Winter is my favorite season.
The snow. The cold. The wind. I’ll take it all with a smile.
Now, before the haters descend (who are these poor epithets of opinion anyway?), the “winter” I get to enjoy here in Chattanooga often looks a lot like what people in Minnesota might call “July”. Winter for us has occasional elements recognizable to folks further north, but mostly it is the time of year when the humidity goes down, the bugs die or evacuate, and the grass (mercifully) stops growing for a bit. To put it another way, if you wonder why Tennesseans and other species of Southerner delight in winter, come spend August with us sometime. You’ll be yearning the relative comfort of a blizzard within a week.
Case in point: Saturday. It was 29°F at sunrise, without a cloud in the sky. By mid-afternoon, it was up to 65. I’m hard-pressed to think of a better all-around day to spend outside, and the climate of this part of the world presents an embarrassment of these riches from November to March. Faced with such finery, I naturally went hiking.
Being the last weekend of the month, it was an open-gate day at Lula Lake Land Trust. This privately owned plot of 8,000 or so acres is on the east side of Lookout Mountain (part of the Cumberland Plateau) in Walker County, Georgia, about 5 miles south of the Tennessee Line.
Like much of the plateau eco-region, the property features mature oak forests that thrive on the relatively poor, thin soil overlaying the mountain’s cap rock. These give way to a lush riparian zone along the course of Rock Creek through the middle of the trust’s land, with Hemlock, Rhododendron, Mountain Laurel, Ferns, and other species that need more moisture to thrive. I’ve been visiting this spot for several years, and the diversity of plants and terrain in such a small area makes it a special place indeed. The trust seems to know well what a treasure they have in their hands, and their careful management of the tract promises to keep it just as pristine for years to come (in fact, its current state is largely due to the founder buying up land to redeem it from logging and abuse).
For this trip, I had neither kids in tow nor a time limit, so I set out to explore some trails I hadn’t been able to get to yet. There are over 7 miles of trails in the section of the property that is open to visitors, in addition to the gravel road bed that runs along the creek (part of which is the way vehicles get in and out). All are very well signed, and the varying degrees of difficulty should keep any level of hiker satisfied with a visit.
I started up ridge toward the Bluff Trail on a collection of connectors (Ovenbird and Jedi Trails, among others).
The walk along the bluff led to some terrific views on such a clear day. Looking east across the valley, Big Frog (which is another great hike) and Cohutta Mountain stand out on the west edge of the mainline Appalachians. Looking south, the rest of Walker County opens up, with Lookout’s High Point (very originally named) and Pigeon Mountain dominant.
The Bluff Trail bends back down to the gravel road, leading to the eponymous Lula Lake and Lula Falls. This is a “real-deal” waterfall, as Rock Creek plummets off a 100 ft. escarpment. This type of falls is the plateau’s stock-in-trade, but this one stands out for its water volume and proximity to a large city.
The trail (read: rock staircase) to the bottom of the falls is not for the weak of knees, but you’ll definitely get a feel for its size and power that is missed when you see it only from the cliff-top overlook.
Again, the plants are what keep me coming back here. Growing up in Western North Carolina, I got spoiled by the near-rainforest climate and the vivid shades of green it produced. It’s much drier over here, but these little nooks preserve slices of that color.
If you’re ever in the Chattanooga area at the beginning or end of a month, check out Lula Lake. You’ll start inventing excuses to come back, guaranteed.
Caveat Ambuletor: As with any hiking recommendations in this neck of the woods, fall, winter, and spring are your best bets. Summer is hot, humid, buggy, spidery, snakey, and prone to poison ivy. Also, on very nice days like this, it can get a little crowded, so come early for best results.