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 Cloudhiking.com.
- Scenery: 4.0
- Difficulty: 3.5
- Length: 10 miles
- Dog Friendly Factor: 3.0
- Convenience: 2.5
- 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.
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.
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.
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.