and another 1 night stop at Norris Dam State Park in Tennessee, to break up the long drive. This was a fantastic trip and although I call it a road trip, we would stay in one place for most of the trip. We had a great time and I was quite impressed with Cloudland Canyon State Park. We even had a nice day trip up to Chattanooga for some site seeing on one of the rainy days.
Day 1 At Cloudland Canyon State Park
A Morning Hike Before Leaving Norris Dam And Arriving At Cloudland Canyon In The Rain
We woke up to a nice morning in the hills of Tennessee and were the only people at the Norris Dam State Park Campground. I went for a short ride on my bike through the park roads. I covered about 5 miles, and what a workout that was in the hills! After the bike ride, I took the kids on a short hike on the trails. I took one of our child carrier backpacks with us and ended up carrying Reid for part of the hike. Kyle likes to hike and Reid likes to ride along. I’m good with either way as I just like getting them out and enjoying the trails anyway I can. I had spent most of the previous 10 years sitting around doing nothing and carrying one of the kids on my back was well needed exercise.
Once back at camp, we were ready to head out. I always do a quick walk around the camper before heading out on the road and found a bulge in one of the tires that looked like it was very close to blowing out. I’m glad I caught it, because we were driving through the mountains in Tennessee that day and it would not have been fun to blow out a trailer tire in the hills. We made it to Cloudland Canyon State Park in Georgia, late that afternoon just as it was starting to rain. The rain eventually calmed down enough for us to have a little fire while sitting under the camper awning. We were excited to be settled in at our base camp for the week and explore the trails and waterfalls.
Day 2 At Cloudland Canyon State Park
A Day Full of Hiking In Cloudland Canyon
Ah, I love mornings at camp. I like to go for short hikes in the morning before everybody gets out of bed. I started the morning off by taking a short trail that that led down to a small stream with little waterfalls. After I got back, we made some breakfast and let the kids play around the park a little bit. We eventually packed our hiking gear into the truck and drove over to the main overlook area in hopes to do some hiking.
After checking things out and realizing that Reid was ready for a nap, we decided that I would take Kyle on a hike down to the falls by myself and just hike back to the camp from the falls, while Lynn took Reid back to the camper for a nap and some quiet time for herself. This turned out to be a long hike for Kyle and I. Kyle made it down all of the stairs to both waterfalls. Keep in mind, Kyle was still a couple weeks away from turning 4 years old yet. The kid loves to hike and started hiking before he even turned 2 years old. The waterfalls were beautiful and well worth the trip down the 100s of stairs.
My curiosity got the best of me when I saw the access to Sittons Gulch Trail near the lower waterfall. Kyle was getting a little tired at this point, so I carried him for this whole trail in my child carrier backpack. It was an out and back trail (4 mile round trip) and it followed the bottom of the canyon the whole way. This is a really nice hike and very peaceful as it follows the bottom of the canyon among tall trees. After backtracking to the lower falls area, Kyle got out of the carrier to make the climb back up the steps on his own feet.
The stairs are really steep and on the edge of the canyon walls, so I did not want to have Kyle up high in my backpack while climbing the stairs. He did a great job and he was so proud of himself for making it back up all those stairs. Once back to the top of the steps I put Kyle back in the pack and we made our way back to camp via the West Rim Hiking Trail. I figured it to be somewhere in the 6 to 7 mile mark for our hike. I was very tired, considering I carried Kyle for 5 to 6 miles of it. We spent the rest of the evening relaxing around camp, cooking over the fire and talking about the hike that Kyle and I went on.
Day 3 At Cloudland Canyon State Park
Ruby Falls And Chickamauga Civil War Battlefield
Tuesday had rain in the forecast for most of the day, so we decided to go for a drive and explore areas outside the park. We took our time getting out in the morning, but eventually made our way up to Chattanooga to take a tour of Ruby Falls. Ruby Falls was really cool and I like the history and story behind the falls as well. They light up the underground falls for a pretty spectacular view. Reid was only 2 at the time, but learned very early on how to get people stirred up…
We are about halfway thru the tour, about 1,100 feet under ground in the tight quarters of the cave and Reid yells out “Mom, I pooped my pants”. People around us started making funny faces preparing themselves for the invisible wall of odor that is about to hit them as we were all packed in close together in this cave. Lynn started panicking, wondering what she was going to do about a dirty diaper while stuck down in this cave. Reid was laughing about it, and Lynn realized that Reid did not poop his pants and just thought it was funny to get us riled up. He has been and still is a bit of a jokester.
At any rate, we finished the cave tour and had a good laugh out of it. We wanted to check out the Incline Railroad, but it was closed. The boys were quite tired and it was starting to rain, so we passed on visiting Rock City. We left Ruby Falls and headed for Chickamauga Civil War Battlefield. I did go into the visitors center quickly to check things out. I could have spent all day in there checking out all the artifacts. However, I did find it interesting and disturbing that some of the souvenirs sold in a National Monument were actually made in China and not in our own country.
With the rainy and overcast weather, we elected to go on the self guided driving tour of the battlefields hoping the boys might fall asleep and take a nap at the same time. The boys got out of the truck at the first couple stops of the tour, but eventually fell asleep. I think it took us a couple hours to drive the entire self guided tour. I highly recommend this driving tour at some point if you are in the area. It helps to understand that this battle and the Civil War was only 150 years ago, which is not really that long ago in the grand scheme of time.
By the time we finished the driving tour, the boys were fast asleep and we decided to take a detour on our way back to Cloudland Canyon and drive just inside the Alabama border to check out DeSoto State Park. I’m glad we did, DeSoto State Park looks great and we have added it to our list of parks we would like to visit on another one of our camping trips. By the time we made it back to camp it was dark and had stopped raining, so we were able to enjoy some cooking over a fire for the rest of the evening and let the boys play around the camp.
