I signed up to do Canyon Climbers a whole year ago, you guys. 365+ days. And you want to know how long it took me to complete once I finally set my mind to it?
About a month.
You see, for a really long time I wouldn’t go hiking alone. I think I was nervous about the idea of being out in the wilderness alone, but even more than that, I felt let down and upset that there was nobody I could convince to venture out with me. I’ve always had a strong affinity for the outdoors, but there’s some kind of stigma about young women going it alone (or doing really anything alone) that I just couldn’t shake. I love to read about other women traveling on their own and living their lives exactly how they want to, but I couldn’t find the confidence within myself to make that a practice for my own life. Is it weird to go out into the world on my own? Does it make me a loser? So I continued to let myself be held back by other people—not that others were knowingly manipulating my decisions, but that the lack of common interests kept me from pursuing my own desires.
I signed up to do Canyon Climbers a year ago. I had read about it online, having gone down some deep rabbit hole looking for new adventures in my area (as I always am). Hike these four hikes, get a shirt. Easy peasy. I had begged and nagged and argued a friend into hiking Blood Mountain with me, and we just so happened to end up at Amicalola Falls later that day, where I jumped on the opportunity to sign up to hike the canyons. And then I carried the card in my wallet for the next year, with no luck of finding a buddy to pursue future hikes.
A few months ago, something clicked in my brain: I can do these hikes by myself. I don’t need anyone else to tell me what I can and can’t do, and I can engage in my own interests regardless of the participation of others. Women can and should hike! Since then, I completed every single one of these hikes on my own, and I am so excited to finally share my experience with you!
What is Canyon Climbers?
Canyon Climbers is a hiking challenge hosted by the Georgia State Parks service. Anyone interested in participating may pay $10 at any of the participating parks—Tallulah Gorge, Cloudland Canyon, Providence Canyon, and Amicalola Falls—to receive a card. You may then take your card with you to be punched, as you hike all of the canyons at your leisure. When you are finished, you mail in your card and they send you a shirt!
I started with Tallulah Gorge. Admittedly, I was the least excited about Tallulah Gorge and planned to just get it out of the way at the beginning. It was a longer drive than Amicalola Falls and Cloudland Canyon, and so I had made up my mind to power through it right at the beginning. I listened to the road trip playlist that I had created earlier this summer on my drive to pump myself up, and was thrilled to be there by the time I arrived. I was really doing this!
Since I came on a Saturday afternoon, the park was packed when I arrived. I had no problem finding parking though, and stopped in at the visitor’s center to grab a map and have my card punched. Making sure my water was full, I headed around the visitor’s center to the North Rim trail, and began my journey to the bottom of the gorge. As I descended down to the beginning of the stairs, I passed plenty of overlooks boasting views of the canyon. These seemed to be communal hubs, so I didn’t wait around for too long before continuing on.
There are signs warning against the strenuous hike at the start of the stairs, but getting down to the suspension bridge, which is the main objective for canyon climbers, is only about .2 miles. I followed the stairs down to the suspension bridge, going cross-eyed in the process from focusing so hard on the all the lines made by the never-ending stairs! The bridge itself is beautiful, but the view is just gorgeous!! (See what I did there?) Even though this was all I had to do to earn my stamp for the challenge, I wasn’t about to stop at the bridge. I crossed over and continued down the rest of the stairs to Hurricane Falls.
You can acquire a permit to hike the gorge floor, but since I hadn’t done that, Hurricane Falls was the end of my journey. I stayed within the bounds of the wooden boardwalk and admired the raw beauty of nature…that, and mentally prepared myself to go back up all the stairs I had just come down. In that moment, I also realized another reason why I love mountains—you do the hard part at the beginning.
While it had only taken me about 20 minutes to reach the bottom, I nearly doubled that getting back up the stairs. I took my time, stopping often for water breaks. (Some people just aren’t coordinated enough to walk and funnel water into mouth simultaneously, don’t judge!) The ascent was rough, especially when combined with how little activity my body was accustomed to prior to this moment. I had hiked only a few times over the past few months—I hiked in Mount Rainier National Park and convinced a friend to visit Panola Mountain with me, to name a few—but it had mostly been before the heat of the summer kicked in. That said, I came, I saw, I conquered. I let my determination to finally fulfill a goal that I had set for myself take over, and enjoyed every second of feeling like I may die at any moment!
