Hiking to Denny Falls :: South Cumberland State Park

Just down the road from the entrance to Foster Falls, you’ll find the Denny Cove trailhead — one of the newer additions to South Cumberland State Park. While this area is known for it’s excellent rock climbing, hikers will also enjoy the short trails to an overlook and beautiful cascading waterfall.

Denny Falls

This roughly 3.5 mile out and back hike has a lot of what this are of Tennessee has to offer including the classic boulder-filled trail at times. (Love it or hate it, boulders abound all over this area! Time to get those ankles strong!) I’d classify this hike as solidly moderate in difficulty, accessible to most hiking levels.

At about a half mile in, the trail splits: one part take you to a nice overlook and the other takes you to the waterfall. There’s also a spur that has all of the climber access points (and doesn’t lead to the waterfall).

I truly love this waterfall and the trail immediately leading up to it. You round one corner of the trail and boom, there’s the beautiful, towering, cascading fall. The pool it spills into is pretty small so you can stand close to it and feel the gentle mist; there’s even a large rock conveniently placed so you can sit and take it all in.

If you’re checking out Foster Falls for the day, maybe head on over the Denny Cove and add a few more miles onto your hiking day.

Distance from Nashville: 1 hr 45 min

Trailhead: Denny Cove, off of US Hwy 41

Trail: Denny Access Trail, Denny West, Waterfall Trails

Length of trail: 3.5 miles (out and back)

Link to trail map: Denny Cove

Camping: None. (Closest is Foster Falls, reservation required)

Overview: A relatively short, but totally worth it, moderate trek to an overlook and beautiful cascading waterfall.

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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Sewanee Perimeter Trail :: Sewanee, TN

When I learned of a quasi-thru-hiking trail less than an hour and a half from Nashville, it was only a matter of time before I tackled 20+ miles in one day.

This trail encircles the property of the University of the South and the town of Sewanee which makes sense if you, well, just read the name of the trail. It also follows the perimeter of the Cumberland Plateau (a personal favorite ecological feature of Tennessee). So, you’ll find all the perks of this area: a few waterfalls, heavily wooded areas and landscape views. But, as a bonus, you’ll really feel like a mini thru-hiker when you pass by the “downtown” and follow the road for a portion of the trail. (Oh, and also you literally walk through people’s backyards at one point…) It truly is an experience.

This trail is managed by the university and they recently put in really helpful way finding points along the entire trail, which makes it really easy to make sure you are taking the right trail. There are many opportunities to veer off the perimeter trail to see things like caves and additional falls. Because we opted to do the entire trail in one day, we didn’t take advantage of these side trails this time.

There is a spot to camp, but according to the Sewanee website, it is for students, faculty, staff, and alumni only. But, there is a note about other groups being taken on a case-by-case basis. See more information here. I’ll probably look into camping for another time so I can more fully enjoy every part of the trial system.

Overall, this trail is really not difficult; it’s almost all flat terrain. So, truly the hardest part is just the pure length of the trail. We did it in about 8 hours (moving time). Obviously, it’s a little easier to fit the hike in in the summer when daylight hours are longer. But, it’s also hotter and buggier. It’s is cooler up on the Plateau, so it wasn’t too terrible even in June when we did the hike.

This hike marks the longest I have ever hiked in one day at 21.4 miles. So, if you are looking to push yourself mileage-wise, this is the perfect trail, especially because you won’t absolutely kill yourself with elevation changes or boulder hopping. (Both of which I LOVE but pairing that with 20 miles in one day is A LOT!)

Oh,yeah, there’s a pond, too.
Waypoints marked with clear signage
Moss is v underrated IMO

Distance from Nashville: 1 hour 30 minutes

Trailhead: Just past the University gates on Hwy 41A/Sewanee Hwy

Link to trail map: Sewanee Hiking Trails

Length of hike: ~21 miles

Brief overview: A long, moderate hike featuring the hallmarks of the Cumberland Plateau – Tennessee trees, waterfalls, and views – circling Sewanee with a taste of thru-hiking vibes.

