A Longer Stone Door Loop :: Savage Gulf State Natural Area

The Great Stone Door trail is a pretty well known and easy trail with a great payoff. But, driving almost 2 hours for a mile of hiking doesn’t quite make sense to me, so I made a 7 mile loop connecting the Stone Door Trail to the Big Creek Rim and Laurel Trails for a nice longer, but relatively easy hike.

The entirety of the hike is on the plateau/rim so most of this loop is flat, but not without some views of the gulf along the Big Creek Rim trail. The rest of the trail meanders through a wooded area on the plateau, making for a nice walk in the woods. The total mileage is around 7 miles, so it may be a great way to try out a longer hike without a challenge from the terrain. Taking this route, you won’t descend into the gulf, so you won’t have to navigate steep or rocky terrain, if you’re looking to avoid that.

The loop I did makes a fantastic beginner backpacking loop with a camp at Alum Gap and a side trip to Greeter Falls. (Remember, there’s no overnight parking at the Greeter Falls trailhead!) Of course there’s the always stunning views from Stone Door, but Big Creek Rim has a few great overlooks and bluff-side walking as well. The Laurel trail is probably one of the least diverse and interesting in the area, but it is full of lush ferns and greenery. And when I hike from the Stone Door trailhead, I always pop by Laurel Falls because it only add on .2 miles. (The mini loop starts right behind the ranger station.) You can also walk-in camp at Stone Door but it can get crowded and out especially on the weekends.

This loop isn’t going to blow you away compared to others in the area, but it’s nice to mix things up and try a new route. Connecting Stone Door to Big Creek Rim and Laurel trials makes for a good long-ish day hike in one of the most beautiful places in Tennessee. It’s also great to build stamina for longer hikes. You’ll clock over 7 miles of relatively flat trail, so it’s great to build up to a longer hike!

Distance from Nashville: 1hr 45 min

Trailhead: Stone Door Ranger Station (Savage Gulf North Trailhead)

Trail: Loop formed by Stone Door, Big Creek Rim, Laurel (route in red)

Link to trail map: Savage Gulf State Natural Area Trail Map (left side of map)

Length of Trail: easy 7 miles, allow 3-4 hours

Campsites: Stone Door (close to parking, walk-in) and Alum Gap (about three miles from trailhead, backcountry)

Overview: Great overlooks and geological wonders plus a little waterfall and some woods walkin’. (For a shorter hike, just do the Stone Door Trail as an out-and-back.)

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Collins Gulf Loop :: Savage Gulf State Natural Area

Savage Gulf is one of the most diverse places to hike in middle-ish Tennessee and obviously one of my favorites. 

I’d been wanting to go back and do the Collins Gulf Loop for a while now. It’s an under appreciated trail in my opinion and doesn’t get nearly as much love as the other trails in Savage Gulf. I am here to attest that this loop is one of the prettiest and most unique in the area.

The beautiful, powerful Collins Creek

Collins Gulf is one of the lesser traveled trails (Stone Door and Savage Day Loop being the most popular), but has some of the most diverse trails. You make the “Collins Gulf Loop” by joining the Collins Gulf, Collins Rim, and the Stagecoach Road Historic trail. There are a few blue blazed trails that stem off of the main ones (blazed white) which can add on a few extra tenths of a mile. One of the best things about Savage Gulf is how well-marked and well-kept all the trails are.  It makes hiking so much more enjoyable when you aren’t stressing that you missed a trail turnoff or blaze.

I made a goal to backpack once a season this year. I randomly had 2 days off in the middle of the week and was searching for a backpacking partner. I asked a few friends and, not surprisingly, they couldn’t make it work for their schedule. So, I took a chance and tried to reach out in the most not awkward way to an “Instagram friend”. Before I knew it, Abby and I were speeding along I-24 towards my favorite place in Middle TN.

I returned to a semi-familiar trail for my first overnight trip in a while. But, since I hadn’t been here in 4-5 years, it felt like a whole new trail. There’s a few different options for camping, but we stayed at the Sawmill Campground, off of the Collins Gulf portion.

