South Cumberland - Hiking — Tennessee State Parks

South Cumberland State Park

Hiking

From peaceful walks through a meadow full of wildflowers to a trip back in time to a coal mining area to breath-taking overlooks of the Cumberland Plateau, South Cumberland is a wondrous hiking destination featuring waterfalls, vistas, historical areas and some with old growth trees. 

The park is divided into three Ranger Districts, each with its own ranger station/visitor center and each district offers numerous opportunities for enjoyable hiking options. 

Visitor’s Center 

  • Meadow Trail Hike - 1.3-mile easy, round trip hike with views of wildflowers, wildlife, a pond, and berries; can you identify what the trail used to be before it was a park? Ask a Ranger for the answer! 

Grundy Lakes

  • Lone Rock Trail - An easy 2.3-mile roundtrip hike circling the Grundy Lakes. Set time aside to explore the coke ovens and to enjoy the views of the lakes in this historical area. Ask a desk attendant for a brochure on the ovens. 

Fiery Gizzard

  • Grundy Day Loop - This moderate 2-mile roundtrip hike will take you past multiple waterfalls, ancient trees, and plenty of enjoyable swimming holes. 
  • Sycamore Falls Loop - A moderate, 3-mile hike that drops off the top of the plateau and brings you to some interesting geologic formations and waterfalls. Don’t forget your bathing suit to take a dip in the refreshing Sycamore Falls swimming hole! 
  • Climber’s Loop - This 2-mile roundtrip hike takes you along a beautiful cliff line and along the base of towering bluff walls. Oh, and the picturesque Foster Falls is located on this hike!    
  • Raven’s Point Loop - A difficult 10-mile trek into some of the more remote areas of the Fiery Gizzard. Please allow adequate time to make this hike (and of course to see the many springs, sinks, caves, overlooks, and waterfalls). Meet this trail by way of the Fiery Gizzard below Sycamore Falls and be sure to check out the Raven’s Point spur trail. 
  • Foster Falls to Small Wilds - A 5-mile out-and-back hike that will take you past waterfalls and some pretty cool overlooks. 

Buggy Top

  • Buggy Top Trail - A moderately difficult 4-mile roundtrip hike to one of the largest cave openings in Tennessee. Watch your footing as you descend into Lost Cove and rest at the opening of the cave before heading back up. Bring lots of water. 

Savage Gulf

  • Big Creek Gulf Trail - 4 Miles - Difficult - The rough, challenging trail leads through the gorge below and to the west of Stone Door. Hikers may return via the Laurel or Big Creek Rim Trails. Due to the difficulty, an overnight hike is recommended, although it can make a long, but rewarding day hike. The trail begins from Stone Door Trail above the overlook, and then steeply descends through the Stone Door passageway.
    • 0.9 Connector Trail to the left; Big Creek Gulf Trail to the right.
    • 1.2 Trail joins an old logging road. Several resurgent springs down and to the left.
    • 2.0 Ranger Falls Trail to the left. This spur trail leads to the falls and sink of Ranger Creek. The round trip is 0.8 miles. Follow the blue blazes.
    • 2.6 Sinks Trail to the left. This short spur leads to where Big Creek usually disappears under an imposing, unstable limestone bluff.
    • 3.9 Greeter Trail to the left; Big Creek Gulf Trail straight ahead.
    • 4.0 Laurel Trail begins to the left, Big Creek Rim Trail to the right. Alum Gap Campground is 160’ down the Big Creek Rim Trail.
  • Big Creek Rim Trail - 2.30 Miles - Moderate - This trail follows the edge of the plateau above the Big Creek Gulf. It can form half of a loop using either the Laurel or Big Creek Gulf trails as the other half. Several small streams are crossed but are usually dry during the summer and fall. The trail begins from the Stone Door Trail near the overlook.

    • 0.3 Split Rock Overlook - Stone Door cliffs can be seen to the far left.
    • 1.6 Sinks Overlook - at the bottom of the gorge, a limestone cliff marks the area where Big Creek goes underground most of the year.
    • 2.5 Pine Rock Overlook.
    • 2.7 Big Creek Overlook - the stream can be seen down and to the right.
    • 3.2 Alum Gap Campground - the junction of Laurel and Big Creek Gulf Trails is 160’ straight ahead.
  • Collins Gulf Trail - 3.70 Miles - Difficult - This challenging trail is designed to accommodate extended trips. It takes hikers along the Collins River past Suter Falls, Horsepound Falls, and the Fall Creek Sink. This trail can become impassable during ice buildup around Suter Falls and during times of high water. Trail begins 0.4 miles from the Collins West Parking lot and 0.2 miles past the Collins West Campground. Collins Rim Trail straight ahead. Trail begins down and to the left.

