Back to Nature at South Cumberland
What a view! After a short walk, I’m standing on a platform overlooking a 60-foot cascade at magnificent Foster Falls. This is one of 10 separate areas connected by highways and hiking trails that form the 25,000-acre South Cumberland State Park.
With dramatic rock formations, stunning waterfalls and breath-taking gorges, the park is even more spectacular when fall colors blanket the unspoiled countryside. On October 21, a ranger-led hike starts at Foster Falls at 10 a.m. to enjoy fall foliage and learn about the geology of the area. There’s an option for you to take a four-mile round trip rim hike.
A 13-mile day-hike is scheduled to begin October 28 at 8 a.m. on the oddly named and much beloved Fiery Gizzard Trail, one of the most rugged and rewarding trails in Tennessee.
The Visitors Center is located on the south end of the park about three miles from Interstate 24 Exit 134 near Monteagle. It has picnic areas, restrooms and a museum in addition to getting required permits, safety tips and information on free public programs, guided hikes, rock climbing clinics, 90 miles of hiking trails and 14 primitive backcountry campgrounds.
Natural Bridge, a 27-foot high sandstone arch that spans 50 feet, is also on this end of the park. A short walk leads from a parking area on TN State Route 56 near Sewanee, home of the campus of the University of the South.
The four Grundy Lakes on the outskirts of Tracy City range from one to sixteen acres. Once known for mines, prison labor and miner revolts, they now provide swimming in season, picnicking, wildlife viewing and fishing year round with a Tennessee fishing license. There are no official launching ramps, however, there is an area where anglers can back their boats into the largest lake. Smaller non-motorized boats, canoes or kayaks have easy access.
Across the road a long row of structures look like stone igloos or beehives built into the hillside. These are the remnants of the Lone Rock coke ovens built by the Tennessee Coal and Iron Company in 1883. This is a good spot for wildlife viewing and there’s an easy trail that begins at the end of the parking area and meanders around the largest lake and along the coke ovens.
On the northern end of the park, Savage Gulf contains one of the last known stands of old growth forest and the some of the wildest country in the Eastern United States. A 55-mile trail system traverses canyons deeply carved by Big Creek, Savage Creek and the Collins River through sandstone cliffs laid down 250 to 325 million years ago.
Dry streambeds with giant boulders are not uncommon as streams periodically flow underground through limestone and shale, only to resurface down stream.
The Savage Gulf Ranger Station is the eastern access point to the trail system and the western access is Stone Door Ranger Station near Beersheba Springs, a mineral springs resort from the 1800s.
The Great Stone Door is a rock crevice 10 feet wide and 100 feet deep that provides a natural passage into the gorge below that reaches depths of 800 feet in some places. It is a popular destination for rock climbers but there’s an easy path begins at the Stone Door Ranger Station that leads to a fabulous view of Savage Gulf for those of us more inclined to keep our feet on the ground.
Which trail gets you back to nature at South Cumberland?
For more information call the Visitors Center from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. seven days per week at 931-924-2980 or click here.