Cloudland Canyon State Park: hiking Sitton’s Gulch Trail
Hike the 6 mile Sitton Gulch Trail, dropping from Cloudland Canyon's towering rim to the canyon floor filled with waterfalls, towering hemlock and massive boulder fields.
The Sitton’s Gulch Trail treks some of the Cloudland Canyon hiking trails’ most beautiful and serene areas. The trail plunges elevation from the canyon’s lofty, view-filled east rim to two popular waterfalls and then descends into the remote, boulder- and waterfall-filled canyon floor.
The trail’s outbound difficulty is easy, with almost continual descent. It’s the 3 mile return that’s the challenge. The return hike requires over 900 feet of climb via trail and stairs – the most difficult of the Cloudland Canyon hiking trails available to hike without a special permit. The effort is worth it, though – the natural beauty on this hike is gorgeous.
Sitton’s Gulch Trail: the hike
The Sitton’s Gulch Trail shares the initial plunge into Cloudland Canyon with the park’s Waterfall Trail, departing the east rim after catching incredible, expansive views from the trailhead (view maps and driving directions).
The trail quickly splits from the yellow-blazed West Loop Trail, turning right in a descent toward Hemlock and Cherokee Falls. The trail’s surface alternates between stairs, boardwalk and dirt in an near-continual descent toward the waterfalls along chiseled, steeply-pitched canyon walls.
The trail reaches the first of two waterfall turnoffs, turning here to explore Cherokee Falls. The waterfall plunges 60 feet from an immense, curved cliff into a calm, blue pool of tranquil water below.
The trail departs Cherokee Falls, winding deeper into the canyon’s depths via angular switchbacks on stairs and landings. The hike follows a signed side trail to Hemlock Falls, reaching the waterfall’s wooden platform and pausing for a view of the immense, plunging 90-foot waterfall.
Departing Hemlock Falls, the hike backtracks, reaching and crossing the bridge spanning Daniel Creek. The Sitton’s Gulch Trail begins here, offering beautiful views of the boulder-littered canyon floor from the span bridge.
The trail drops to the creek’s western banks via a set of stairs before descending a steep, graveled slope to a beautiful fern, moss and hemlock-filled shady valley floor. Giant moss and lichen-covered boulders dominate the rocky, angular landscape – a reminder that the Cloudland’s canyon walls are ever-changing. Nature continues to sculpt its rocky walls.
The fresh scent of hemlock fills the cool air, and small waterfalls audibly cascade in the elevation below the bridge, crashing in the relative quiet of the surrounding canyon.
The Sitton Gulch Trail hikes deeper into Cloudland Canyon’s depths – a quiet, peaceful, wooded oasis secluded from the activity of the canyon rim above. The trail continues to flank the creek’s western shore, following blue blazes in a continual elevation descent through the boulder-strewn valley.
The sound of water flow is continuous as the creek tumbles over rock, falls in cascading waterfalls and pools in crystal-clear basins on trail right. A towering tree canopy shades the trail, the air damp and cool. Several immense old-growth trees flank the sides of the trail, soaring high into the canopy overhead.
The Sitton Gulch Trail begins to level elevation at 2.25 miles. The trail widens, meandering through young deciduous forest, crossing several seasonally-flowing side creeks and passing the start and end of a permit-only loop trail on trail left. The rocky, steep sloped canyon has leveled to a soil-rich forest environment where wildflowers thrive in warmer months.
The trail reaches a parking area at just under 3 miles, turning to retrace the hike into Cloudland Canyon’s basin. It’s a three mile return to the trailhead, climbing over 900 feet to scale the canyon’s eastern wall via the Sitton Gulch and Waterfall trails, reaching the trailhead at 5.1 miles.
Note: slippery rocks and fast moving water can be extremely dangerous! Please don’t climb, stand on, swim near, or jump from any waterfall.