Cloudland Canyon: West Rim to Waterfalls to Sittons Gulch

I was concerned about conquering Sitton’s Gulch because how icy the trail was along part of the Waterfalls trail. It had dropped well below freezing the night before. The trail was rated as strenuous. I like to err on the side of caution, particularly when hiking solo… At first I decided I’d just go to the waterfalls and hike the West Rim again.

I left from the West Rim Campground bundled up for the cold, connecting with the West Rim Trail, heading west to connect with the Waterfalls trail. Much of the wood structures was coated with ice. Some sections required caution…

I took some pictures of Waterfall #1 (recently named Cherokee Falls and I might have them backwards

Some pics approaching Cherokee Falls: As a note, the trail narrows and comes very close to the water rushing by, without any boundary. Be careful.

Then you go down the main section of stairs. (Remember, you gotta hoof it back up them. There is no escalator.)

However, the views allow you to pause to “take in the beauty” while you gasp for air. (I think they are pretty breath-taking themselves.)

Waterfall #2 (Now named Hemlock Falls)

Views approaching Hemlock Falls:

(As a sidenote rant, I visited these falls 3 days in a row. Each time, there was someone set up dead-center with a bunch of camera gear. None even suggested stepping back so others could take a shot. I waited in excess of 15 minutes on my second visit, and the dude didn’t even offer.) 

Here’s a video of both the falls: http://youtu.be/hw5tV1G8GvE

Because of the frigid temperatures, I was a bit concerned about the conditions on Sittons Gulch. I decided I’d start it, and go as far as I felt safe with. I was determined to give it a whirl, as the reviews about the trail were three-thumbs up. 

One crosses a bridge that is just above the 3rd (unnamed) waterfall.

This is the water going over the falls.Then you go down the stairs to see the full glory of the waterfall:

The view north along the gulch:

There’s a grotto/cave just to the left of the falls.There’s some things in there but I couldn’t get a decent picture to determine what it was. 

The trail was well-marked and in excellent condition… There were a few random ‘tricky spots” due to erosion, but it was really no big deal. The majority of the trail was flat-ish, but a few segments had some noticeable but brief elevation changes. 

The sheer beauty of the views, of the water, the top of the gorge, and interesting rocks and trees encouraged me to walk slowly. I found myself gazing up to take it all in. I took more than 3hours to walk 2 miles. There was so much to see…

Shortly after beginning the trail, there is a small stream to cross. I had no problem crossing on rocks. A few were a little wiggily, so step carefully. 

At the stream, if you look up, you’ll see the 4th waterfall. Even with the foliage gone, it was still difficult to see. I found the ‘best” views were on the northern side of the stream. There was a pile of rocks that would make it difficult to try to climb up for a better view. (Maybe another day)

The vast majority of the trail follows the creek: 

Gorgeous close-up views of the water rushing by:

with interesting and mammoth rocks,

As the erosion continues, I wonder how long this big boulder will stay up?

The impressive sides of the gorge – looking up made me realize how small we really are,

Numerous quirky things along the way caught my attention.

Trees withstanding water

Rock-eating Tree

Determined Tree:The rock in the middle looks like a turtle to me.

The texture of this rock was fascinating:These were cool, odd-shaped rocks:This sign says Ga Park Service Line (or something like that)

Insulation remnants from the 2011 tornadoes.

This was right above the bridge beginning at Sittons Gulch trail. No idea what it is for.

The marker for the North end of the trail and the parking lot: It was dark, but here’s the entrance from the lot.

As a side note, do NOT go into these ‘restrooms’. Find a rock or a tree. I went in there to change clothes. There is a bench. There is no ‘hole”. I am not sure if one is supposed to ‘do their business’ on the wood floor. There was a number of things I won’t discuss on the floor. It was rank and slippery. (So much ugly after so much beauty on the trail is just wrong.)

A video synopsis of all the awesomeness:
 
Here’s a Google Earth map of my trek. I continued past the connector to the West Rim Campground and found a nice boulder to sit on. Watched the sunset and reviewed my pics. I ended my track when I got to the boulder.

On my hike the following day, I started at the north parking lot and hiked south TO the waterfalls. They have a map/directions at the Cloudland State Park office – if you want to go into the cave, you need to get a permit. The map includes detailed info to sorta find the cave. The entrance is smack dab in the middle of a neighborhood. There is really limited parking… maybe 6-8 vehicles. NO parking outside the offical lot. So if you’re going with a few people, make sure you carpool.

I liked this approach better because I was doing the majority of the nominal incline on the way out, and got to go down the monumental stairs on the way back. 

The start of this hike is rather… mundane for about .25 mile.

As you head south, look to the right, you’ll see some mammoth rock formations. (They would be invisible when there is foilage) You see some peeks of the creek before you really begin to see the amazing sections. The creeks merge… 

I also did the loop to Sitton’s Cave. I didn’t go in, as I’m not a caver. The loop trail is fairly easy to follow, it isn’t marked, but the path is intuitive. HOWEVER, if you decide to go to the cave, that’s when the trail is confusing.

There were several trees down, and I did quite a bit of ‘wandering’ to try to find a route. I didn’t want to trample the vegetation, so I quit after a while and went back to the loop. Here are some pictures as I approached Sitton’s Cave: (add 81 & 82)

I went quite slowly on way out and went ‘off trail’ to climb down to the water a few times. If you pay attention, you’ll see several fairly easy paths to head down to the water. I am not sure how the Park Service responds to people venturing off the trail. I noticed a rope swing at one spot close to the North parking lot.

I noticed a couple of hikers trying to climb on some more dangerous areas to the falls. The water is pretty swift-moving and cold as heck – use your own judgment and don’t do anything stupid that could hurt nature or risk other people’s safety.

I made it from the top waterfall back to the parking lot in about 30 minutes, walking at a brisk pace (and taking a few pictures)

Here’s a link to several pdf maps of the trails: http://goo.gl/Th0mz

And the track from the Sitton’s Gulch / Cave parking lot to the waterfalls and back.

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