Along the southern edge of the Cumberland Plateau in TN lies an area known as South Cumberland Recreational Area. The SCRA encompasses Savage Gulf and the Fiery Gizzard Natural Area, gotta love the names of these lands. I've hiked both areas several times and always in late fall for the spectacular fall foliage color. Last fall I began wondering what Savage Gulf would look like if stripped of all the leaves… I knew a springtime trip was in order.

Skip ahead a few months, I found myself planning a three-day trip for four backpackers from four different states, I would also be leading the trip, this was a first for me as I am a solo backpacker who usually avoids groups.

north rim trail

North Rim Trail

We were to meet at the Savage Gulf Rangers station at a set time before obtaining our permits and beginning our hike, Mother Nature had a different idea and threw in a little weather with cause to keep an eye on the sky. After delaying our start time by a couple of hours due to a tornado watch we finally set foot on the North Rim trail and nine easy miles filled with views of the Gulf where we would hike the next day.

Late afternoon light rain, gave way to a cooler and breezy air before reaching Hobbs Cabin where we would tent camp the first night.

hiking Savage Gulf

Day two brought a clear sky and an early morning start while descending over a boulder-strewn trail into the Gulf.

dry creek Savage Gulf

For the first three or some miles we could hear the rush of water, reaching the creek bed and finding it completely dry. Upstream 100-yards or so the water disappears underground through a sink. The water does not resurface within the Gulf, most likely not until it merges with other underground rivers before reaching Georgia or Alabama.

Stone Door

Stone Door

This day's goal was Stone Door a 100 plus foot crack in the escarpment once used by Native American's allowing for easy passage from the rim of the Plateau to the Gulf.

Savage Gulf

In all of the South Cumberland area the view from Stone Door is worth the trip. This was the first time I have ever been there when it wasn't in full on fall color. Even though the color wasn't there I wasn't disappointed.

water Savage Gulf

From Stone Door we retraced our path four miles to the Stagecoach Historic Trail and a gentle ascent to Stage Road campsite for our second and final night. The Stagecoach Historic Trail was once a toll road built in the 1840's connecting McMinnville to Chattanooga, TN. Sections of stacked stonewalls are all that remain.


Next morning we arose early packing up in fast fashion to begin our hike across the South Rim Trail back to Savage Gulf Rangers Station.

This fall I will again go back to SCRA for my annual submersion of fall leaf color.

This post was contributed by former Trail Ambassador JJ Mathes (JERMM).

July 15, 2014 — Brian Fryer