If you’re like me, you’ve probably got a lot of t-shirts. Some commemorate places (like the beach you went to on vacation back in 1997). Other mark occasions (like a grand opening of a fast food restaurant somewhere).
But the ones that matter – the ones that I keep – are the ones that help me remember some kind of an accomplishment.
That’s the kind of t-shirt you get once you’ve met the challenges of the Canyon Climbers Club. This club, an initiative of Georgia State Parks, will encourage you to get outside and enjoy the unique offerings of four of Georgia’s most spectacular state parks (Cloudland Canyon, Amicalola Falls, Tallulah Gorge, and Providence Canyon).
Here’s how it works. First, you’ll need to join the club. That costs a paltry $10 (less than that mediocre fast-food burger you had for lunch yesterday). You can join the club either at one of the participating parks or online (via the link that you’ll find on the Canyon Climbers Club webpage at gastateparks.org/CanyonClimbersClub).
Once you have your card in hand, the fun begins! Your mission: complete the specified hike in each of the four parks, getting your card punched each one as you do, and then redeem the punched card for a t-shirt – not to mention bragging rights too!
Three of the Canyon Climbers Club sites (Cloudland Canyon, Amicalola Falls, and Tallulah Gorge) are in the northern part of the state. The fourth, Providence Canyon, is in southwest Georgia near the town of Lumpkin.
Here’s a look at the hikes you must complete to earn the coveted shirt:
Cloudland Canyon/Rising Fawn
Way up in extreme northwestern Georgia, right on the edge of Lookout Mountain, is Cloudland Canyon State Park. The centerpiece of the park is a sure-enough canyon with more than six miles of great hiking trails. One of them, the one-mile-long Waterfalls Trail, features a 600-step staircase. You read right – 600 steps each way. It lets you check out the park’s two waterfalls and takes you through some spectacularly beautiful scenery. To get your card punched, you have to hike down the Waterfalls Trail (and back up again, of course). But you’ll be a better person when you’ve done it…and you’ll also have the first punch on your card.
Tallulah Gorge/Tallulah Falls
Cloudland Canyon is not the only canyon in the northern part of the state. Another is Tallulah Gorge up in the northeastern corner of the state. This 1,000-foot-deep gorge was much in the news when Karl Wallenda crossed it on a wire in 1970, but its scenic beauty has been known for much longer than that. You won’t have to cross a high wire to get your Canyon Climbers Card punched, but you may want to cross the canyon on the swaying suspension bridge that awaits you at the bottom of a 300-plus-step stairway leading down from the rim. To be precise, it’s 310 steps from the north rim and 340 steps from the south rim. To get your card punched, you’ll need to make the trip down from the north rim’s Overlook 2. That’s only 620 steps. Piece of cake!
The trail you’ll hike at Amicalola Falls isn’t a canyon trail, per se, but it does ask you to do a little climbing. How much is “a little”? With a height of 729 feet, Amicalola Falls is the tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi River. The paved, one-mile-long Base of Falls Trail starts at the bottom of the falls and follows the water up the mountain. Along the way you’ll find lots of great vantage points. You’ll also find lots of steps – 604 steps each way, to be precise) – which you must climb to get to the top and get your card punched. But don’t despair. There are benches along the way where you can stop and rest. I didn’t say it would be easy. After all, you’ve got to earn that t-shirt!
To complete the challenge, you’ll need to head south to Lumpkin, Ga., and Providence Canyon State Park. This canyon is actually an epic erosion scar, created as a result of poor erosion control practices while farming here during the 1800s. But scar or not, it’s spectacularly beautiful, exposing layers of multi-colored dirt that must be seen to be believed. The canyon floor is wet, too, so this canyon really is a work in progress. To get your final card punch, you’ll need to do a mile and a half of hiking, following the park’s loop trail (with a side trip into one of the most scenic parts of the park, Canyon 5). That’s about 2,500 steps worth of walking. Note that you’ll need to get your card punched at nearby Florence Marina State Park, just a few miles away, since the Providence Canyon visitor center is now closed.
Georgia’s state parks have several programs like this one, and I’m glad to see them too. We shouldn’t need an excuse to get out-of-doors, but sometimes all of us (even Yours Truly) need that extra little nudge. The Canyon Climbers Club nudges just the right amount.
These fall days are the perfect time to get started. I’m going to do it, and I hope you will too. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.