We clocked in just over 15 miles for the entire trip. This included a side trails to both Horsepound Falls and Schwoon Spring, which is the water source for the Sawmill Campground even though it was over a half mile away. It is one of the craziest and most amazing places I have ever filtered water from. You have to hop from boulder to boulder across little waterfalls from this spring that sprouts from a cave. It was absolutely stunning and worth the side trail even if you don’t need water. I will say, we were a little nervous the spring was going to be dry. There is no inkling that there will be water until you come upon the boulders. One of the things I get most stressed about in backpacking trips is water sources, so we were both a little nervous we’d have to backtrack to Collins Creek to get water. But, I believe this spring is wet most of the year. 

So, to sum up, this loop gives you multiple falls, HUGE boulders, the stunning Collins Creek, a few gulf views, amazing history in the Stagecoach Road (be sure to read the info signs!), and multiple varied suspension bridges. While it’s a bit of a challenge to complete in one day (yes, I’ve done it), it is a great way to spend an overnight. It’s not kill-yourself challenging, but keeps you on your toes, especially with a pack on. If you decide to do it in a day, be sure to give yourself a good 7-8 hours, especially if you plan on doing the side trails for Horsepound Falls and Schwoon Spring, which in my opinion are not optional because they are both stunning.

Put this one on your list, kids!

Distance from Nashville: 1 hr 45 min

Trailhead: Off of 55th Ave near Gruetli-Laager, TN 

Trail: Loop formed by Collins Gulf to Stagecoach Road Historic to Collins Gulf (see route below)

Link to trial map: Savage Gulf State Natural Area (center of map)

Length of trail: ~15 miles, including side trails to Horsepound Falls and Schwoon Spring

Campsites: Collins West Campground, Collins East Campground (both near trailhead) and Sawmill Campground (about 5 miles from trailhead), both are backcountry sites

Overview: Suspension bridges, waterfalls, stunning spring and views of the gulf. A fabulous, challenging hike great for a semi-challenging overnight hike

Savage Day Loop :: Savage Gulf State Natural Area

If you haven’t figured it out by now, Savage Gulf is near the top of my favorite Tennessee hiking spots. There’s so much to see in this state natural area. But, many of the hikes are a bit more challenging and require a solid 6+ hours to complete. However, the Savage Day Loop is the perfect introduction to this area of South Cumberland State Park.

Savage Gulf from Rattlesnake Point
Wide shot of Savage Falls

Clocking in right around 5 miles (if you include a little spur to Savage Falls, which is completely worth it), Savage Day Loop has wooded trails, two suspension bridges, Savage Falls (upper and lower), and a fantastic view from Rattlesnake point. It’s such a great payoff for a relatively easy hike.

The true Savage Day Loop doesn’t include Savage Falls, but it is a quick .3 miles from the trail and well worth your time. (You’ll see signs for Savage Falls. Then just go back the way you came until you meet up with the loop trail again.) There’s stairs to the bottom of the falls where you’ll get the full effect. But, as with any waterfall and river, it’s quite slippery and boulder-y when you get to the base of the falls.

There’s also a couple campsites if you are looking to camp in this area. There are a handful of sites a stone’s throw away from the Savage Gulf Ranger Station, Then, there’s some sites near the falls if you were looking to do a little backpacking.

So, if you’re looking for a perfectly easy day hike in what I believe is one of the best hiking spots in Tennessee outside of the Smokies, get on out to the Savage Day Loop. (And also maybe invite me along because I love sharing this trail with others!)

Savage Creek
Savage Falls

Distance from Nashville: 1 hour 45 min

Trailhead: Savage Gulf Ranger Station off of TN-399

Trail: Savage Day Loop plus Savage Falls add-on

Length of trail: 5 miles including Savage Falls, 4.2 miles without the falls

Link to trail map: Savage Gulf State Natural Area

Campsites: Savage Station and Savage Falls, reserve here

Overview: A great introduction to the Savage Gulf system with a waterfall, suspension bridges, and sweeping views of the gulf.

