A comprehensive guide to Tennessee’s South Cumberland, the highest point between Chattanooga and Nashville home to two of the largest state parks in Tennessee: South Cumberland and Savage Gulf State Parks.
DAY 1 – Tracy City
Start your morning with coffee, treats or a full breakfast at the 118 year old Dutch Maid Bakery and be sure to stock up on sustenance for the trail ahead. Say hello to the resident shop dog, Bear, lounging outside on your way out. If you’re into old school diner vibes, grab a bite at Annex Cafe. Point the car towards nearby Grundy Day Loop for a hike on a portion of the famous Fiery Gizzard trail Backpacker Magazine named one of the top 25 hikes in the country.
Circle back to downtown Tracy City and explore the Grundy County Historical Society Heritage Center including a running miniature replica of the Mountain Goat Railroad that carried coal and passengers over the Cumberland Plateau. For antiquing and unique vintage finds visit Olde House Shoppe and Depot Emporium.
Make your way across the street to Henry Flury & Sons Grocery a working grocer deli and antique store. As you make your way through the aisles of trinkets, canned goods and friendly owners you’ll see a counter in the back serving locally renowned fried bologna sandwiches.
If you’re looking for fun in the sun, Grundy Lakes has a man-made beach perfect for lounging near the water and spreading out a picnic. There’s also a swim-up dock for the sun bathers and cannon ballers. Catch an adrenaline rush or a friendly game of frisbee golf at Bigfoot Adventures zipping over the trees and ponds of Baggentross Farm on 8 different zipline courses.
Once you’ve rested, step out for dinner and drinks at a local watering hole. Family friendly Hank’s Corner Grille specializes in pizza, wings, burgers and beer. If you’re ready to wet your whistle, head over to The Green Room for billiards and buckets of beer til’ late.
WHERE TO STAY
Find a VRBO nearby or DIY lodgings including a glamping tent perched on a bluff above a waterfall. Or bring a tent and camp out at Baggenstross Farms. If you don’t feel like sleeping under the stars, you can sleep in the sky. Baggenstross also offers a tree house abode for two, RV hookups and a 3,000 sq ft cabin that sleeps up to 10.
DAY 2 – Monteagle, Sewanee, Pelham
Find home cooked southern food at The Depot Cafe in Monteagle or a posh breakfast spread at Sewanee Inn. Park the car and take an easy stroll over the unique rock formation at Sewanee Natural Bridge. If you’re up for a 4 mile round trip rocky descent into the mouth of a cave head down to Buggy Top Cave trail. For a more relaxed 2.9 mile loop through lush Tennessee foliage check out the Sherwood Day Loop.
Head to Jim Oliver’s Smoke House Restaurant & Trading Post for a full Tennessee immersion experience, part country store, part moonshine and country music museum in an incredible Southern restaurant. Up In Smoke BBQ Cafe known for their hickory smoked pulled pork is a crowd favorite. Bohemian Shenanigans is an institution at The University of the South since 1974. Next door, dine on the patio at The Blue Chair Cafe, Bakery & Tavern. If you’re craving vibrant specialty sandwiches, check out one of Yelp’s top 100 restaurants of 2019 Mountain Goat Market for killer eats and eclectic finds.
Next door to Mountain Goat Market, visit Highland Bluff Studio for a wide range of modern, handmade candles. Discover a cabin full of pottery and handmade gifts at Hallelujah Pottery. Find hand knitted items, organic fresh produce and natural sundries at Mooney’s Market & Emporium. Walk out back to the Crescent Cafe for organic smoothies, salads, wraps and coffee served out of a vintage camper with outdoor and greenhouse seating available.
With neo-gothic architecture, extensive hiking trails, lakes, bluff views and caves, The University of the South is consistently named one of the most beautiful campuses in the nation, Don’t miss breathtaking stained glass at All Saints Chapel, scenic overlooks and the University Art Gallery all free and open to the public. Visit Sewanee Village for charming local shops like 1866 Revival, Lemon Fair and Taylor’s Mercantile.
For a scenic drive into Pelham, plug in Tess’s Kitchen Cafe, Simply Southern Cafe, Gallery 41 Coffee or Northcutt’s Family Market for something to eat and a beautiful drive down the mountain into the blooming valley below.
