South Cumberland and Savage Gulf Essentials in Three Pages:
Click on the panels below to open a PDF file with all the essentials you'll need to know for your visit to South Cumberland State Park!
Tips for New Visitors
First and foremost: South Cumberland and Savage Gulf are WILDERNESS parks. Be ParkSmart! Take a moment to be aware of this potentially life-saving information before you head out into the parks!
South Cumberland and Savage Gulf State Parks are ecological sanctuaries, and all features including plants and animals (living and dead), rocks, minerals, artifacts and fossils are protected by Tennessee State Law. PLEASE, leave them as you find them.
As in any wilderness environment, obvious hazards exist. Visitors are reminded to exercise care, stay on marked trails and be adequately prepared for backcountry trips. Know the length and difficulty of the trail you plan to take. Be aware of local sunset times, and how long it will take to reach your destination. Hiking after dark is a risky (and illegal!) proposition, particularly on the parks' rocky trails. Filter all stream and spring-sourced drinking water. Use special caution when approaching high bluffs. Be careful with fires and help keep your state park beautiful and natural.
Hiking and Day Trips
These parks are a hiker's paradise, with a selection of trails to suit almost any interest and physical capability. All trails are marked with directional trail signs at trail junctions, painted blazes and location-specific mile markers along the way. Trails are easy to follow, the only exception being in the late fall and early winter when heavy fallen leaf cover can sometimes hide the way. Together, the parks protect over 31,000 acres, consisting of seven different parcels scattered across four counties (Franklin, Marion, Grundy and Sequatchie), there are multiple trailhead locations from which you can access the different areas of the parks.
Detailed trail maps are available here, for free download, or in hard-copy form at the South Cumberland State Park Information & Welcome Center, the Savage Gulf State Park Ranger Stations at the Savage Gulf North and Savage Gulf East trailheads, along with trip planning information. Or, you can ask for advice from the SCSP Park office (931-924-2980) or SGSP Park office (931-692-3887). You may also want to visit the Tennessee State Parks website to see a listing of scheduled, ranger-guided hikes. Our friendly Rangers and park staff are always available to help. All you have to do is ask!
There are numerous trails suitable for day trips and loop trails that will bring you back to where you started. Some of the more interesting park features are on out-and-back trails.
Wear good, sturdy walking shoes or hiking boots, preferably well broken in. A walking stick is a great aid on steep trail sections, which can be rocky and slippery during wet weather. If you are not a frequent hiker or if you have new boots, include in your day pack or first aid kit some band aids or medical tape (even duct tape will work - fixes everything else) for treating blisters. Almost all of the trails in the Park have a fair amount of up and down and hiking will do things to your feet that would never happen on a long stroll down the sidewalk. Moisture-wicking sock liners are a great help.
Even if you are only planning a day trip, it is wise to carry water and a snack. Keep a small flashlight, a whistle and two means of starting a fire in your day pack. Both Boy and Girl Scouts know you should always be prepared!
Also be prepared for changes in the weather. During warm weather insect repellent is advisable, and keep an eye out for rattlesnakes and copperheads. This area averages about 60 inches of rainfall a year and a slicker or poncho in your fanny or back pack is a good idea to help you stay dry and warm any time of year, even in the summer. Hypothermia can be a threat almost any time of the year. Keeping dry is the first step to keeping warm.
It is good backwoods manners to be quiet on the trail and to allow distance between other groups or hikers. If you approach backpackers from behind they may not be able to either see or hear you. A "hello" and "may I pass on your right (or left)" will help to avoid a mishap. If you are day hiking, give back packers the right of way by stepping off the trail to let them pass. They will greatly appreciate it.
Bring a trash bag for candy wrappers and soft drink, water and other containers, and clean up the trails. It's a good way to touch your toes, stretch your hamstrings and keep the trails looking clean and natural. Please do try to collect trash left behind by less thoughtful park visitors. "Sweeping the trails" is good exercise and is a great way to show your appreciation for the park.
ADA Compliant Trails
Wheel chair access to a wilderness park is challenging under any conditions and funds for improvements are scarce. There is a paved trail from the Stone Door Ranger Station to the Laurel Gulf Overlook at Savage Gulf State Park. It is a spectacular view of the gulf. The trail is about one mile long with some moderate up and down hill grades. You can make the trip in wheel chairs, both powered and unpowered. There is also an ADA-compliant board walk and viewing platform at Foster Falls in South Cumberland State Park, which is excellent.
Most stream and wetland area crossings in the park are aided by suspension or other bridges or boardwalks. Those that are not can be forded by rock hopping during normal weather. The gulf or canyon areas of the park are fed by a vast and steeply banked watershed. Summer downpours or prolonged wet weather any time of year can cause streams to rise rapidly. The Connector Trail in Savage Gulf State Park can be closed by high water. If you are on the wrong side of the Collins River, Savage Creek or Big Creek, the safe bet is to wait it out. Even with ropes, high water crossing attempts can be dangerous, even fatal. Waters can fall as rapidly as they rise. If you are signed in on the back country register at each trailhead (which you always should do!), chances are good someone come looking for you. Always carry a whistle and a flashlight along with a means of starting a fire. This is especially important if you are traveling solo. Be prepared.
