Cloudland Canyon: West Rim Trail to Waterfalls

I set out for a couple of days of hiking at Cloudland Canyon. When I was a young’un, I spent 2 summers at Camp Skyline, which is right around there but never experienced Cloudland Canyon. Wowza. Here’s a fairly detailed wiki about the area:

On a blustery Saturday in January, I departed from the West Rim Campground, connected with the West Rim trail, and then down to the Waterfalls trails and back. Here’s a link to several dandy maps of the trails:

The trails were well-marked. I don’t think even I could get lost.

The trails were in good condition for the most part – very few spots were ‘rooty’ and had instances of erosion and mud. (Here are the ‘worst of the worst’ spots I saw)

I didn’t start at the “normal” starting point, the trail is a loop, but there is a way to detour a portion that really isn’t worth the effort. 

When I encountered the bridge, I opted to continue North (not crossing the bridge) toward the West Rim Parking Lot. Needless to say, this section was just a generic walk in the woods. Nothing wrong with that per se, but unless you have a week to spend at Cloudland, skip this section. Cross the bridge. Here’s a sampling of the views:Should you want to continue north anyway, there is one stream to cross. There had been a significant amount of rain recently, it was wide enough that I couldn’t leap it. It was deeper than boot as I walked up and down. (It had been well below freezing the past couple of days, so I wasn’t going to get wet) I found a part that was easy enough to find dry rock & leap. (This is one of 2 streams that you will encounter on the West Rim trail that require crossing without bridge. They are not on the ‘official maps”)

If you cross the bridge, you’ll encounter the primo views of the gorge. There are 4 different “overlooks” along the trail. After you pass the 4th one, turn around and go back. Really. You’ve got better stuff to see elsewhere.

Several of the cabins are within view on the trail:
What was interesting is that the trail doesn’t exactly point out “there’s an view of sheer awesome-ness this direction”. It seemed like it was anything but. That sign tells you to go right, but to the left is the 3rd Overlook. (I’m curious and none of these were marked on the maps.) 

This was the 4th Overlook (aka, when heading north, turn around after this one…)

It was REALLY cold & blustery at the overlooks. I noticed several hawks or falcons flying above. Trying to catch them with my zoom lens requires more skill than I have, particularly when I’m wearing thick gloves. I told you it was cold.

The views were… spectacular. I’m not going to try to number them. I’m uploading them in order from the North parking lot toward the bridge. Just enjoy the view. I tried to zoom in on the huge icicles hanging down. 

One goes down these stairs to another overlook. A number of people passed on by, unaware of what they were bypassing. The path to these overlooks required some navigation, but nothing treacherous (unless you’re in stiletto hiking boots).

I continued past the “West Rim Campground Connector to West Rim Trail Marker”,

(crossed a small stream)

to head to the Waterfalls trail. You’ll start to hear the waterfalls rushing. You can’t see them as you wander through some muddy switchbacks. There’s a tree with a huge crack,

a cave,

and then you encounter a bridge crossing fast-moving water that feeds the water falls and leads to Sitton’s Gulch: 

The trail on both sides of the bridge was particularly muddy & narrow at times. 

Then come the stairs. The first section. Really, you’ll be wishing for an escalator. An older gentleman noted how ‘briskly’ I was coming down the stairs. I replied that it will be much different story on the way up. There are A LOT of stairs ahead as you head to the waterfalls.

First, you’ll encounter a huge boulder with benches where you can sit and catch your breath on the way up from the waterfalls. It’s just below the parking lot in case you need to be air-lifted out.

On the other side of the boulder, look up and you’ll see how a small rock is precariously holding up the huge one.

You have a few glimpses of the first waterfall as you complete the West Rim Trail. The trail is approximately 4.8 miles.

Here’s a video with a tip about finding the trailhead & other details:

Up next: Waterfalls Trail & Sitton’s Gulch.

Other random shots along West Rim Trail:

I’ll update with more details after I break out my GPS.


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