Stone Door Trails at South Cumberland State Rec Area

October 25, 2011 in Camping, Tennessee Hiking Trails

Stone Door

Hiking Stone Door, et. al.

The amazing weather this weekend gave us a chance to finally take our new tent out of the box (we got the tent back in March, home renovations + wedding = no free time!) to head down to South Cumberland State Rec area.  With most of Tennessee schools on Fall Break we knew it would be a busy weekend at the park, but the trails took us (mostly) away from the masses.

There’s a very robust trail system in at South Cumberland, so we wound up hiking several connecting trails on this perfect Saturday afternoon:  Stone Door Trail, Big Creek Gulf Trail, Ranger Creek Falls Trail and Big Creek Rim Trail.  Here’s a great map of the park’s trails from

Stone Door

Stone Door Passage

  1. Scenery:  4.0
  2. Difficulty:  3.5
  3. Length:  10 miles
  4. Dog Friendly Factor: 3.0
  5. Convenience:  2.5
  6. Bonus Funtimes: 3.5

Scenery (4.0 out of 5.0): The combination of trails provides an impressive variety of scenery, and the changing fall colors provided an extra incentive for taking a few extra hours on the trail to check out the bluffs, overlooks, shaded rock & boulder fields, a waterfall and a creekside hike.

Starting out, the Stone Door trail takes you through a wooded area until you reach the boulders that form Stone Door and the bluffs that overlook the Big Creek Gulf. From the overlook we were able to take in the gulf, trees and plateaus in the various stages of early autumn.

From the overlook, we traveled down through the “stone door” a well-worn path between two massive boulders that served as a passageway for the Indians from the gulf to the rim.  After hiking down through the passageway, we entered a rock and boulder-strewn section of the trails on the connector trail to the Big Creek Gulf trail. Once down to the creek, it takes quite a while to find any running water.  The creek bed is mostly dry, which allowed us to cross over and make our way up to Ranger Falls.

View of Big Creek via Stone Door

The Big Creek

On our way up to Ranger Falls on the spur trail, I was pretty sure we would just arrive at a dry fall since there wasn’t any water in the creek bed.  But as we got closer, the sound of running water started getting louder. Arriving at the falls, we saw the water funneling into an underground sink, which helped explained the dry creek beds we’d previously seen.

After we got back on the main trail, we hiked a mile or so before finally getting a glimpse of the Big Creek with running water.  Most of the river view was obscured by trees and foliage, but we eventually made it to a spot close enough to the creek to scurry off trail and get a good look at the river.

The tree lined ascent back up to the rim trail was lined with fallen leaves, giving everything a little bit of a golden hue.  Back up on the Big Gulf Rim Trail, we stopped off at one of the overlooks for a long lunch while taking in the view and watching birds soar along the gulf.

Big Creek Overlook via Stone Door

Big Creek Overlook

Big Creek Gulf Trail via Stone Door

Fall on the Big Creek Gulf trail.

Difficulty (3.5 out of 5.0):  If it weren’t for the decent and ascent to and from the creek, these trails would be pretty easy… however, the decent and ascent can be brutal in spots.  The rock and boulder-strewn descent into the gulf needs a pair of sturdy ankles — unstable paths could make it very easy to twist an ankle. If it’s been raining recently, you might want to think twice before doing the Big Creek Gulf trail as the rocks would make for slippery terrain.

Big Creek Rim Trail via Stone Door

The climb back up to the Rim Trail.

The ascent from the creek up to the rim trail is long, steep and covered with small rocks making footing slippery at times.  Our calves took a major beating during the ascent, making frequent breaks necessary.

Since we were doing a 10 mile trek, we took several breaks to keep our legs fresh.  Despite the fact that this outing was twice as long, Honey Creek still ranks as the most grueling hike we’ve done to date.

Length:  10 miles, it took us about 4.5 hours with several breaks and a 30 minute lunch break.

Dog Friendly Factor (3.0 out of 5.0):  The dogs stayed at home for this camping trip, but we did see another dog on the trail.  If you take your dogs, you’ll need to bring plenty of water and make sure they’re in shape for this long of a trek.

Convenience (2.5 out of 5.0):  The trail head is about 2 hours from Nashville.

Bonus Funtimes (3.5 out of 5.0):  South Cumberland offers a lot of great options for outdoor fun.  From rock climbing at Stone Door, to hooking up with any of the host of connector trails for different hikes or a backpacking trip.  There are also lots of easy trails to watering holes, plenty of camping spots and spots to sit down and enjoy the view.

Stone Door

Lunch perch.


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Savage Day Loop at Savage Gulf

March 19, 2011 in Tennessee Hiking Trails

Savage Day Loop at Savage Gulf

Lots of Savage Loop Options

For our hike this weekend, Nate picked the Savage Day Loop — our second outing to the Savage Gulf State Natural Area this month.   Nate promised the 4 mile hike would be worth the 90 minute drive from Nashville.  He was right… for a couple of good reasons.