Stone Door, Big Creek Gulf, Big Creek Rim Loop :: Savage Gulf State Natural Area

The Great Stone Door gets its name because it is supposed to resemble a door. There is a large rock that has a crack in it that separates most of the rock from its surrounding, mimicking a large door. (However, I’ve never really thought it looks like a door and more of just a rock with a split in it…)

The Stone Door Trail is one of the most popular in Savage Gulf. It’s only a mile to sweeping views and interesting rock structures and staircases.

But, if you know me at all, if I am going to drive more than an hour for a hike, I want to complete more than 2 miles roundtrip. You can easily connect the Stone Door Trail to the Big Creek Gulf (BCG), Big Creek Rim (BCR), or Laurel trails. Big Creek Gulf is the most difficult of the three trails, so, of course, I chose to hike that plus the Big Creek Rim, making a lollipop trial route.

I hiked this route about 5 years ago and I forgot how challenging the BCG trail was, which was made even more difficult being connected to a dog who loves to hike faster than I do. It’s quite a steep descent into the gulf and you hit lots of boulder/rock terrain. Most people recommend doing the BCG trail first, then the BCR because the descent from that end isn’t as brutal.

Down in the gulf, you’ll follow Big Creek and see enormous rocks the size of small houses. If it’s been rainy, the creek will absolutely be gushing. There’s a few times where you can traverse slightly off trail and get right up next to the water.

The rim trail is flat and relatively easy with multiple overlooks, which are a welcome reward after hiking the gulf trail. There’s lots of quiet places along this trail to rest and take in the views.

Alternate route: If you are wanting to make a longer loop and aren’t feeling up to traversing down into the gulf, you can make an easy, long loop with Stone Door, Big Creek Rim, and Laurel trails.

This loop is a great introduction to what Savage Gulf can offer. You’ll hit some “must-sees” of this area while challenging yourself with a 10-mile hike and 1,000 feet of elevation change.

Distance from Nashville: 1 hr 45 min

Trailhead: Stone Door Ranger Station on Stone Door Road off of TN-56 near Altamont, TN.

Trail: Stone Door (SD) Trail to Big Creek Rim (BCR) to Big Creek Gulf (BCG) to Stone Door (SD). (See my route in purple)

Link to trail map: Savage Gulf State Natural Area

Length of Hike: 9-10 miles, allow 5- 6 hours

Type of hike: Lollipop loop

Camping: Walk-in sites at Stone Door Ranger Station or Alum Gap Campground about halfway through

Brief overview: Elevation changes, rocky path at times, huge boulders, overlooks of Savage Gulf and rock staircases. Great for a long day hike or to connect to other trails in the Savage Gulf system for backpacking.

Hobbs Cabin via South Rim, Connector and North Rim :: Savage Gulf State Natural Area

This is the one last area of Savage Gulf I haven’t explored yet. So, with two days off in a row for the first time in a while, I decided to do a quick backpack over to Hobbs Cabin.

Well, it didn’t turn out great. A combination of heat, stress from the previous week, my aversion for taking rests and heightened emotions led me to a break down shortly before I reached the Hobbs Cabin campsites. Even though I have hiked and overnighted by myself many times before, this time felt horrible and lonely. I can’t really fully explain it but sometimes the outdoors just teaches you things you aren’t prepared for.

So, I started the hike at the Savage Gulf Ranger Station and took a longer and more difficult way to Hobbs Cabin via the South Rim, Stagecoach Road and Connector trails. I am not exactly in prime hiking shape, so 12+ miles with the last 3 of the Connector Trail being the hardest was a challenge. (And because I am so stubborn, I won’t rest for more than, like, 5 minutes.)

I’ve always enjoyed the history behind the Stagecoach Road – also called Stageroad on this sign- trail (a “highway” that was built from McMinnville to Chattanooga for wagons and such) and Savage Gulf isn’t lyin’ about the Connector Trial being the most difficult in the park. I just wish I would have slowed down and enjoyed it more.

The Hobbs Cabin campsite is a great place to stay the night with a large area with picnic table around the Cabin and 8 sites surrounding it with water a short 50 yards away.

Both the North and South Rim trails have plenty of great viewpoints of the gulf, one in particular is one of my favorites to date, mostly because you can see the meeting point of all three gulfs.

