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Tennessee's 15,000 Acre Wilderness Playground
If you’re looking for a place close to Chattanooga with a truly remote and rugged feel, Savage Gulf is a 15,590-acre natural area on the western edge of the Cumberland Plateau that features 50 miles of trails, pristine waterfalls, and expansive canyon views. The Gulf is roughly 1-1.5 hours outside of Chattanooga depending on which of the four park entrances you choose (all accessible from I-24). Whether you spend a day or a 3-day weekend, you will find more than your fair share of excellent hiking, backpacking, and camping adventures.
Savage Gulf offers natural features such as waterfalls, sinks, scenic overlooks, sheer sandstone cliffs and canyons, and an interesting geological formation known as Stone Door, which is a 10-by-100-foot crack stretching from the top of the escarpment into the gorge. Historic features such as an old stage road, the Laurel Mill site, remnants of moonshine stills, and a suspension bridge give you a glimpse into a life of an earlier time.
Water is plentiful in Savage Gulf. Plan to see waterfalls that drop over limestone ledges and flow into sinks before disappearing underground. You’ll also witness cascading creeks that tumble down over 5 miles, dropping over 800 feet through narrow gorges to form the “Gulfs.”
With over 50 miles of trails, Savage Gulf has a wonderful mixture of technical, challenging trails, and easier, less technical options. It is a treat anytime of the year, whether you visit in the spring and summer when the wildflowers are putting on a wonderful show of bright colors or in the fall when the leaves showoff their breathtaking autumnal hues. Winter offers its own special beauty when the falls ice up and pockets of snow become visible under the giant rhododendrons.
Here are a few RootsRated recommendations for which trails to access when visiting this beautiful wilderness area.
1. From the Stone Door Ranger Station and Greeter Falls, head out on the Alum Gap lollipop loop trail until you reach Greeter Falls, which drops over a 15-foot upper ledge, then plummets 50-feet into a cold, clear plunge pool. Instead of retuning to Alum Gap, take the Big Creek Rim trail and stay on the escarpment or take the Big Creek Gulf trail. The first option offers spectacular views, and the latter is a technically challenging trail with views of Ranger Falls, Big Creek, several springs and sinks, and a solid climb back out through the stone door. Both options are around 9 miles.
2. Another great loop option begins at the Collins West park entrance. Follow the trail from the parking lot and when it reaches a crossroads, choose your direction. If you head to the right, you’ll enter a boulder field and then traverse the escarpment for several miles. You can take the trail down the Stage Road before taking the Collins Gulf trail, or you can stay on the South Rim and continue to Savage Falls Campground. From here, continue on the North Rim to the picturesque Hobbs Cabin and the Connector trail, or turn onto the North Plateau and loop around until you run into the Connector. Perhaps you’ll want to try the challenging (steep and rocky) Stage Road back up. The mileage with these options can vary from roughly 9 miles to 25 miles depending on your combinations, and the variety of terrain you’ll encounter will vary as much as your mileage.
3. Finally, from the Savage Ranger Station, try the Savage Day Loop for a 4+ mile option or add on the Dinky Line/North Plateau to Oak Mountain trail loop with a return on the North Rim trail for roughly 11+ miles. Most of these trails have great footing and plenty to see from Savage Creek, which enters its gorge over cascades and drops 30-foot at Savage Falls to Gulf views.
When you’re done exploring this amazing wilderness area, head to nearby Sequatchie County restaurant, The Cookie Jar Cafe, for some really great meat-and-three southern cuisine.
For an insider’s guide to Chattanooga, check out RootsRated Chattanooga.