Suter Falls. (Photo: Bob Butters)

Although Suter Falls might be one of South Cumberland State Park’s less visited waterfalls, it can be reached with a relatively short hike. When I passed the falls while on a longer hike into Collins Gulf in the summer of 2015, it was basically a mere trickle—but on a recent visit, it had a much better flow of water.

Suter Falls is located in the southern end of Collins Gulf, one of three gulfs, or gorges, that makes up Savage Gulf State Natural Area, the largest unit of South Cumberland State Park.

Icicles along the trail. (Photo: Bob Butters)

This hike starts at the Collins West Access trailhead, 2.7 miles out 55th Avenue from Highway 108 in Gruetli-Laager. It’s a bit difficult to determine the exact distance of a round-trip hike to Suter Falls, but park staff consider it a 2-mile hike. The first section of trail is similar to a fire lane, straight, wide and fairly level. It soon turns sharp left and becomes more like a typical hiking trail.

In about a fourth of a mile, a spur trail on the right leads into the primitive Collins West Camp Area. Here, I like to take a short detour through the campground to catch the view of Collins Gulf from Rocky Point Overlook. A spring by the main trail near the camp area supplies water for campers. I’ve found the camp to be uncrowded whenever I’ve been there. Permits are required for camping, available at either the Savage Gulf or Stone Door ranger stations.

Rocky Mountain Creek cascades alongside the trail. (Photo: Bob Butters)

Back on the main trail, it soon drops quickly to a level below the bluff and intersects with the Collins Gulf Trail, where you’ll turn left to reach Suter Falls. On my recent visit on a cold winter day, icicles hung from bluff walls along the trail. This section of trail becomes rather rocky and soon comes to an impressive rock overhang, hugging the base of the cliff underneath as you approach Suter Falls. Rocky Mountain Creek cascades downhill on your right as it seeks to join the Collins River.

Just below the falls, the trail crosses the creek via a unique swinging bridge consisting of two aluminum sections. On my visit, I had to deal with a bit of ice on the trail as I approached. If you’re only going as far as Suter Falls, you don’t have to cross the bridge—although if you’re attempting to photograph the falls, you might get a better angle from the other side. Because of the less-than-optimum lighting situation, I find Suter Falls to be particularly challenging to photograph.  

Icicles hang from the overhang as the trail approaches Suter Falls. (Photo: Bob Butters)

Upon reaching the junction with the Collins West Access Trail on my return, I went left and continued a short distance on the Collins Gulf Trail. Here, it runs parallel to and beneath the bluff line. Because of time constraints, I had to turn around shortly, but I think if you want to add some more distance to your Suter Falls hike, continuing on to the suspension bridge over the Collins River and then returning would add 1.8 miles of relatively easy hiking.  

So if you’re looking for a short hike of moderate difficulty to a waterfall you may not be familiar with, consider checking out Suter Falls.

Maps and directions
GPS coordinates for the trailhead, located about 45 miles from downtown Chattanooga, are 35.406693, -85.593434. Or you can search for "Collins Gulf West trailhead" on Google Maps. See directions for this and other trailheads in South Cumberland State Park here. Find a selection of trail maps here. Look on Savage Gulf maps for this hike.

Bob Butters explores nature and the outdoors, primarily in and near the South Cumberland region, and publishes the blog www.Nickajack-Naturalist.com. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees. 

A winter view of Collins Gulf from Rocky Pont Overlook. (Photo: Bob Butters)