On the Cumberland Plateau, a ‘gulf’ is a steep gorge. Savage Gulf, in Grundy and Sequatchie Counties, is over 14,000 acres of some of the most spectacular, rugged, and historic terrain in the region—perfect for a grueling and challenging marathon.
What Makes It Great
How many route descriptions include this warning: “About a half of a mile up the trail you will come to a possible water crossing. In the event of flood waters there will be a rope system setup and this could potentially be a bottleneck”? There’s no half-marathon or 10-mile option: it’s 26.2 or nothing. Registration is capped at 100 runners.
The Savage Gulf Marathon combines steep and challenging terrain with varied and beautiful scenery. The park contains huge stone formations, waterfalls, wildflowers, historic sites, and old growth forest. The race begins at the Stone Door Ranger Station, follows the edge of the bluff overlooking the Gulf, then at 2.6 miles drops through the Stone Door rock formation, a 150-foot crevice in the cliffside. Runners descend to the floor of the gulf, cross several streams, and climb to the Decatur Savage Historic Site, after whom the park is named, to reach AS 1 at mile 6.3.
After two stream crossings and the bridge at Suter Falls, the route climbs to the Collins East Campground and AS 2 at mile 11.1. This is the opposite rim of the gulf from Stone Door. Collins Rim Trail connects to the Stage Coach Road Historic Trail which descends back into the gulf to the Sawmill Campground at AS 3 at mile 17.1.
This is the cutoff point for the race. Retracing a section of the outgoing route, runners pass Ranger Falls and climb out of the gulf past the Greeter Falls trail, emerging on top at Alum Gap Campground and AS 4 at mile 23.3 (water only). A flat 2.9 miles brings runners to the finish at Stone Door Ranger Station.
In other words, the course is the trail-marathon version of a half-pipe.
The race is sponsored by the Tennessee Park Rangers Association, and proceeds help support their programs.
Who is Going to Love It
To qualify, you’ll need to have previously run a marathon or longer race. You also need to forget about normal marathon, even trail-marathon, finishing times: the 2014 overall winner needed 4:30 to complete this course.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Savage Gulf State Natural Area is part of the South Cumberland Recreation Area, which also includes Fiery Gizzard and Foster Falls. The park’s more than 50 miles of hiking trails, including the marathon course, are open year-round.
To learn more about the Savage Gulf Marathon or to sign up, go to the race website.