When I reached the top, I took one last detour to an overlook that I hadn’t passed on my way down. It had a view of the suspension bridge, and I got to see from the top just how far down I had been. I let the pride of a fulfilling solo hike carry me back to my car, because my legs surely couldn’t do it on their own after Tallulah Gorge! I can say confidently that this one was the most strenuous of the group.
On my next visit: I would like to get a permit to hike on the gorge floor! I think it would be really rewarding to do more exploring in the gorge, instead of hiking down, and then right back up again!
One down, three to go.
Now that I had hiked Tallulah Gorge on my own (and Atlanta’s monadnocks in the meantime), I was starting to feel more confident on my solo adventures. This was a good thing, because my work schedule had changed, allowing me some days off during the week. Weekdays are the absolute best for day hikes, because the trails are less crowded! So, on a Friday morning I made my way to my next stop on the journey: Cloudland Canyon.
For full disclosure, I had completed almost all of these hikes as a kid with my family, so the experience itself of hiking into this canyon wasn’t completely brand new. However, it had been about 15 years and I don’t think I fully appreciated the beauty of this place back then.
Starting this time in the “day use” section of the park, I lazily meandered past some beautiful views of the giant chasm before beginning my descent. I took the West Rim trail down to the split for the waterfalls, and chose to go all the way down to Hemlock Falls, the farthest down, first. I was visiting Cloudland Canyon in the week following Hurricane Irma, so the trail was muddy but the greenery was so lush! Out of the four canyons, this one tempted me to stop and take photos more often than the other three. While the waterfalls here are beautiful, I was just as enthralled by the scenery on the rest of the hike. The trail to the bottom of the canyon hugs huge walls of sandstone and shale, which stand as physical evidence to show you how far you have gone (and just how far up you’ll have to return)!
The trail continues past Hemlock Falls to Sitton’s Gulch and out of the park, but the falls was my destination for the day. The trail to Hemlock Falls ends at a platform complete with benches, but it was all too tempting to climb down onto the rocks below. I made my way down to the water’s edge to spend a moment with this falls, and after snapping a few photos, continued on to the next one.
I returned the way I came (back up the stairs) to reach waterfall number two for the day, Cherokee Falls. Cherokee Falls is much more accessible by foot, cascading into a calm pool. You can see the falls from a ways away as you hike up to it, and this pool would be a very tempting place to take a dip in the water…although I don’t think you’re supposed to!
While this hike is about two miles round trip, give yourself plenty of time to stay and enjoy the waterfalls! Overall, this hike felt easier to me that Tallulah Gorge, but this can possibly be attributed to how distracted I was by the trail itself, and also that I stopped at Cherokee Falls on my return.
On my next visit: I’ll hike the entire West Rim trail! Unfortunately, I only gave myself enough time to hike down to the waterfalls on this visit, but hopefully I’ll return at some point to do the whole loop!
Two done, halfway there!
Providence Canyon was by far my biggest adventure of the four. Providence Canyon was the only park that I hadn’t visited growing up, so it was a totally new experience. It is hidden away in southwest Georgia, and was the farthest drive from my home in metro Atlanta, and is also arguably one of the most unique places to hike within the state of Georgia.
I didn’t arrive at the park until early afternoon, but luckily I was hiking in late summer, so I still had plenty of daylight left in my day. When I parked my car at the visitor’s center, it was the only one in the lot. I was hiking on a Wednesday. It turned out that I wouldn’t cross paths with a single other hiker for the total duration of my hike at Providence Canyon.
I signed my name in the logbook at the beginning of the Canyon Loop trail and made my way into the canyon. What I didn’t realize before my descent into the canyon was that there would be no stairs on this hike. I had become accustomed to the stairway and boardwalk trails that seemed to come with the territory when hiking Georgia’s canyons. So accustomed, in fact, that I actually hiked into and right back out of the canyon without even realizing it! I had wandered a few miles into the Canyon Loop trail, which winds through a wooded forest (and is also home to some quirky old car ruins) before I started thinking that maybe I had missed something. So I stopped, hopped up onto a nearby fence to take a seat, and consulted the Internet. My doubts were confirmed, and I turned around.
