The park offers scores of clearly marked trails for hiking and a number of beautiful camp sites. In addition there are opportunities for picnicking, swimming, fishing, caving, visiting historic ruins, rock climbing and rappelling, viewing spectacular rock formations, wildlife and waterfalls. Considered one of the top wildflower venues in the Southeast, the South Cumberland has trails that rival the best in the Smokies.
The South Cumberland Visitor Center is an excellent initial stop for visitors. Located on U. S. Highway 41 between Tracy City and Monteagle, it is approximately three miles east of Interstate 24 and may be reached by taking either Exit 134 or 135 from the Interstate. The Visitor Center is about 50 miles northwest of Chattanooga and 85 miles southeast of Nashville. The Visitor Center provides and excellent interpretation of the area's history through exhibits, including a cabin, tools relating to the timber industry, photographs, maps and other displays depicting the region's natural and cultural resources. A focal point is a cross-section of a coal mine as mining was central to the region's economy during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The adjacent grounds include a picnic pavilion, ball field, two lighted tennis courts, a playground and a wooded picnic area with grills and tables. Visitors can get maps of the park and directions to any of the ten separate parks listed below.
The Meadow Trail is accessible at the Visitor Center.
Carter State Natural Area
Carter State Natural Area is in the southwest section of the South Cumberland complex. Hikers can enter the area along the Buggytop Trail, a two-mile long route that leads to the Buggytop entrance of the Lost Cove Cave, which is a towering formation with a creek running through it. All visitors to the cave are asked to respect the fragile ecology of this underground ecosystem.
The Collins Gulf Trail is accessed from the trail head near the Swiss Memorial School in Gruetli-Laager. The parking area is on 55th Avenue, about three miles south of State Highway 108. This is a spectacular area for spring woodland wildflowers and provides beautiful overlooks along the rim trails, and a beautiful waterfall.
Fiery Gizzard Trail
This 17-mile one-way trail features cascading streams, numerous waterfalls, panoramic overlooks, extremely rocky gorges, gentle slopes and lush woodlands. This trail is one of the most diverse and beautiful in the state and has been ranked as one of the top twenty-five backpacking trails in the U. S. by Backpacker magazine. There are four primitive campgrounds along the trail. There are two entrances to Fiery Gizzard. The north entrance is from the Grundy Forest State Natural Area and is about three miles from the South Cumberland Visitor Center. The south entrance is 11.5 miles from the Visitor Center and is accessed via U. S. Highway 41 or State Route 150. The entrance is within the TVA managed Foster Falls area. The north entrance has a picnic shelter and restrooms and is perfect for those who want a shorter hike. The creek is very close to the parking area, with swimming holes, bridges, and an easy trail that winds along the stream.
Foster Falls Small Wild Area
The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) provides picnic facilities and a seasonal campground for overnight visitors from April through October. Foster Falls, which lends its name to the area, drops sixty feet and marks the southern end of the Fiery Gizzard Trail. South Cumberland manages 550 acres at Foster Falls that has become a world-class destination for sport rock climbing. Facilities include restrooms, a picnic pavilion managed by the TVA resident manager, a handicap accessible boardwalk and viewing platform and a wooded picnic area.
Part of the Savage Gulf Natural Area and located in the northeast corner of the South Cumberland complex, Greeter Falls features a day use trail that is part of the Savage Gulf trails network. The trailhead is three miles from the town of Altamont and is just off Highway 56. Greeter Falls and Boardtree Falls are highlights within this strikingly beautiful area. Greeter Trail connects this section with Stone Door and other features within the Savage Gulf area.
In 1935 a group of Tracy City residents donated this 212-acre tract to accommodate a camp of the Civilian Conservation Corps. It is the northern access point for the Fiery Gizzard Trail. For those wanting a shorter hike, the Grundy Forest Day Loop is a two-mile trek that carries hikers past numerous waterfalls, a plunge pool, old growth trees including a giant Hemlock, and a cascading stream. Facilities include a picnic shelter and restrooms.
The Grundy Lakes area, which is adjacent to U. S. Highway 41, provides swimming and picnicking facilities in one of Grundy County's most historic areas. Grundy Lakes is the site of the Lone Rock Coke Ovens where locally mined coal was converted to coke by convict labor until 1896. The coke ovens remain intact and may be viewed by visitors as historic reminders of those times. Facilities include a bath house. The Park has canoeing and training available at various times. Check the current Park activities schedule for details.
Hawkins Cove Natural Area
The Cumberland Plateau is home to a large number of rare and endangered species of plants and wildlife. The Hawkins Cove Natural Area's 262 acres were set aside as a natural area in 1985 to preserve the rare Cumberland Rosin Weed. Additional information about this tract is available at the Visitor Center.
Savage Gulf State Natural Area
This tract of 14,357 acres contains some of the most spectacular natural rock formations in Tennessee. Purchased by the state in 1973 to protect one of the last known stands of virgin timber in the Eastern United States, Savage Gulf has 55 miles of trails and ten primitive campgrounds. The Savage Gulf Ranger Station is the eastern access point to the Savage Gulf-Stone Door trail system that traverses the most rugged and scenic areas of the South Cumberland complex. The Stone Door Ranger Station is within the Savage Gulf area and is accessible off State Highway 56 near Beersheba Springs. It is named for the Great Stone Door, a 150-foot deep crevice at the crest of the Plateau. It is the western access for the Savage Gulf-Stone Door trails network.
Sewanee Natural Bridge State Natural Area
Accessible from State Route 56 and located near the University of the South in the southwest section of the park domain, the Natural Bridge is only a short walk from the parking area. A masterpiece of Mother Nature's handiwork, the 27-foot tall natural bridge has been artfully weathered from solid sandstone by natural forces.
ADA Accessibility Notes
The South Cumberland is working to provide a wilderness experience for those of us with walking disabilities or who require a wheel chair.
A wheel chair accessible 125-yard-long walkway leads from the Foster Falls parking area to a spectacular view of Foster Falls. The viewing platform overlooking the falls is partially shaded and is an ideal place to enjoy a picnic, take photos or just enjoy the view. The trail passes through heavy timber, across a small creek and a meadow. The Foster Falls parking area has handicap enabled restroom facilities.
From the Stone Door Ranger Station there is a wheel chair accessible paved path .3 mile long that leads to the Laurel Gulf Overlook with a wonderful view of part of Savage Gulf. The Ranger Station near the parking area has handicap enabled restroom facilities.
The Grundy Forest picnic pavilion parking area has handicap enabled restroom facilities.
South Cumberland Visitors Center
The Visitors Center has handicap enabled restroom facilities. The nearby Meadow Trail at the Visitors center is not paved but is accessible by wheel chair.