Cloudland Canyon provides amazing photography excursion

The setting sun casts subtle light in the clouds above Sand Mountain and produce a soft glow of color on the steep cliffs.

Georgia State park packed with scenic views

Some of my favorite childhood memories are of time spent at a hidden Georgia jewel: Cloudland Canyon State Park, which offers simply stunning scenic views. So I was excited to recently schedule three days at the park as my wife and I took our new mini camper on a trial run.

Cloudland Canyon was everything I remember, and this time I was able to document that beauty with my camera. The result were some stunning images of the amazing Cloudland Canyon.

We began our stay by driving to the main overlook of the 1,000-foot-deep canyon, hoping for a sunset photo. However, there really isn't much of a view of the sunset. So my wife (whom I affectionately referred as "my trusty assistant," or MTA, for short) and I sat to simply enjoy the end of the day.

As the light faded, however, I noticed the opportunity to take a photo of Sand Mountain just across the canyon. I quickly set up and captured a nice image of the setting sun casting a bit of light onto the clouds over the mountain. I used a neutral density filter to cut the light and allow me to keep the shutter open longer, which gave the clouds a nice dramatic feel as they pushed across the sky.

Into the canyon

Cherokee Falls

Hemlock Falls

Hemlock Falls

We slept in the next morning, a move I regretted, as amazing colors could be seen through the trees as the sun broke the horizon. However, we were soon heading to the 600 stairs snaking down the face of Cloudland Canyon's main cliff. It's a grueling hike, especially with about 20 pounds of equipment on my back.

It was worth every leg-burning step. There are two major waterfalls in the state park: Cherokee Falls and Hemlock Falls. Even though the area has been in a drought and water flow was fairly minimal, the view of both falls was stunning. 

Cherokee Falls stands 60 feet tall, while Hemlock stretches to 90 feet. Each has a beautiful reflection pool at the bottom. I shot photos of each, although the amount of water pouring over the ledges was great; I am going to stay in touch with the park and make a trip when there is more water flowing to capture the falls in full action.

Bigger sometimes doesn't mean better

Honestly, these large waterfalls were a disappointment. There simply wasn't enough water to really make them shine. That wasn't the case with some of the smaller waterfalls found along the park's Daniel Creek.

I captured two really special images of these smaller, unnamed falls. The great thing is that the rather small stream of water actually made these images stand out, showing the details and colors of the rocks and vegetation, while water flow was compressed enough to give that some weight.

Not all about waterfalls

Sure, waterfalls catch the eye, but Cloudland Canyon State Park is so much more. Daniel Creek offers one amazing view after another, and MTA and I saw it all. We hiked the trail all the way to Trenton, Ga., putting more than 8 miles in that day.

Every turn seemed to open up new doors.

I found beautiful photos all along the way, including an intriguing image showing totems built of stacked river rocks. These cool stacks are scattered along the length of Daniel Creek, but visitors focus their attention on the conjunction of Daniel and Bear creeks.

It's amazing how these rocks fit together and remain stacked in seemingly impossible configurations.

Saving the best for last

On our last morning, we headed back to Cloudland Canyon State Park's main overlook an hour before sunrise in hopes of capturing an amazing sunrise.

We were not disappointed.

Light creeping over the horizon provided the first hint of what was to come. Dust from the Sahara desert had blown into the region, and that meant early clouds turned garish colors. Streaming clouds lighted up as the minutes ticked by — and the result was one of the most-beautiful sunrise images I've ever captured during my trips to the Appalachian Mountains.

Prints of this amazing sunrise photo are available. Just click here!

We left Cloudland Canyon State Park with so many great memories. Our next stop was an amazing campground in the higher elevations of the Nantahala Mountains. I'll share that trip with you soon!