    • 0.1 Suter Falls - the spectacular triple waterfall of Rocky Mountain Creek, a huge overhang, and metal bridge.
    • 1.9 Spur trail to the right leads down to Horsepound Falls and sink.
    • 2.2 Fall Creek disappears into a cave on the left. Ford of Collins River; impassable during high water.
    • 3.2 Trumpet Creeper Ford - crossing of the normally dry bed of the Collins River.
    • 3.5 Faint old jeep road to the left leads across the river and up to 80’ bluff containing Schwoon Cave, spring, and 30’ sinkhole. Follow the blue blazes.
    • 3.7 Sawmill Campground straight ahead; Stone Door via Connector Trail across the bridge to the left; Connector Trail to Hobbs Cabin to the right just before entering the campground.
  • Collins Rim Trail - 6.10 Miles - Difficult - This trail follows the edge of the plateau along the east side of the Collins River Gulf. Except for the mile between the Collins West Campground and the Collins River crossing, the trail is entirely on top of the plateau. There are several short trails to overlooks which are blazed in blue. The trail begins 0.4 from the Collins West Parking lot and 0.2 miles past the Collins West Campground. Collins Gulf trail to the left. The trail begins straight ahead.

    • 0.8 Suspension bridge across Collins River above huge boulders.
    • 1.0 Trail climbs steeply out of the gorge.
    • 1.4 Old moonshine still site to the right on a larger stream.
    • 3.1 A small stream is forded with the remains of an old moonshine still visible to the right.
    • 3.5 Collins River Overlook to the left.
    • 3.7 Standing Rock Overlook to the left.
    • 4.3 Horsepound Point Overlook to the left.
    • 5.0 Ford of Blue Branch - thick rhododendron growth.
    • 5.6 Blue Branch Overlook to the left - an outstanding view of a short tributary gorge and the main gulf.
    • 6.1 Trail ends atop Peak Mountain at the end of the South Rim Trail and the top of the Stagecoach Road Historic Trail.
  • Connector Trail- 6.70 Miles - Strenuous - This is the most challenging and strenuous trail in the Savage Gulf State Natural Area. Several climbs and seemingly endless rocky slopes are crossed. It has connections with most of the other trails as it crosses the mouths of all three gulfs. Suspension bridges span all major river crossings on this trail. The trail begins from Big Creek Gulf Trail 0.9 miles below the Stone Door.

    • 0.6 Suspension bridge across Laurel Creek - streambed has huge boulders.
    • 1.9 Suspension bridge across Big Creek.
    • 2.5 Trail down to Historic Decator Savage Cabin to the left.
    • 3.1 Connector Trail and Suspension bridge across Collins River. Collins Gulf Trail to the right; Connector Trail to the left.
    • 3.2 Sawmill Campground straight ahead; Connector Trail to the right.
    • 3.6 Crossing of old Chattanooga-to-McMinnville Stagecoach Road. Stagecoach Road Historic Trail to right; Connector Trail straight ahead.
    • 4.2 Peak Branch - a small stream draining the Peak Mountain above.
    • 4.8 Suspension bridge across Savage Creek.
    • 5.8 The trail enters a large rock field.
    • 6.7 Trail ends near Hobbs Cabin and Campground after climbing a steep rocky slope out of Coppinger Gulf. North Rim Trail to the right; North Plateau Trail to the left.
  • Greeter Falls Loop Trail - 0.80 Miles - Intermediate - One of the best short waterfall hikes on the plateau, this loop leads to three waterfalls, numerous bluffs, and a historic site. The terrain is very rocky under the bluffs and easy above. The trail begins across the entrance road from the Greeter Falls parking lot.