Buggytop Trail :: Carter State Natural Area, South Cumberland State Park

If you want a not-so-long day hike but still want to get out somewhere wild, try the Buggytop Trail, which is part of Carter State Natural Area. This SNA is part of South Cumberland State Park, which, if you remember, is a state park that is scattered all over the southern part of the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee.

This trail leads down to a pretty spectacular cave called Lost Cove Cave. I feel like many people don’t talk about this trail with so many other spectacular things in the area, but I think it’s worth a visit. At the ‘T’ in the trail, you can also visit Peter Cave (to the left) but let me just tell you it is pretty treacherous to approach — a 45 degree angle of very slippery and sharp rocks to get down to the cave opening, I went down 2 steps and turned around. You do get a nice view of the entrance to Buggytop from above if you want to check that out.

Taking the right at the ‘T’ will lead you down to the mouth of Lost Cove Cave. It is a huge entrance and the origin and beginning of a beautiful rushing stream (Crow Creek). It was a pretty warm day and inside the cave was cool and damp and a lovely respite from the hot sun.

Please note that in order to fully enter the cave, you need a free permit, which you can get here. Also, in the summertime, the park rangers lead caving explorations of Lost Cove Cave so you can actually go in and spelunk to your heart’s content. I am severely claustrophobic so caves usually aren’t my friend. Give me a mountain top any day.

Since you are in the infamous Cumberland Plateau, you do get some of the classic hilly plateau views along the way, too.


Distance from Nashville: 1hr 30min

Getting to the trailhead: Buggytop Trailhead on Sherwood Rd. (Please note parking is very limited!)

Trail: Buggytop Trail, out-and-back to Lost Cove Cave

Link to trail map: Lost Cove Map

Length of hike: 4 miles (2 miles each way), allow about 2 hours and extra time for relaxing at the cave

Brief overview: Some rocky ascensions and descents along a ridge with some views and a spectacular cave at the end as a payoff.

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.

Fiery Gizzard + Dog Hole Loop :: South Cumberland State Park

The true, full Fiery Gizzard is best done point to point for maximum enjoyment (see my in depth review of the full trail here), but you can also do a portion of it as a day hike if you don’t want to backpack or don’t have 2 cars to park at each trailhead. I think that either way is a great way to experience one of the best trails in the country. I mean it is considered on of the top 25 trails in the nation after all because of it’s great diversity in terrain.

Fiery Gizzard has a weird name, but a not weird beauty. It’s been one of my favorite and most challenging hikes, and not because of elevation gain (which there is some), but because a lot of the time, your path is just rocks and boulders. (If you do the entire trail, there is some relief from the boulder walkin’.) Each step is precarious, and must be taken with care. So, it can be slow going at times, but it makes it interesting’ the kind of interesting I like.

You’ll find small waterfalls, beautiful overlooks, especially at Raven Point (Don’t skip the view from here!), and riverside hiking in this 9 miler. It’s a great way to see some of the best of the Fiery Gizzard Trail if you can’t make the 13 mile point-to-point trail work for you.

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It’s a truly spectacular hike. Go in late October for best results.

Distance from Nashville: 1 hr 30 min

Trailhead: Grundy Forest Trailhead WARNING: It looks like you are driving into a sketch neighborhood thing/someones house, but you aren’t, just keep going until you see signs for the trailhead. It will take you to the Grundy Forest/Tracy City side, which is where you want to be for the day hike.

Loop: Grundy Forest trailhead to join the Grundy Forest Day Loop. Follow signs for Fiery Gizzard. You’ll take the Fiery Gizzard trail to Raven Point. Then, from the Raven Point campsite, you’ll take the Dog Hole trail back out until it joins the day loop again. (See my route in black below)

Link to trail map: Fiery Gizzard Trail Map

Length of hike: 9 miles, allow at least 6 hours

Brief overview: A beautiful and diverse trail showcasing the finest middle/east Tennessee has to offer.  You’ll find small waterfalls, beautiful overlooks, especially at Raven Point, and riverside hiking in this 9 miler. Bring your sturdy boots and strong ankles.