Even the names are enchanting and inviting.
Cloudland Canyon. Fall Creek Falls. Fort Mountain. Frozen Head. Rock Island.
State and national parks around the Chattanooga area invite campers, hikers, boaters, climbers, geocachers and other outdoor enthusiasts from the minute they first hear the names.
Cloudland Canyon State Park in Dade County, Ga., and Fall Creek Falls State Park near Pikeville, Tenn., are two of the area's most popular parks. Particularly in the fall, Cloudland Canyon's steep walls provide a stunning vista for day visitors or overnight campers. For visitors who don't mind working up a sweat, the park has trails down to two waterfalls at the bottom of the gorge.
Fall Creek Falls is usually one of Tennessee's most visited parks and most of them come for the falls, which are some of the tallest in the eastern United States.
Jerry Whitright, one of the founding members of the North Georgia Camping Club, listed off a dozen parks in North Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama where the group had been, including Cloudland, Fall Creek Falls and DeSoto State Park in Northeast Alabama. His favorites, he said, are Vogel State Park near Blairsville, Ga., and Fort Mountain between Chatsworth and Ellijay.
"Get away. Get out in the woods," he said. "We enjoy just getting out."
State parks, as well as U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds such as the one at Carters Lake near Chatsworth, Ga., usually have nicer amenities and larger sites than private campgrounds.
"They're generally a lot more generous with their space than private parks," he said.
On the federal side, America's most-visited national park, the Great Smoky Mountains, is only a little more than two hours away. Little River Canyon National Preserve gives North Alabama residents a nearby swimming hole, hiking trail and scenic spot.
The Cherokee National Forest east of Chattanooga and Chattahoochee National Forest to the south also have enough trails, campsites, boat launches, mountain views and picnic areas to fill up plenty of weekends. Trails in both forests link to the Appalachian Trail, meaning someone could start walking near Chattanooga and not stop until he reaches Maine.
NEARBY STATE PARKS
-- Cloudland Canyon, Rising Fawn, Ga.
-- Fall Creek Falls, Pikeville, Tenn.
-- Harrison Bay, Harrison, Tenn.
-- DeSoto, Fort Payne, Ala.
-- Fort Mountain, Chatsworth, Ga.
-- Rock Island, McMinnville, Tenn.
-- Cumberland Mountain, Crossville, Tenn.
-- Frozen Head, Wartburg, Tenn.
-- Sloppy Floyd, Summerville, Ga.
-- Buck's Pocket, Grove Oak, Ala.