The first time I saw a photo of the Lula Lake Land Trust, it stopped me in my tracks.
It was a breathtaking aerial drone photo featuring a massive waterfall surrounding by brilliant fall colors. It looked as if Niagara Falls had had a baby, and the baby had moved to the state of Georgia.
That waterfall, known as Lula Falls, is located in North Georgia‘s western corner, less than 5 miles from the border with Tennessee.
Visiting the Land Trust is possible, but it does takes some advance planning.
The core property— which includes panoramic bluff views, pristine Lula Lake, and Lula Falls– is only open to the public on “Open Gate Days.”
These are held on the first and last weekends of the month from May to November, and on the first and last Saturdays of the month from December to April. Otherwise, entry is reserved for private events and educational programming.
Attendance is extremely limited and requires buying a ticket for a specifically timed entry window. In fact, the first few weekends I attempted to visit Lula Lake were completely sold out.
In the end, I bought a ticket several months in advance, but that only served to heighten my anticipation.
Lula Lake Land Trust Info
ADDRESS: 5000 Lula Lake Road, Lookout Mountain GA
COST OF ENTRY: $16 (includes parking space)
HOURS: December thru April: First and last Saturdays. May thru November: First and last weekends. Saturdays 9AM- 5PM, Sundays (in season) Noon-5PM. Note that the LLLT entrance gates close promptly at 3:30PM.
Directions From Atlanta GA: Take I-75 North towards Chattanooga and get off at Exit 350. Turn left onto Battlefield Parkway/GA-2 and go 11 miles. Turn left onto GA-193 S and go 3 miles. Turn right onto Nick-A-Jack Rd and go 4 miles. Turn right onto Lula Lake Road and go 1.9 miles. Look for the sign and parking will be on the right.
Directions from Chattanooga TN: Take TN-58 S to Lula Lake Road.
Visitors to the Core Preserve of Lula Lake Land Trust must have a timed reservation pre-purchased via the official LLLT website. Do not arrive expecting to be admitted without a ticket and a reservation.
Open gate day tickets allow for 1 parking space and cost $16. Only 85 parking spaces are sold on open gate days.
Alternatively, visitors can arrange for a private visit and a guided hike on days when the Core Preserve is normally closed.This option is available for weekday afternoons and limited weekends, and the cost is $150 for two people.
Lula Lake Land Trust History
The most predominate features of the Lula Lake Land Trust are located within the 850-acre Core Preserve. These include Lookout Mountain, Lula Lake (and the 20-foot waterfall that feeds it), and the 120-foot Lula Falls.
These beautiful features were home to indigenous people (including the Cherokee) for centuries prior to European settlement. The area was a popular North Georgia attraction even prior to the Civil War.
The Lula Lake Land Trust is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of lands, protection of ecosystems, and low-impact outdoor recreation within the Rock Creek and Bear Creek watersheds on Lookout Mountain.
The trust was created in 1994 by the will of Robert M. Davenport, who began acquiring acreage that had been depleted by mining, garbage dumping, deforestation, and unrestricted public access in the late 1950s.
Once the Lula Lake area was closed to the public in the early 1980s, Davenport began restoring the land by cleaning up the dump sites and replanting the forest. The property started allowing public access again around 2013.
To date, the trust has protected over 12,000 acres and doubled the land mass of nearby Cloudland Canyon State Park. The NGO also functions as a research/treatment location for the preservation of Georgia’s Hemlock forests.
The small town of Lookout Mountain covers the northwest corner of Georgia and Tennessee, offering a number of worthwhile trails (including the Lula Lake Land Trust trails) for anyone interested in hiking near Chattanooga TN.
The mountain is part of the Appalachian plateau, the oldest mountain region in North America.
Lula Lake Land Trust Hiking Info
When we visited the Lula Lake trails on the first open gate day in July, I was excited for my kids to explore the tiniest region of our state: the Appalachian plateau.
I knew to bring the basic hiking essentials with us, including water (2 liters per person) and lunches. There are no comfort stations or running water at LLLT, so we each carried some in our day packs.
Restrooms are limited to two privy-type installations, but we were encouraged to use the woods when nature called. This, strangely, was a highlight of the day for my boys.
There is a strict pack-it-in/pack-it-out rule here. And there are no trash cans, so bring a trash bag with you to keep your refuse separate from anything else in your backpacks.
A Lula Lake Land Trust hike should prioritize exploring the core preserve’s 13 hiking trails (which total 8 miles), because access to them is so limited.
If you’re planning to visit the Lula Lake waterfall, you’ll hike 4.2 miles round-trip and should allow 2-3 hours for the journey.
Our Lula Lake Land Trust Hikes
After our picnic lunch in the meadow, I crossed a bridge over Rock Creek.
Then we took Middle Trail all the way up to where it connected with Bluff Trail, which led to the spectacular scenic view we were hoping for!
If you’re planning on hiking near Chattanooga TN, standing atop Lookout Mountain and gazing down at the valley down below should really be on your bucket list.
Note that the Lula Lake Land Trust closes at 5PM, so visitors must leave the base of Lula Falls by 3:30PM in order to make it back out in time.
After exploring the gorgeous waterfalls, we gradually made our way back up from the bottom, using the Old Lula Falls Trail to connect with a gravel road.
The path was very steep, but there were a few rope handles installed to help pull yourself up the rock steps.
This hiking trail was not for the faint of heart, but it definitely added to the adventure of the day!
Our final stop at the LLLT was the actual Lula Lake, which was surprisingly small.
Although it is very picturesque, it’s really not in the same category in terms of size as other lakes near Chattanooga TN.
The beautiful lake was a brilliant turquoise color, with a small waterfall tumbling in at the top. You could easily skip a rock across the whole thing if you had the mind to do it.
We relaxed for snacks and drinks at a picnic table near the lake, then committed to the hike back out. Make sure you some energy for the trip back!
After the long day of fun we’d had (and hiking we’d done), we all were exhausted and thirsty. So the walk back uphill seemed a lot steeper than we remembered from just a few hours earlier.
The Views At Lula Lake Land Trust
The physical experience of standing atop a true plateau is truly amazing.
The sheer drop of the rock face shelf coupled with the expansive vistas is a combo that’s hard to find in North Georgia (other than alternative Lookout Mountain hikes, like those at Cloudland Canyon and Rock City).
The trail down from the bluff to the waterfall opens up along the creek basin that the waterfall empties into.
White water swirled around huge boulders before disappearing downstream, leaving me to imagine what was just beyond my sight. The mist made rainbows appear everywhere I looked, and it was like walking into magic.
People congregated below Lula Falls, relaxing and enjoying the sounds and the view of the free-falling water.
I enjoyed trying to get the perfect picture of the huge waterfall without people in it. But featuring a few people in photos helps provide scale to such massive waterfalls.
There were plenty of spaces to sit near and under the waterfall, and it’s even possible to walk behind it.
My son and I especially loved being able to look down the creek from behind the curtain of rushing water.
Even though we visited in July, the mist off the water and the damp rock outcropping behind the falls kept us cool. -text and images by Jennifer Worrel; featured image courtesy of Lula Lake Land Trust