It has been three years since my wife and I finished hiking all the trails at Tennessee’s Savage Gulf State Natural Area. I have told many people that it is my favorite hiking area in the southeast due to its mix of easy-to-moderate hiking with a host of great payoffs, such as great views, waterfalls, suspension bridges, cabins, and a healthy dose of general adventure.
I hadn’t visited Savage Gulf since my family moved to the Chattanooga area 2 ½ years ago. I’ve been busy with other regional trails. But a mix of time off for fall break and tight finances convinced me this was a time to revisit an old favorite. I hoped to visit pretty much all of the area’s great sites and spend one night camping with my family. And despite unexpected cold and wet conditions, I mostly found what I was looking for.
Monday, October 8, 2012
I rose late and gathered my loaded pack and poles. And looked at the substantial rain coming down outside my window. Weather reports said rain should have ended overnight, and I would enjoy warm sunny weather from Tuesday through Thursday. So I checked the weather map online, and it showed this band of rain that had already left the Savage Gulf area I would hike just an hour northwest of my home. I kissed my wife and daughter goodbye, slid into my truck, and headed out.
One hour 10 minutes later, I arrived at the Savage Gulf Ranger Station, the closest of the four trailheads to my home.
I headed up the walkway and Dewey watched my pack while I got my permit for three nights.
Around 1 pm, I stepped off. My destination for night 1 was Hobbs Cabin Campsite. I knew the shortest, easiest route was a mix of several trails. So I headed up the Savage Day Loop. Half a mile in, I reached the first of ten suspension bridge crossings for this trip.
At the beginning of the actual loop, I turned right, pushing another .9 miles to the North Rim Trail. Another suspension bridge and .3 miles and turned off the Rim Trail to the North Plateau Trail. This gave me a smoother, shorter route on the old Dinky Line railbed than I would get following the North Rim Trail. I made great time to Dinky Line Campsite and turned west onto the .8 mile Mountain Oak Trail. 20 easy minutes brought me back to the North Rim Trail, having saved 3/4ths of a mile. I enjoyed a quick lunch here.
Though the day’s cool, misty conditions let me know fall had finally arrived here in the southeast, the first changes of color were a more pleasant reminder.
Aside from great colors, the North Rim Trail also offers several nice overlooks, the tallest of which is at Yellow Bluff.
As I walked, I had to appreciate how significant the drought conditions of 2007-2009 had been. I had done all of my Gulf walking during these years, and had gotten used to shallow streams and nearly dry springs. I was amazed at how many small streams I was crossing, all of which were bone dry in previous years. The only stream I remembered along the North Rim Trail now offered a beautiful waterfall.
While all the rim trails in the area offer many nice views, none is so dramatic as the view at Tommy Point Overlook.
While the angle of view is a bit bigger at the Stone Door, Tommy Point offers a view of nearly all the many gulfs in the Natural Area, converging in the area of Sawmill Campsite.
After Tommy Point, I always feel like a horse heading to the barn, as it is just a little over one easy mile to Hobbs Cabin. Dewey and I arrived there in short order.
The interior includes a kitchen area and six bunks.
And perhaps nicest of all, in cold weather at least, is the fireplace.
My wife and I have spent several nights enjoying the warmth there. But on this night, I intended to enjoy the comfort of my hammock, so I headed past the cabin to the campsite area. Along the way, I noticed several large white mushrooms, shaped like birdbaths.
I felt energized after an easy 8 mile walk. I quickly set up camp.
Then I headed out to gather water at the spring behind the cabin. It was at least three times the size of previous visits, and perfectly clear.
The evening was chilly, well down into the 40s, and pushing the comfort of my top quilt. I warmed up with a high calorie dinner of noodles with parmesan cheese and bacon bits. Then Dewey and I turned in. I read for several hours until I finally drifted off.