Insider's Guide to Denny Cove

Denny Cove just opened in November 2016.
Denny Cove just opened in November 2016. Bob Butters
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Denny Cove, the newest crag in Tennessee’s South Cumberland State Park system, is quickly growing in popularity among climbers all over the Southeast. Located in the same area as Fiery Gizzard and Foster Falls, there’s already more than a dozen established routes here for climbers of all abilities, with the potential for many, many more.

How It Came To Be

It all started in 2011, when local climbers began exploring the area and became excited about its potential as a world-class climbing location. The Southeastern Climbers Coalition, Access Fund, the Land Trust for Tennessee, the Conservation Fund, and other organizations began working together in what Park Ranger John Ball calls "an unprecedented level of cooperation" to purchase the 685-acre tract of land from a timber company.

For the SCC, pursuing this property was a no-brainer. "Nestled between world-class climbing areas Castle Rock and Foster Falls, Denny Cove was sure to be a huge asset to the rock climbing community," says SCC Executive Director Cody Roney. “After seeing the rock climbing and hiking potential, SCC immediately knew this area was worth protecting.”

After purchasing the area, the SCC donated it to the State of Tennessee to be included in its park system, and work began on Denny Cove’s trails. From August to October in 2016, volunteers from the SCC and Access Fund concentrated on clearing the area, and efforts have continued since the official opening of the park on November 5, 2016.

The SCC sees great potential in Denny Cove, for both climbing and hiking.
The SCC sees great potential in Denny Cove, for both climbing and hiking. Bob Butters

Denny Cove is still a little rough around the edges—trails are new and unfinished, and bathrooms and camping are nonexistent. But that’s one of the best things about Denny Cove— you have the chance to be a part of a premier climbing area’s development, to be among the first to explore routes, or even be able to put up some new lines.

What to Expect

As for the climbing, Roney describes it as "over a mile of tall, overhanging sandstone cliffs with both sport and traditional climbing routes in grade ranges that can suit the novice to the expert. Corners, steep roofs, and vertical faces give climbers a wide variety of unique styles and route options."

The area is divided into east and west sections, also called Denny Right and Denny Left, by an access trail. In Denny Right, you’ll find the Buffet Wall, which is taller than anything in the nearby Foster Falls and, as the name implies, offers all-you-can-climb opportunities. Try already-established favorites such as Magic Meat (5.12a) and the sharp arête route called Gas Powered Flight (5.10d). In keeping with the buffet theme, there is also a smaller section area east of the Buffet Wall called Salad Bar.

According to Ranger John, there are already about 16-20 trad lines in Denny Cove, whereas Foster Falls is pretty much all sport climbing. Another difference lies in the abundance of easier routes in Denny Left, with perhaps 10 routes already up that are in the 5.7-5.9 range. Check out Rip Van Sprinkle (5.7) and Lungs of the Forest (5.8), and pay homage to the iconic Yosemite route ‘Dawn Wall’ at Denny’s ‘Yawn Wall.’ (You can find a mini-guide to all the routes at Denny Cove here.)

Denny Cove has no top-roping, as the state doesn’t own anything above cliff line. The SCC manages all hardware on the wall, and climbers interested in establishing new routes should follow the application process outlined on the SCC website (also a great source for more info. on the history and potential of the area).

The future for Denny Cove includes developing bathrooms, primitive campsites, and hiking trails to scenic overlooks. Until then, it’s all about the climbing. And the 70-foot waterfall at the end of the trail (continue past the Buffet Wall). The Southeastern Climbers Coalition is currently fundraising to finish paying off the purchase of Denny Cove. You can donate here.

What Else You Need to Know

Denny Cove is currently open only on Saturdays and Sundays. The rangers open the gate every morning, and closing time is thirty minutes after sunset time. All climbers MUST be out by this time (the rangers have helpfully posted a list of closing times on the trails).

The nearest camping is at Foster Falls; reservations are required and can be made ahead of time through the South Cumberland State Park’s website or by calling 931-924-2980.

How to Get There

Denny Cove is off Highway 41A in Marion County, near the towns of Tracy City and Jasper, 1.4 miles south of the entrance to Foster Falls.

From Nashville, take I-24 East to exit 134, then follow the signs to Tracy City and Foster Falls.

From Chattanooga, take I-24 West and Highway 41 through Jasper.

Originally written for BCBS of Tennessee.

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