Day 4 At Cloudland Canyon State Park
Morning Solo Hike and Afternoon Family Hike
I got up before everybody else again and took off from the campground to hike the West Rim Trail. I had hiked the first part of it with Kyle to get back to the campground on Monday, but wanted to hike the main part of the trail to see all of the canyon overlooks. It was a great hike with some spectacular scenery and views. I took some cornbread with me that I had baked in the fire the night before. It was quite peaceful hiking through the woods and eating my cornbread breakfast along the way.
I stopped at a couple of the overlooks to sit down and just take in the beautiful scenery for awhile. It was so peaceful; I still remember the moments just sitting there and enjoying the sun come up over the canyon walls. These are the moments that you have to look up to the sky and thank God for creating this beautiful world that we live in and for the opportunities to enjoy it like this.
When I returned to camp, we spent the afternoon hanging around and watching the kids play in the woods. In the late afternoon we drove over to a parking lot that accessed the west part of the West Rim Hiking Trail, so Lynn could check out one of the overlooks. I did not want to take the kids on most of the West Rim loop, as there are quite a few ledges, but this other section of the trail was ok and gave Lynn the opportunity to check out a couple of the overlooks while I stayed back on the main trail with the kids.
I really enjoy getting the family out on the trail. There is something about getting out in nature with your family that brings you closer together. When you are walking down the trail and can watch the kids walk along though the trees in complete freedom, you can just let go and forget about anything else and enjoy your family.
We returned back to camp to enjoy the evening cooking over the fire again. I enjoy teaching the kids how to cook over the fire and they get a kick out of eating stuff that we cooked together out in nature. Even though we travel with a camper, we tend to cook outside and try different things over the fire. Our camper is like our mobile cabin that provides us with a comfortable dry place to sleep and keep our things.
Day 5 At Cloudland Canyon State Park
Thanksgiving Dinner At Cloudland Canyon
Ah, Thanksgiving Day. I was looking forward to cooking our Turkey for dinner. I had been contemplating how I was going to cook it over the fire all week. I ended up deciding to use the camp park grill instead of the larger fire pit. I wrapped the center part of the grate with tinfoil, leaving the ends of the grate open for smoke and heat to get through. I built a small fire in the charcoal area of the grill before letting it burn to coals. I kept a small flame going throughout the cooking process by adding small pieces of wood.
After placing the Turkey in a basket over the tinfoil, I wrapped tinfoil over the whole grill and turkey to hold the heat in and trap the smoke around the turkey. It turned out wonderful! I would say it might be the best turkey I’ve had. It was roasted just like in an oven but also had a nice smoked flavor. I started out with some high heat to sear the outside and barely had any grease drip throughout the entire cooking process. That being said, we spent most of the day hanging at our camp, relaxing and keeping the coals going for the turkey.
This was a great Thanksgiving dinner. What better way to spend Thanksgiving dinner, but with your family next to a fire that you just cooked the turkey on out in nature. We relaxed around camp for a couple hours after dinner and then figured we should go for a hike to work off some of that turkey dinner. There is a 2 mile Backpacking Trail that was perfect. The trail is thru an all wooded area with a little bit of terrain that passes thru some of the backpacking campsites. We finished the hike a little before dusk. I carried Reid on my back in the child carrier most of the way, where he actually fell asleep. We made it back to camp to enjoy the evening around the fire again and eat some left over turkey.
Day 6 At Cloudland Canyon
One Last Hike To Cloudland Canyon Falls
I got up before everybody and drove over to the main overlook area so I could hike down to the waterfalls one last time, knowing we were leaving Cloudland Canyon the next morning. It was cold down in the canyon by the falls that early in the morning. The sun hadn’t had a chance to shine down in the canyon yet to warm things up, but it was nice going that early. I just like being out in nature and actually prefer cooler temperatures anyways. Nobody else was at the falls and it was very peaceful. I was able to get some nice pictures also.
When I got back to camp, Lynn took off to check out the falls, since she hadn’t had a chance to do so yet. I relaxed around camp and watched the boys play in the woods while she was gone. After Lynn returned, I jumped on my road bike to get my last bit of exercise in at Cloudland Canyon. I road all the paved roads I could find in the park, covering about 12 miles and wearing me out. The weather was nice and it was great to get out on my road bike as I had recently gotten back into some exercising.
I was never much into road biking; mountain biking was always my favorite, but I hadn’t done much of either since my college years. Our camping trips were helping me get more active again and I was starting to get my bikes out on occasion. We spent the evening enjoying one last campfire at Cloudland Canyon State Park and got our campsite all packed up at the same time to head out early in the morning.
Day 7 At Cloudland Canyon
Starting The Journey Home
We left Cloudland Canyon State Park before dark so we would have plenty of time to make our way north. We pulled into Big Bone Lick State Park in Kentucky by mid afternoon to spend a night and break up the drive home. We definitely could have driven further north, but it was nice to have the afternoon to check out a new park and see the bison.
Cloudland Canyon State Park in Georgia is a fantastic place to spend a week. It didn’t necessarily have the greatest set up for small kids, but we had a blast and so did our kids. Some people think we’re crazy to haul our camper and kids all over the place like this, but we’ve had some really awesome experiences. You just have to take chances and you will be rewarded with some great experiences and family memories.
Cloudland Canyon State Park – www.gastateparks.org/CloudlandCanyon
Cloudland Canyon State Park Review – www.outdoorfamilylife.com/campground-reviews/cloudland-canyon-state-park-campground-review