Savage Gulf: Stone Door/Ranger Falls/Alum Gap/Big Creek Rim Trails

Tennessee Hikes

This past weekend I decided on a sort of ‘training hike’ at Savage Gulf State Natural Area. I am planning on doing the whole Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail in May so I am in training mode. I did around ten miles starting at Stone Door with the intention of going to Ranger Falls, Up to Alum Gap campsites and then, if time permitted, was going to go to Greeter Falls and then return to Stone Door via the Big Creek Rim trail.

I have hiked all over Savage Gulf and this is one of the few sections I have left to hike. I had been to the base of Stone Door before…stopping just above the wooden stairs at the bottom. On this day I would continue on down those steps going all the way down to the gulf.

It was a beautiful hike. The temps were right above freezing when we finally hit the trail. When we got to Stone Door we found an icy mess of the stone steps that led down to the bottom.

My friend, Brenda, was able to walk down. No way was I going to chance messing up my knee again. I scooted all the way down on my booty. It was quite cold when I stood up, as you can imagine. However, I knew it would be warming up and it wasn’t all that uncomfortable.

Savage Gulf

This is a rugged trail. There are tons of boulders and rocks. You have to watch your footing and you will not be moving fast on this section.

Savage Gulf

The main trail is blazed in white and the Ranger Falls spur trail is blazed in blue. The trail is well marked.

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It is rocky going the whole way which makes for a very slow hike. We have had a lot of rain over the last few weeks. I mean A LOT of rain. The Cumberland River was at or just below flood stage. There were little wet weather waterfalls that had popped up all along the way and the normally dry creek bed that was part of the trail now had water flowing through it.

Savage Gulf

Most of the hike at the base goes along the river. There was a small section that cut back up for a bit, but it headed back down.

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Turn off to the left and follow the trail. The view of Big Creek is beautiful. At least is was on this day. It became very apparent that there was more flooding than I had anticipated.

Savage Gulf

As we walked up to the blazed tree we were so disappointed.

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There was absolutely no way we could get across.

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Even though it was a HUGE disappointment, especially after the hike in and what would be a brutal hike out, the day and the area had been so pretty we were just thankful to be out and about. We knew we would be coming back.  This spot was so nice we decided to eat lunch and get off trail a little and explore. There was a little sandy beach area and plenty of rocks to sit on and be comfortable.

We finished up lunch and we really weren’t expecting the hike out to be any more picturesque than what we had already seen. We were wrong. A little ways back down the main trail we came upon a waterfall. Not Ranger falls, but what we guessed was a wet weather waterfall. I have not been in this section before, so I have no idea if this is normally there. It was beautiful.

Savage Gulf

I don’t know if camping is allowed on this stretch, but if I could choose a spot it would be right down on the little beach area where this was. There was a larger area with some sand.

Savage Gulf

Could have stayed all day, but we had to get moving. We knew the hike up to the Alum Gap campsites was going to be hard. We just weren’t ready for how hard. Usually, here in Tennessee, there are a lot of switchbacks. However, not the case on the way back up. It was straight up and unrelenting. I am not sure what the grade of the trail is, but I know it was definitely doing a number on my ankles. They were killing me as was my back and shoulders.

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After what feels like a week you will come to some steps (sort of).

Savage Gulf

Here’s a view looking back down

Savage Gulf

This is how pathetic I am on hills. As we were climbing up we could hear some people coming up behind us. We got to the top and decided to just wait and catch our breath. Along comes a group of older people. I mean late sixties. There was one young guy pulling up the rear and sort of helping an older gentleman. I think he may have been his grandfather. The kid looked to be maybe 19 or 20. They get to the top with us and we chat for a minute and go on while they stay back and rest. It wasn’t ten minutes before every.single.one of them passed us…or, should I say, me. Brenda is only slow because of me. I accepted a long time ago that pretty much if you are breathing you will be faster than I am. Those older folks smoked us. They were up and gone in no time. Never saw them again. And they were going where we were….back to Stone Door.

This massive climb took us right around an hour to do. As hard as I try, I just cannot do hills fast.

There were still some surprises in store as we got closer to the top top lol.

There was another waterfall.

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I was too exhausted and hyperventilating from the climb, that I did not have the energy to try and do a proper waterfall picture. So this will have to do.

Finally, after a week on that hill,  we were at the junction.

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The plan to go to Greeter was now a distant memory. That would add another 2.8 miles and we just didn’t have the energy or the daylight left to do it. I have been to Greeter many times. It it will have to wait for the next time.

So on towards Alum Gap Campsites we went. I wanted to show Brenda the sites because I plan on a camping trip sometime this year with her and Shelia.

As we got to the kiosk there was a sign I had never seen before:

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I have yet to ever see a bear in Savage Gulf, but I do know they are there.  Not worried one bit. I solo camped in the area last year with only one small group of other people at a distant site, and didn’t have any problems. I know it could happen, but I’m certainly not letting that stop me from hiking or camping.

There were several workers there fixing up all the sites and dropping dead trees. By spring the camping areas are going to be in great shape.

I already spotted the site I want to use next time. Site #8.

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After checking all the sites out we had a decision to make. We could take the shorter, Laurel Trail  (2.9 miles)back to to Stone door or the longer Big Creek Rim Trail (3.2 miles). The difference is the Laurel trail is pretty much all in the woods while the BCR trail goes in and out of the woods with several overlook views. We opted to do the Rim trail.

We were so tired, but the views were worth it.

Savage Gulf

There weren’t any colors on the trees and very little green, but I still thought it was pretty.

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And to think we had been right down in the middle of that just a few hours before.

We made it back to Stone door and popped out right near the overlooks on that side again. Now for the mile or so hike back to my car. We were exhausted, but felt accomplished.

Here is my Alltrails recording of the trip.

As per our usual stop when we hike in Savage Gulf , our post hike meal would be Jim Oliver’s Smokehouse in Monteagle, TN. Oh.My.Word. I always describe it as Cracker Barrel’s redneck cousin. They have the best food and very unique general store. Check it out if you are ever out that way.

Happy Hiking!

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