Bluffs and High Places
Savage Gulf State Park has spectacular bluff overviews of Savage Gulf, Collins Gulf and Big Creek Gulf. South Cumberland State Park has great views at Foster Falls, on the Fiery Gizzard Trail; and in Lost Cove on the Sherwood Day Loop. Follow the climbers' rule: Six feet from the edge you can stand; three feet from the edge you should be on your hands and knees; closer than that you should be on your belly.
There have been tragic deaths in the park from visitors who have stepped up to the edge of the bluff, experienced vertigo and fallen to their deaths. Falling 300 feet or more can ruin your whole day. Educate your children before you hike and make sure youngsters are well within your reach and under your control when approaching high bluffs. Be careful and enjoy the views.
Hiking at Night
This is a no-no and against park rules. Hiking after dark is a risky proposition, particularly on the rocky trails in these parks. Bluffs and other steep drop-offs are extremely hard to see at night. That said, you might find yourself out in the parks after dark: Accidents can happen; you might misjudge how long it will take to reach your destination; or you might take a wrong turn on a trail. Be prepared to hike out after dark if you have to. Even on day trips, carry a good flashlight with fresh batteries and a spare bulb, or even better, an LED flashlight. Using your smartphone as a flashlight is a bad idea; the battery will run down far too quickly to be a reliable light source. If you need to call 911 for emergency assistance, stay on the trail, and walk to the nearest milepost marker. Remember, the nearest marker may be in front or behind you, but it should not be more than 1200 feet away! When you get to the marker, call 911 and give them the unique location code you’ll see on the bottom of that marker. This code will tell emergency responders exactly where to find you. Once you call, do NOT leave that location. This will help insure that help arrives as quickly as possible.
All rock climbing requires advance online registration. At Stone Door, climbing and rappelling is only allowed in the designated climbing area. In the Fiery Gizzard, climbing is restricted to the routes in Foster Falls climbing area only. At Denny Cove, climbing is restricted to the climbing routes on the north cliff face. Rappelling is not allowed except at Stone Door.
All overnight camping requires advance online reservations. Camp only in designated campgrounds. Check-in time for camping is 12:00 pm (Central); check-out time is 10:00 am (Central). Your camping receipt or name associated with reservation MUST be placed in the dash of each vehicle that is parked overnight. The gathering of firewood is limited to dead materials on the ground. Fires are permitted in established fire rings only. Don’t move fire rings, burn trash, or leave a fire unattended. Quiet Hours in all campgrounds are between the hours of 10:00 pm and 6:00 am.
With the exception of the improved campground and facilities at Foster Falls, all of the campgrounds in the park are primitive. Primitive means sleeping on the ground or in a hammock. Camping is permitted in designated campsites only. If you are planning on camping during a prime weekend like Memorial Day, Fourth of July or Labor Day, or really anytime during the summer or during fall colors, the best bet is to reserve well in advance and arrive as early as possible. If you can get there on the day preceding the holiday or holiday weekend, you may have the campsite all to yourself!
If you are bringing a large group, like a Scout troop or church group, call ahead to the Information & Welcome Centers (South Cumberland: 931-924-2980 or Savage Gulf: 931-692-3887) and ask them for recommendations regarding when and where. The Information & Welcome Centers can radio or phone the Ranger Stations and get up to the minute information for you.
There are privies at all of the campgrounds. Bring your own toilet paper. As a courtesy to others, leave the roll in the privy when you are ready to hike out. There are water sources near all of the campgrounds. Water borne pathogens are prevalent in all of the water sources. Use a good ceramic filter along with activated carbon, unless you want to spend a lot of time in the privy using up all of your precious paper! Don't drink unfiltered or untreated water in the parks - period!
When you wash your camp dishes, your hair, your face or anything else, be at least 300 feet from any stream or water source. Use biodegradable camping soap. Use a different spot every day if you are in a camp ground more than one night. On the last morning, use your dish water to drown the embers in the fire ring.
Every camp site in every campground has a fire ring for your enjoyment. Burn only deadfalls and dead wood found on the ground and plan on hiking as far as a quarter mile or more to find enough wood for the evening. Don't use the crotches of live trees to break your wood. It will kill the trees. Check the Ranger Station to make sure fires are permitted during dry weather - sometimes they are not.
Don't incinerate packaging, plastics or foil in the fire rings. Do incinerate your food scraps to keep the scavengers out of your campsite. Don't leave open fires unattended and make sure your fire ring is spread out and watered before you leave. If you really want to be a good neighbor, gather enough wood so that there is some left for the next campers at your site. Leave them a note if you need a pat on the back. They will love you for it.
Bring plastic bags to collect your trash and pack it out with you; zipper type bags work well. If you pack it in, pack it out. Don't burn your trash and don't throw it in the privy. The parks, the Rangers, and your fellow campers will love you for it.