So, overall, in theory, it is a great loop. Maybe just don’t do it in the condition I was in…

Distance from Nashville: 1hr 45 min

Trailhead: Savage Gulf Ranger Station

Trail: Savage Day Loop, South Rim, Stagecoach Road, Connector, North Rim, Savage Day Loop (my route below in red)Screen Shot 2019-07-07 at 2.53.15 PM

Link to trail map: Savage Gulf Trail Map

Length of hike: Just shy of 20 miles, allow at least an overnight

Overview: A decently challenging, great overnight backpack with views of the Gulf and a neat little cabin.

Greeter Falls Loop Trail :: Savage Gulf State Natural Area

Greeter Falls is one of the last bits of Savage Gulf that I hadn’t seen. It’s a pretty short trail and usually, when I drive over an hour and a half for a hike, I want to make it worth it. But, this time I had some friends and a swim suit in tow, ready for a different kind of adventure. (Read: I wore my bathing suit and went swimmin’)


The Greeter Falls trailhead is located at the western end of Savage Gulf and it’s only about a half mile walk down to the falls. It’s also a nice place to go swimming on hot summer Tennessee days (and holy Lord do we have a lot of them) and WAY less crowded than Cummins Falls (side note: I went there in the middle of the day on a Wednesday expecting it to be not as crowded. I was very very wrong).

Make sure you go to both the bottom and top of the falls (only a very short walk from either to the other) so you can enjoy both swimming and splashing around in the small creek that feeds the falls.


At the top of the falls

When we were there, the falls weren’t exactly rushing, but that meant I got to explore around in what usually is a creek/river bed. Getting to climb and explore around made up for the fact that I only got to hike 1 mile.


Looking down from above Greeter Falls

You can easily connect to the the Big Creek Rim, Big Creek Gulf, and Laurel trials if you wanted to do a longer hike. Also, the Alum Gap Campground is only about a mile and a half away.

Distance from Nashville: 1hr 30min

Getting to the trailhead: Greeter Falls Parking on Greeter Falls Road off of TN-56

Trail: Greeter Falls Loop trial

Link to trail map: Savage Gulf Trail Map (Greeter Falls in on the far left side of the map.)

Length of trail: 1 mile, allow 30 minutes + swimming time

Overview: Short with slight elevation change down to the falls where you can swim, relax, and explore the surroundings. Easy and short enough to bring the kiddos along.

Savage Day Long Loop :: Savage Gulf State Natural Area

Back again to my favorite spot in middle-east(?) Tennessee.

The Savage Gulf Day Loop is a popular 5 mile day hike, which I was going to happily do, until I found out I could make it into a 10 mile loop. So, of course, I took the long route. But, of course, you can do the 5 miler and still complete a great hike.


One of the suspension bridges

I connected the Savage Gulf Day Loop to part of the North Plateau and Mountain Oak trails which then connected to the North Rim back to the Savage Gulf Loop. It’s kind of a wonky loop, but it works.


Overlook on the North Plateau trail

There is a big different between a hard 10 miles and an easy 10 miles. It can be the difference of an 8 hour hike and a 4 hour hike. This was an easy 10 miles and only took me about 3 1/2 hours. But, the payoff is great compared to the difficulty of the hike. The Savage Gulf map says that the North Rim trail has the most overlooks of any trail in Savage Gulf. There’s also a few suspension bridges and forest wandering.


If you are looking for a little more of challenge, but don’t want to kill yourself with a very difficult hike, try this longer loop from the Savage Gulf Station.


Distance from Nashville: 1 hour 45 minutes

Trailhead: Savage Gulf Ranger Station off of TN-399

Trail: Lollipop loop formed by Savage Day Loop, North Plateau, Mountain Oak, North Rim, Savage Day Loop (route in red)

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Link to trail map: Savage Gulf State Natural Area (this loop on far right of map)

Length of trail: 5 or 10 miles, allow 2-3 or 4-5 hours

Overview: Easier, flat 5 or 10 mile hike with overlooks of the Gulf, suspension bridges, and a few waterfalls; great moderate hike.