The Fiery Gizzard Trail, on Tennessee’s South Cumberland Plateau, is one of the most popular features of the South Cumberland State Park. The thirteen-mile point-to-point trail’s rugged scenery, including waterfalls, swimming holes, old-growth hemlock trees, and the flowing Fiery Gizzard Creek, has landed it on plenty of national best-hike lists.
In late summer 2015, however, word spread that at least one private landowner through whose property the Fiery Gizzard Trail was routed had decided to close off access to portions of the route. Media and social-media reaction ensued, including scary headlines such as “Losing the Fiery Gizzard.”
What would this mean for the future of the Fiery Gizzard? How would the experience be changed for hikers, trail runners, and other visitors going forward? Was the Trail indeed in danger of being lost?
The truth about the Fiery Gizzard turns out to be a little more complicated than the headlines. According to state park ranger Jason Reynolds, anyone who has previously hiked the trail to the overlook at Ravens Point will be fine with the changes; it won’t limit too much the accessibility of the normal South Cumberland hiker. “As it stands now, the reroute will be about 1/3-mile longer, but the elevation change will be the significant change. The altitude gain will be around 350 feet with the max/min % grade being in the 30’s.”
“As the original trail is on top, and mostly easy going, you can imagine the difference that will be in store for hikers/runners. It will definitely be a thigh-burner!” Ranger Jason said.
The Raven Point Campground, which was accessible only through the private property in question, has been closed.
The Land Trust for Tennessee (LTTN) has long been involved with the Fiery Gizzard Trail, helping to acquire adjacent property and working with landowners. Joel Houser, Southeast Conservation Director for LTTN, has followed the recent events, and thinks that the trail and park will be better off in the long run. As he sees it, the Fiery Gizzard will be more strenuous, but a more desirable destination. According to Joel, “The reroute of the iconic Fiery Gizzard Trail will allow for a more scenic experience in one of Tennessee’s most beautiful places. The trail, though more difficult, will be part of an expanded suite of recreational assets offered throughout the park and within Gizzard Cove.”
For the Fiery Gizzard Run, a half-marathon and marathon that’s been staged on the trail since 2013, the change will also be significant. Race Director John Hardin of HardWin Adventures is also a fan of the impending changes to the Fiery Gizzard Trail.
“One particular section that I’m excited about is Anderson Falls,” Hardin said. “This waterfall is the tallest waterfall in the area measuring 105 feet and has a nice swimming hole at the bottom. There is also another waterfall to the south that the trail will now have access to.” Hardin also likes how the new layout dips in and out of the valley. “Seeing nature from a ridge top is wonderful but sometimes you need to get down and close to it!”
“For the Fiery Gizzard half and full marathon on November 29th, 2015, we will just make the cutoff time and the trail will remain the same,” Hardin said. “This is kind of a shame as I’m excited about the new trail; however, it will be cool to run the Gizzard as is one last time.
“For 2016 runners will face around 550 feet more of elevation gain over previous years. It makes me happy when I can make the runs harder and more scenic.”
For more information about the Fiery Gizzard Trail, visit the South Cumberland State Park’s website. Friends of South Cumberland State Park is a nonprofit devoted to supporting the Fiery Gizzard, Savage Gulf , and the other parts of the park.
To learn more or sign up for the Fiery Gizzard Run, go here.