  1. Scenery:  3.0
  2. Difficulty:  1.0
  3. Length:  4.2 miles
  4. Dog Friendliness: 2.5
  5. Convenience:  1.5
  6. Bonus Funtimes: 3.5
Savage Day Loop at Savage Gulf

Savage Gulf Overlook

Trailhead:  35.434629  -85.539519

Scenery (3.0 out of 5.0):  The winding drive out to the trailhead takes you through a bucolic area dotted with of farms and hills that definitely set the mood for being away from the city.  We started the trail by heading to the right when the loop splits instead of directly down to the falls.  The first half of the trail is pretty reminiscent of most Tennessee scenery.  But once you hit the mid-way point, that changes.

About halfway through, we arrived at Rattlesnake Point Overlook, a clearing that provided a remarkable view of Savage Gulf.  There’s a large, flat rock that makes a perfect stopping point for taking in the view and enjoying the sound of the nearby falls and river.

Difficulty (1.0 out of 5.0):  The Savage Day Loop trail is very flat, making the hike a breeze.  We knocked out the first two miles averaging 18 min/mile.  After we stopped to enjoy the view at Rattlesnake Point, we took the rest of the hike pretty easy.  The .3 mile hike down to the falls is very easy as well, with a sturdy staircase system that keeps you from needing to crawl down boulders to get to the base of the falls.

Savage Falls at Savage Gulf

Savage Falls

Length:  4.8 miles (loop = 4.2, hike to base of falls .6)

Dog Friendliness (2.5 out of 5.0):  After Ezra’s recent bridge freak out at Foster Falls, we made sure to check the guidebooks before hitting this trail, and it’s a good thing we did.  There is a suspension bridget about .4 miles into the hike before you enter the Day Loop trail and another suspension bridge.  Armed with this knowledge, we left both of the dogs at home.

While a crippling fear of suspension bridges is an issue for Ezra, there were plenty of dogs on the trail that seemed to be having a great time and weren’t fazed by the suspension bridges.

Bonus Funtimes (3.5 out of 5.0):  There were lots of kids, families and dogs of all ages on the trail.  This area in Savage Gulf offers great spots for camping, swimming, backpacking and picnicking, making it one of the more versatile spots that we’ve hiked.

When we headed out from Nashville the morning of the hike, I wondered if it was really worth a 90 minute drive to take a 4 mile hike.  As it turned out, Nate had something else on his mind besides showing me a nice vista.  Once we rounded the bend at Rattlesnake Point and the view became apparent, we settled down onto a boulder to take in our surroundings.  A moment later, Nate put his arm around me, gave me a kiss, then asked me to marry him.  I said yes.

Savage Day Loop at Savage Gulf

A lovely spot for a proposal.


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Greeter Falls at Savage Gulf

November 28, 2009 in Tennessee Hiking Trails

On our way back to Nashville from a turkey-filled Thanksgiving in Chattanooga, Nate pulled off of I-24 to make a couple of short trail pit stops in the Savage Gulf area.  Word on the street is that Savage Gulf offers up some a good backpacking trails.  On this post-turkey-binge day, however, we opted for the easy routes.

Our first stop was at Greeter Falls at the far western edge of Savage Gulf.

upper greeter falls

Upper Greeter Falls

  1. Scenery:  3
  2. Difficulty:  2
  3. Length:  1.8 miles
  4. Ezrability: 2
  5. Convenience:  1
  6. Bonus Funtimes: 3
upper greeter falls wide view

Upper Greeter Falls in full view


Trailhead:  35.438855  -85.69771

Scenery (3.5 out of 5):  This area is full of beautiful trees, ravines and (as the name may hint at) waterfalls.  We made the hike down to Upper Greeter Falls, a beautiful area with plenty of boulders that made a prime spots for plopping down, taking in the view and enjoying the sound of the water tumbling over the small falls.  Rumor has it that Lower Greeter Falls is pretty impressive, too.  Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see for ourselves as we encountered  a wee bit of an Ezra obstacle on the path to the lower part of the river.

Difficulty (2 out of 5):  The hike back up this trail definitely left us a little winded, but since the hike was less than 2 miles, it wasn’t much of a problem at all.  There were a few spots that were a little rocky, which wouldn’t have been much of an issue, except my 90 lbs dog was a little eager to drag me down the trail.  Once he finally tired out, all things were much easier.

Length:  1.8 miles

greeter falls stairs

Ezra’s staircase of death… that we opted not to test out.

Ezrability (2 out of 5):  The hike started out quite promising and we were looking forward to taking in the views of both the lower and upper falls, that is until we encountered a decidedly non-Ezra-friendly staircase.  Had it not been for the staircase, this trail would’ve rated very high on dog friendliness… however, we opted not to see how a panicked 90 lb dog would respond to a wobbling, narrow spiral staircase.

Convenience (1 out of 5): If you’re on the way to or from Chattanooga, these trails make a nice stop off, but other than that, they’re definitely out of the way for the typical Nashville drive around town.

Bonus Funtimes (3 out of 5):  With easy access to so many trails at Savage Gulf, there’s plenty to find to do in this area.  On this specific trail, there are also plenty of spots to jump in and cool down with a midday swim.  And if you don’t have a dog that’s painfully afraid of heights & anything that’s not solid ground, you may even get a chance to check out the Lower Greeter Falls and the swimming spots down there, too.

lower greeter falls

View of Lower Greeter Falls… although we can’t verify from personal experience.

Note: Forgot my camera on this trip, so all images are swiped from the other online sources.







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