    • 0.1 Blue Hole Trail to the right; 0.5 miles to a great swimming hole.
    • 0.2 Greeter Homeplace to the left, occupied in the 1800s and early 1900s.
    • 0.3 Loop begins - description to the left.
    • 0.4 Junction with Greeter Trail - Alum Gap Campground and Greeter Trail to the left; Boardtree Falls to the right. Falls loop continues to the right.
    • 0.7 Spur trail to Lower Greeter Falls to left, down spiral stairs. Upper GreeterFalls and site of Long’s Mill down and to the right.
    • 0.8 Ascend up bluffs to loop junction. Greeter Falls parking lot to the left.
  • Greeter Trail - 1.00 Miles - Easy - This short trail connects the Alum Gap Campground with the Greeter Falls Area. The trail begins near Alum Gap Campground,

    • 0.1 mile down Big Creek Gulf Trail from the trail junction.
    • 0.2 Big Bluff Overlook to the left.
    • 1.0 Suspension Bridge across Boardtree Creek, the junction of Greeter Falls Loop Trail. Greeter Falls to the left; Greeter Falls parking lot to the right.
  • Laurel Falls Trail - 0.30 Miles - Moderate - A short loop leading to a beautiful 25-foot waterfall behind the Stone Door Ranger Station. The trail begins to the right of the Stone Door Ranger Station.

    • 0.1 Laurel Falls Overlook on a deck after the descent.
    • 0.2 Laurel Creek above falls; Laurel Mill site to the right.
    • 0.3 Return uphill on a historic trail used for 150 years.
  • Laurel Trail - 2.90 Miles - Easy - This trail is the shortest route to the Alum Gap Campground and makes a great return trail for hikes on the Big Creek Gulf or Rim trails. The many moist fern-filled hollows become the headwaters of Laurel Creek. The trail begins to the left of the Stone Door Ranger Station.

    • 0.1 The entrance road and power line are crossed.
    • 2.6 Rock piles mark the site of an old moonshine still. 2.9 Big Creek Gulf Trail to the right, Big Creek Rim Trail Alum Gap Campground is 160 feet down Rim Trail.
  • Mountain Oak Trail - 0.80 Miles - Easy - This trail connects the North Rim and North Plateau trails. A combination of these trails with the Savage Day Loop offers a 10-mile loop from the Savage Ranger Station.
  • North Plateau Trail - 7.10 Miles Easy to Moderate - This plateau top trail leads through beautiful old growth forest with several outstanding Shortleaf Pine stands. Except for crossing the Cagle Knobs, the trail is virtually flat. The trail begins from the North Rim Trail near Meadow Creek.

    • 1.0 Trail follows the old logging railroad grade (circa 1926), referred to by the local people as the ‘Dinky Line.’
    • 1.1 Dinky Line Campground to the left.
    • 1.2 Mountain Oak Trail to the left.
    • 2.0 Trail crosses old jeep road at the top of Cagle Knobs.
    • 2.4 An area of outstanding hardwood forest.
    • 3.3 Meadow Creek can be seen to the right, through dense mountain laurel.
    • 5.3 Two old jeep roads are crossed.
    • 6.6 Ford of Stairway Creek - possible water source if treated.
    • 7.0 Overlook of Coppinger Gulf.
    • 7.1 Hobbs Cabin and Campground to the left; North Rim Trail straight ahead; Connector Trail down and to the right.
  • North Rim Trail - 6.30 miles - Intermediate - This is a longer trail with more overlooks than any other trail at Savage Gulf. It follows the edge of the plateau on the north side of the Savage Creek Gulf. The trail begins from the Savage Day Loop Trail.

    • 0.3 Suspension bridge across Meadow Creek; the North Plateau Trail begins to the right in 230’.
    • 0.6 Meadow Creek Overlook - Savage and Meadow Creeks join directly below this 100’ bluff.
    • 0.7 Savage Creek Overlook - the creek is visible up the gulf.
    • 1.4 Loose Rock Overlook.
    • 1.7 Overlook of a cliff fall which wiped out everything from plateau top to creek-side, in January 1984. 2.0 Trail crosses Lick Creek.
    • 2.2 Several overlooks of the short Lick Creek Gulf. 2.5 Ford across Quartz Pebble Creek.
    • 2.8 West end of Mountain Oak Trail to the right.
    • 2.9 Wooden bridge across Jumpin’ Water Branch.
    • 3.3 Jumpin’ Water Overlook.
    • 3.5 Yellow Bluff Overlook - at 200’ is Savage Gulf’s tallest bluff.
    • 3.6 Over Pine Overlook.
    • 4.7 Trail Edge Overlook.
    • 5.0 Tommy Point Overlook.
    • 6.1 Split Rock Overlook – Stone Door bluffs can be seen in the distance.
    • 6.3 Connector Trail to the left; North Plateau Trail straight ahead; Hobbs Cabin and Campground is at the top of the hill to the right.
  • Ranger Creek Falls Trail - 0.40 Miles - Moderate - This short trail leads to the falls and sink of Ranger Creek. The trail follows the usually dry streambed of Ranger Creek. Crossing the Big Creek streambed is required, which can be treacherous during high water. The trail begins from the Big Creek Gulf Trail.