It turns out that the dry creek bed I had crossed over toward the beginning of the trail was actually the bottom of the canyon. However, being the afternoon, I knew the visitor’s center was going to close soon and I hadn’t yet had my Canyon Climbers card stamped. I hiked all the way back out of the canyon to have my card punched, took a quick break, and then headed back into the canyon, armed with the new information for a successful hike!
This time, I turned at the base of the canyon and journeyed into the many crevices that make up Providence Canyon. There was something new to discover around every turn, and being alone in the canyon definitely evoked the feeling that Providence Canyon was my personal secret. A product of erosion, the canyon’s sandstone walls are super fragile, so I tried to be respectful by not attempting to climb them.
Providence Canyon is only 150 feet deep, making it the easiest climb out of the bunch.
Since I had originally purchased my Canyon Climbers card at Amicalola Falls a year before this point, Providence Canyon was the final punch that I needed in order to complete my card. I had officially completed Canyon Climbers! However, I somehow felt like I had cheated by getting that initial card punch a year earlier, so I had one more hike to do before I could mail in my card.
On my next visit: I’m going to stay the night! Providence Canyon is an awesome little gem in Georgia, but I don’t plan to do this park as a day trip again. Luckily, there is plenty of adventure at Providence Canyon to keep me occupied for an overnight stay!
There are a lot of things that I love about Amicalola Falls State Park. I love that it’s where most people start their journey on the Appalachian Trail. I love that it’s so accessible from Atlanta. I love that it’s one of those parks that everyone knows about and has visited—even people who aren’t that into the outdoors. Amicalola Falls is a park that I visit time and time again, but have never really explored more than the falls itself…maybe that’s something I’ll add to my ever-growing list of future adventures.
This return to Amicalola Falls felt kind of like the encore that no one asked for but I was doing anyway. I had already technically completed Canyon Climbers, but had told myself that I needed to go back to this one. I had never officially decided that I had to do Canyon Climbers on my own, but I guess something felt unfinished about not returning to Amicalola Falls.
One thing very refreshing about hiking Amicalola Falls was the ability to choose if I wanted to start at the top and climb down, or start at the bottom and go up. After descending three times into various canyons, I was very excited to start at the bottom and make my way up this falls! The trail starts as a paved ascent up to the base of the falls from the parking lot, and quickly turns into the stairway that takes you all the way to the top, crossing over the falls in the middle (probably the most photographed spot on the trail). As usual, I took my time on my ascent, stopping frequently to take photos and chat with other hikers. I didn’t have any agenda or time limitations on this hike since I’d already had my card punched, so I was able to relax more and appreciate the trail for what it was.
It’s hard to believe that waterfalls this grand exist…but they do, and I was basically standing on one. Amicalola Falls is, in my opinion, one if the crown jewels of Georgia nature, and I feel lucky that I have visited it so many times.
On my next visit: I want to stay the night at Hike Inn! It’s another one of those things I’ve been thinking about doing for a while but haven’t yet actually made the commitment.
A Nudge in the Right Direction
These four hike changed my perspective. I did them around the same time that I hiked Atlanta’s monadnocks, but I had spent so much time in the prior year thinking about when I was going to finally go back to the canyons. When was I going to find the time to complete this challenge?
It turns out that all I had to do was make it a priority. And break away from the notion that I couldn’t find my own adventure in the world. Canyon Climbers was what kick started my launch into the outdoors last year, and I will forever be grateful to the Georgia State Parks Service for putting together a challenge that not only motivated me to get outside, but has left me feeling inspired and empowered to continue to discover what the world has to offer! Since completing Canyon Climbers, I have tested out quite a few new-to-me trails in Georgia, as well as driving up to North Carolina for my first-ever visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park! I don’t have to keep wondering about what is out there—I can go out and see for myself!
Have you hiked any of Georgia’s canyons? Let me know what you think of them in a comment below!