If you want to get outdoors this summer but find it’s just too hot for a strenuous hike, one of the many waterfalls in South Cumberland State Park may be the answer.
Here are five waterfalls in the park that have places to swim or wade at the base and can be reached with a relatively easy hike.
Perhaps one of the area’s best-known waterfalls, Foster Falls is located at the southern end of the popular Fiery Gizzard Trail. A boardwalk takes you a short distance from the parking area to a viewing platform overlooking the 60-foot-high falls. Just to the left of the overlook, a rather steep and rocky trail descends to the base of the falls. But because of the short length of the trail, I’d still consider it a fairly easy hike as long as you take your time going both ways.
Foster Falls features picnic facilities, restrooms and a seasonal campground. The parking area has recently been enlarged to help ease overcrowding because of Foster Falls’ popularity as a rock climbing destination.
If you visit Foster Falls, I highly recommend you not join the ranks of those who have to be rescued each summer after making the foolish decision to jump from the top of the falls and thus injure themselves.
Blue Hole Falls and Sycamore Falls
These two falls are both reached from the northern end of the Fiery Gizzard Trail at Grundy Forest. Taking the main Fiery Gizzard trailhead on the left side of the parking area, you’ll soon descend into the cool hemlock-shaded forest along Little Fiery Gizzard Creek. In just 0.5 miles, you’ll reach the 9-foot-high Blue Hole Falls, with a 7-foot-deep pool below. You may decide to make this your destination, but if you’re up for a bit more hiking, you can reach Sycamore Falls in another 0.9 miles.
In 0.2 miles after leaving Blue Hole Falls, turn right, crossing a bridge over the creek and continuing along the Fiery Gizzard Trail. Along the way, you’ll pass the merger of the Little and Big Fiery Gizzard creeks, as well as the picturesque Black Canyon Cascades. Shortly after passing the 20-foot columns known as Chimney Rock, a short spur trail on the right takes you to the 12-foot-high Sycamore Falls. In times of wet weather, a small but much higher falls runs down the face of the cliff next to Sycamore Falls.
If you retrace your route back from Sycamore Falls, you’ve completed an approximately 2.8-mile hike. But upon crossing back over the bridge, you have the option of taking the Grundy Day Loop to the left, which takes you back to the parking area in 1.3 miles, making an overall hike of 3.4 miles. Part of the Grundy Day Loop follows alongside Big Fiery Gizzard Creek, featuring several places to swim or wade, such as Hanes Hole Falls, a rather low falls with a plunge pool of less than 6 feet in depth.
Located in Savage Gulf State Natural Area, the park’s largest tract, Savage Falls, typically doesn’t have as large a flow of water as some of the other falls, but can still be a nice spot to hang out for a bit. The falls is reached with a 3.4-mile round-trip hike from the Savage Gulf Ranger Station. After leaving the ranger station on the Savage Day Loop, you’ll cross a suspension bridge over Boyd Branch in 0.4 miles, then reach the intersection of the loop in another 0.6 miles. Turn left here and then left again onto the South Rim Trail in 0.2 miles. You’ll cross a suspension bridge over Savage Creek and come to Savage Falls in about another 0.5 miles and after descending a wooden staircase.
Greeter Falls is located on the opposite end of Savage Gulf State Natural Area and is reached via a fairly short trail. Just 0.1 miles in from the trailhead, the 0.5-mile Blue Hole Trail on the right leads to a popular swimming and wading area on Firescald Creek. But continuing straight on the Greeter Falls Loop Trail for another 0.2 miles brings you to the junction of the loop. From here, going left will get you to the access trails for the falls in 0.4 miles, while going right is the shorter and more direct route. Two trails will branch off, the one on the left going to the base of the 50-foot-high Lower Greeter Falls and the one on the right going to the 15-foot-high Upper Greeter Falls. Note: Reaching Lower Greeter Falls involves traversing a metal spiral staircase, which I’ve known some people to find a bit intimidating.
So perhaps you’ll find one of these waterfalls in South Cumberland State Park as your ideal spot to cool off on a hot summer day. Just be sure to remember that the outdoors has numerous potential hazards (unstable terrain, snakes, bees, ticks, poison ivy, extreme heat, inclement weather, etc.) and always remain alert and prepared for such.
Get directions for these and other trailheads in the park here.
Find Fiery Gizzard, Savage Gulf and other downloadable trail maps here.
Click here to view a 20-minute video about the waterfalls of South Cumberland State Park.
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.