    • 0.1 Big Creek, normally dry, can be treacherous if the water is high. The trail continues on the opposite side.
    • 0.2 Ranger Creek streambed crossing; normally dry.
    • 0.4 Ranger Creek Falls.
  • Savage Day Loop Trail - 4.20 Miles - Moderate - This hike is a perfect afternoon outing for those looking to view the gulf and Savage Falls. The loop is all on the plateau top and gives the hiker a great variety of features. This trail gives hikers access to several of the longer backcountry trails and is a great introduction to the Savage Gulf State Natural Area. The trail begins beside the Savage Gulf Ranger Station.

    • 0.4 Suspension bridge across Boyd Branch.
    • 1.0 Loop Junction – description to the left. Trail returns to this point after 2.2 miles.
    • 1.2 South Rim Trail and Savage Falls to the left; loop trail continues to the right.
    • 1.5 Spur trail to the Savage Falls Overlook on the left.
    • 2.0 Rattlesnake Point Overlook - dedication plaque to former owners who preserved the area’s forest.
    • 2.2 North Rim Trail to the left.
    • 2.8 Trail joins old narrow-gauge logging railroad grade which was used in the 1920s.
    • 3.1 Loop junction - turn left to return to Ranger Station.
    • 4.2 End of trail at Ranger Station.
  • South Rim Trail - 5.80 Miles - Moderate - This plateau top trail follows the south rim of the Savage Creek Gulf, except for crossing Savage Creek at the beginning and crossing Peak Mountain at the end. There are several short spur trails to overlooks which are blazed in blue. Trail begins from Savage Day Loop Trail.

    • 0.1 Suspension bridge across Savage Creek. Trail turns right to follow Savage Creek downstream to Savage Falls. Savage Falls Campground straight up the hill.
    • 0.5 Overlook and access to pool of Savage Falls.
    • 0.6 Second entrance to Savage Falls Campground to the left.
    • 0.7 Laurel Branch is crossed on a metal bridge.
    • 1.3 Step Down Overlook to the right.
    • 1.6 Champion Overlook to the right.
    • 1.9 Rhododendron Branch is crossed on a wooden bridge.
    • 2.8 A view down into the gulf forest on spur trail to the right.
    • 3.7 Site of an old moonshine still to the left.
    • 4.0 Outstanding view of Yellow Bluff Overlook to the right.
    • 4.1 Tulip Tree Overlook to the right.
    • 4.3 Shaky Rock Overlook to the right.
    • 4.5 Lichen Rock Overlook to the right.
    • 4.8 Stagecoach Road Campground to the left.
    • 5.8 Collin Rim Trail to the left, just a few feet down the Stagecoach Road Trail.
  • Stage Coach Road Historic Trail 1.60 Miles - Difficult - In the 1840’s this toll road was authorized for construction to connect McMinnville and Chattanooga. This section has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Extensive rockwork can be seen along the trail near the top of the plateau. Trail begins from the end of South Rim Trail and the end of the Collins Rim Trail.

    • 0.1 Stacked rock walls hold the road grade as it steeply drops off the escarpment.
    • 0.2 Rock wall terraces above the current trail were once part of the original road before the main switchback was completed in 1906.
    • 0.5 Skinny Falls - a tall intermittent falls to the right.
    • 1.6 Trail ends where the Connector Trail crosses the old road grade. Sawmill Campground and Stone Door to the left; Hobbs Cabin and Campground to the right.
  • Stone Door Hike - 0.90 Miles - Easy - This easy 2 mile out-and-back hike is a must for all those first visiting the park. The Great Stone Door and the cliffs are not to be missed by anyone! This trail leads hikers past the Laurel Gulf Overlook and to the Great Stone Door and overlook along the edge of the plateau. Trail begins beside the Stone Door Ranger Station.

    • 0.2 Laurel Gulf Overlook - a great view of Laurel Creek gorge with the Stone Door cliffs to the far right
    • 0.9 Big Creek Rim Trail to the right; Big Creek Gulf Trail starting with the Stone Door straight ahead, and overlooks to the left and straight ahead.