Fiery Gizzard South Trailhead/Foster Falls
DISTANCE: 12 miles each way
TIME: 1 or 2 days, 1 night
The Fiery Gizzard Trail is arguably the most famous trail in South Cumberland State Park. The Fiery Gizzard is routinely ranked as one of the nation’s top hiking trails by Backpacker magazine. This 12-mile trail connects the Fiery Gizzard South and Fiery Gizzard North trailheads; unless you want to hike it twice (once in each direction), plan ahead and leave a car at the opposite end of the trail from where you begin. (That said, there are campgrounds at each end of the trail, so an out-and-overnight, and return on Day Two, are certainly do-able.)
At the southern end of the Fiery GizzardTrail is Foster Falls, a 60-foot waterfall, the tallest in the Park. There is also an excellent climbing area in the gorge below the falls, and both auto and backcountry camping nearby.
“The Gizz,” as those well-familiar with the trail call it, can be challenging. Beyond the total distance, this trail has sections with significant and steep elevation changes, as well as sections where the trail path consists of sometimes lengthy stretches with large boulders that must be “rock-hopped.”
But don’t let that discourage you from seeing the amazing terrain and majestic scenery that can only be experienced by hiking this world-class trail. Certainly, be prepared before you head out to conquer The Gizz: Know your hiking limits, and respect them. Understand that, in the wintertime, it is almost impossible to hike the entirety of The Gizz in daylight (the days just aren’t long enough); be prepared to get cold, get hot, or get wet.
If you are going to hike the entirety of The Gizz, we recommend you hike it from south-to-north, starting at the Fiery Gizzard South trailhead; this route is slightly easier, and puts you in the deep, cool hemlock forests of the northern Fiery Gizzard Gulf during the hotter parts of the day.
At the Fiery Gizzard South trailhead, a 100-yard boardwalk begins your adventure. At the end of the boardwalk, you have two options for continuing your hike. Bear right, and stay on the Fiery Gizzard Trail atop the plateau, circling behind Foster Falls, and be rewarded with an outstanding view of the falls from the far side. Bear left, and descend on the Foster Climbers’ Access Trail to the plunge pool at the bottom of Foster Falls; then follow the base of the cliff-line, passing many excellent climbing routes. You can return to the top of the plateau, and rejoin The Gizz, at either “Exit One” or “Exit Two.” At the top, turn right on the Fiery Gizzard Trail to return to the trailhead and parking area; or turn left to continue north on the Fiery Gizzard Trail.
About two miles into your adventure is the Small Wild overnight camping area; a smart place to spend the night if you’ve arrived late in the day. Be forewarned: All camping requires a reservation, and these sites fill up well in advance. Make your reservation at https://tnstateparks.itinio.com/south-cumberland.
If you’re continuing on, be aware that the next 4 miles of Fiery Gizzard Trail alternates between being on park property, and on private property. Please respect our neighboring landowners’ property rights; they allow the trail to cross their land through a good-faith agreement that hikers will “leave no trace” as they traverse private property.
Around mile 6 you’ll encounter the remains of an old moonshine still, near a small waterfall. About 3/4 of a mile beyond, you’ll come to the unique creek crossing at Perpendicular Creek: “Chain Link Falls,” named for the interesting trail feature that takes you behind this small waterfall.
At mile 7, there’s a dramatic 270-degree view of Fiery Gizzard Gorge. Raven Point is off to your right. A half-mile beyond, the trail begins its steep descent into the gorge; to the right, watch for a short spur trail to view Anderson Falls, but please do not leave the trail. The area at the base of the falls is steep, slippery and dangerous.
From there, the trail descends further, crosses McAlloyd Branch on a handsome log bridge and begins a twisty and precipitous climb back up and out of the canyon.
Near Mile 8, there are a number of trail intersections on The Gizz. The Dog Hole Trail begins to the right; this reconnects with the Fiery Gizzard Trail near Sycamore Falls near mile 11. It stays atop the plateau, and is a less strenuous alternative to what lies ahead on “The Gizz”. Most of the Dog Hole Trail is also on private property. Please respect landowner’s rights.
Continuing on The Gizz, the Raven Point Spur, just ahead, leads to a half-mile spur trail which traverses a narrow ridge, ending in the rocky outcrop that provides another dramatic 270-degree panoramic view of the gorge. This trail is entirely on private land, so please respect landowners’ rights. There is no camping, and no fires are allowed on any portion of this trail, including at Raven Point. An illegal and careless camper’s fire burned more than 300 acres south of here in 2016. At its junction with the Raven Point Spur, the main Fiery Gizzard Trail bears right and begins another steep descent into the Fiery Gizzard Gorge.
Around mile 10-1/2, the trail enters a section known as “The Fruit Bowl,” one area of large boulders that must be traversed by “rock-hopping”.
Around mile 11, the Dog Hole Trail rejoins the Fiery Gizzard Trail from the right. About a quarter mile beyond, a short spur trail on left takes you to Sycamore Falls. This 12-foot high waterfall has a gorgeous setting and superb swimming hole. Just past the Sycamore Falls spur, the trail passes Chimney Rock, a series of 20-foot tall rock columns, the result of an ancient geologic collision between the North American and African continents.
A half mile beyond, Little and Big Fiery Gizzard Creeks merge to cut a cascade through the sandstone bedrock. This feature is known as “Black Canyon” because of the organic stain on the rocks.
After another quarter mile, the Fiery Gizzard Trail ends at a metal span bridge across Little Gizzard Creek. To get to the Fiery Gizzard North trailhead, bear right after crossing the bridge and follow the Grundy Forest Day Loop for 3/4 of a mile, up and out of the gorge, to the parking area.