This special place in Savage Gulf State Park is the one farthest from the trail head, at least nine miles, any way you go at it. It is at the congruence of Savage Gulf and Coppinger Gulf on top of the plateau about a quarter mile from the bluff. There is a spring about 75 yards behind the cabin and down the hill.
Hobbs is a one room log cabin with a tin roof, six wood bunks, a fireplace, a table with built in bench, two doors, two windows and a wonderful front porch. Hobbs is available by reservation through the Tennessee State Parks' reservation system. If the weather is hot you may want to sleep on the porch, if the resident skunk will leave you alone. You can also pitch your tent on the porch.
Self-serving hint (don't tell your companions!): During the summer you want one of the (cooler) bottom bunks; in the winter you want one of the (warmer) top bunks. Heat rises and doesn't last too long, at least not all night, even with a big fire in the fireplace. Enjoy it while you can!
Leave Hobbs Cabin cleaner than you found it. Put the broom in the cabin to good use. Sweep the porch, too. Leave some firewood in the corner next to the hearth - the next visitors may arrive when it is cold and raining. Police the grounds around the cabin. You will have memories from this place that will last a lifetime. Take a light weight copy of Henry David Thoreau's "Walden" with you. His cabin was probably little different from this one.
Bushwhacking is hiking or camping off the designated trails or out of the designated campsites. In a word, don't. If you are caught, you will be fined. If you are not caught, you will be doing the wilderness character of the park a great disservice. Enough of the park has sufficient access for you to see the best sights and features. Leave the rest as it is so it will remain a wilderness forever. The Rangers will find you if you are in trouble and on the trail or in a designated campsite. They may never find you if you are not.
Back country emergencies are rare in the parks, but they do happen. A good first aid kit is an essential item for at least one member of every group. Knowing how to administer basic first aid and CPR is even better. An understanding of the issues of backcountry emergencies is even better yet.
The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) "Wilderness Guide" makes the following recommendations:
"Setting priorities is the first rule of emergency care. Life-threatening problems must be dealt with immediately. Problems that are not life-threatening do not need action within minutes. Help will not be arriving shortly, so take your time if the problem allows it.
Evaluate your patient carefully. Determine the extent of the problem. Having a book on emergency medical care available is a real asset. If you do, take some time to review it; it will give you a better understanding of your victim's problem and refresh your memory on the proper emergency treatment.
Your most crucial decision will be on the need for a rescue. Is the problem serious enough to require evacuation, or can it be dealt with in the field with rest and recuperation? Illnesses are often perplexing; a stomach ache could mean a case of indigestion or a case of appendicitis. An outdoor leader, well versed in backcountry medicine, will be familiar with basic health problems, and with the aid of a reference book be able to determine if the problem requires evacuation or not.
In any accident or illness in the wilderness, stay calm and rely on your common sense."
The chapter goes on to discuss approaching the victim, immediate first aid, making a physical exam, shock, fractures and dislocations, head injuries, spinal injuries, sprains, strains, bruises and open wounds, acute abdominal pain, burns and procedures for evacuations. Buy this or another good book on backcountry first aid, read it and be prepared.
Our Park Rangers are all trained in first aid and emergency rescue procedures. Local rescue squads are ready to respond. Professional help is available if you need it. Be aware of our park's trail mile marking system, and how it can be of benefit to you in these types of situations.
The backcountry is a wonderful place to be and is great fun if you are in shape and prepared. Take your time. This area is the heart of one of the most diverse bio-regions in the world and there are many amazing things to see, both big and small, but you will miss many of them if you are in a rush. One of the greatest challenges any hiker must overcome is learning how to slow down to Nature's time. There is no better place to do that than at South Cumberland or Savage Gulf and there is no better time to learn than now.
The Rangers periodically teach backcountry skills courses, and if you are new to hiking or backpacking you may want to attend one of their courses. Check the Activity Schedule under What's Happening on this site for the next available class. If you are a beginner, check out www.thebackpacker.com, which has loads of information for beginning and experienced folks alike. Backpacker magazine is a good source of information, too. Read "The Complete Walker" series by Colin Fletcher, and "Backcountry Ethics" by Laura and Guy Waterman; or the National Outdoor Leadership Schools' "Wilderness Guide".
New Highway Signs and Trailhead Names will help visitors find their way to SCSP & SGSP trailheads
Over 70 new highway signs and a more logical naming system for SCSP trailheads are part of an effort to help visitors more easily find their way around the Parks. “This new naming system is more logical and geographically-based,” noted SCSP Manager George Shinn. “It will make it much easier for visitors to quickly grasp where our trailheads are, in relation to each other, and in which part of each park each trailhead is located.”
Over 70 new highway signs like these are helping visitors find their way to each of the 12 trailheads in both parks.
The Friends' website has been completely updated to reflect the new names. A free copy of the new map, which includes driving directions to each trailhead and other useful information, is also available for download from the Downloadable Maps page of this website.