Monteagle, TN is a mid-point between Miami and Chicago on the 1-24 corridor (also the highest elevation on the route), this presumably prompted Al Capone to finance the mansion High Point Restaurant now calls home. This rock Tudor-style mansion still features the original escape hatches and underground tunnels that were used by Capone to transfer liquor during the Prohibition Era. The restaurant serves a menu of traditional gourmet dishes including Brie en Croute, Blackened Salmon Oscar and Black Thai Duck. The restaurant was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.
The more Italian, laid back Papa Ron’s is the sister restaurant to High Point located less than a mile down the road serving a variety of pastas, steaks and pizzas.
Don’t miss the sweet tunes of free live music every Friday and Saturday night from Nashville songwriters at Jim Oliver’s Smokehouse. A music venue in a cave attracting top acts from around the country, The Caverns is a bucket list experience. Home to PBS Bluegrass Underground. Here's where you can find shows upcoming at the Caverns.
WHERE TO STAY
Stay at the Smokehouse Lodge with a motel and cabins on the 25 acre property.
DAY 3 – Altamont, Gruetli-Laager, Beersheba Springs, Palmer
Visit Southern Oven in Palmer for a homemade meal to kick off the day. Then access some of the most remote, wild and beautiful areas in South Cumberland State Park right up the road at Savage Gulf East Trailhead. For a historical context of the area, visit the Grundy County Miners Museum for a history of coal mining on the mountain.
Ringing in as the tallest waterfall in South Cumberland State Park, 60 ft Foster Falls has an easy walking path to it’s overlook and a trail down to it’s base where you can take a dip in the water. Down a dirt road nearby you’ll find Denny Cove. Purchased from a timber company with help from the Southeastern Climbers Coalition in 2017 for it’s exceptional climbing routes with names like Little Tokyo, Last Dance and Three Star Salad Bar.
Founded as Swiss settlement in the 1800’s, Gruetli-Laager still has relics from the past. Stoker-Stampfli Farm Museum is a two story original farm house from 1885 complete with period pieces including cheese making tools and furnished rooms. Tours by appointment.
LUNCH In Gruetli-Laager, don’t miss Fat Chunk’s & Dave’s, Brown’s Dairy Bar or Christy’s Dairy Bar for a milkshake and plenty of food options. If you’re heading to Greeter Falls or The Great Stone Door be sure and stop in Altamont, the county seat, at Close To Home Restaurant or the Altamont Coffee & Cafe for home cooking and succulent desserts.
One of the area’s primary geologic attractions, The Great Stone Door is easily accessed from a paved path to the 10-foot-wide, 100-feet-deep rock crevice with steps down the sandstone bluff. Native Americans used it before the arrival of European settlers and it is rumored that bison used it to get up and down the bluff when they inhabited this land before the eighteenth century. The spectacular cliffs offer one of the best scenic overlooks in Tennessee. Be sure to check out the 400-foot stair-stepped spur trail, directly behind the Stone Door Ranger Station, that leads down to beautiful Laurel Falls. Greeter Falls is a 1.1 mile hike that drops down to the base of the 50 foot waterfall via a unique spiral staircase. The Blue Hole Trail is 0.8 miles out and back reaching the blue hole basin, a popular swimming area. Check out acclaimed Beersheba Porcelain for pottery and wearable art jewelry from an original porcelain recipe and fired in a hand built kiln.
Find a cozy cabin or historical Victorian mansion to soak up the mountain air for a Southern night on Tennessee’s South Cumberland Mountain. Beersheba Springs Assembly is a pre-Civil War Hotel with historic buildings offering modern and vintage accommodations.
WE'RE RIGHT UP THE ROAD
Birmingham, AL 170 miles 2.5 hours
Atlanta, GA 160 miles 2.5 hours
Chattanooga, TN 45 miles 40 min
Indianapolis, IN 370 miles 5 hours
Jacksonville, FL 500 miles 7 hours
Knoxville, TN 155 miles 2.5 hours
Lexington, KY 298 miles 4.5 hours
Memphis, TN 293 miles 4 hours
Nashville, TN 88 miles 1 hour
St, Louis, MO 393 miles 5.5 hours
Cincinnati, OH 357 miles 5 hours