Savage Gulf South Trailhead/Collins Gulf
DISTANCE: 13.3 miles total
TIME: 1 or 2 nights
The southern part of Savage Gulf is the lesser-known cousin to popular places like Stone Door (Savage Gulf North) and Greeter Falls (Savage Gulf West), but it is no less dramatic.
On Day One, from the trailhead, you’ll be on the Collins Rim Trail, which will take you out to the Collins Campsite, a great first-night camping spot (if you’re arriving late in the day). From there, it’s on to a grand, 6-mile adventure that takes you down into the Collins Gulf, across a cable-stayed footbridge over the Collins River in an area of huge boulders, and then back up to, and along, the eastern rim of Collins Gulf.
This trail adventure takes you deep into the Savage Gulf area of the park, so you’ll want to plan on camping at the Stagecoach Campground (at the end of the Collins Rim Trail) and hiking back out the next day. As with all overnight camping in SCSP, advance reservations are required and can be made online at https://tnstateparks.itinio.com/south-cumberland. Campsites fill up quickly, in just about every month, so be sure to make your reservations ahead of time!
On Day Two of your Savage Gulf South adventure, you have some choices: You can return to the trailhead the way you came in, on the Collins Rim Trail, but if you’d like to see something different, take the short (1.6 mile) but historic Stagecoach Trail down into the bottom of Savage Gulf to its junction with the Connector Trail, following it about a half-mile to the Collins Gulf Trail, which you’ll travel for about five miles, heading back to the trailhead by way of the bottom of Collins Gulf. (The final mile of this route is a re-trace of the first leg of the Collins Rim Trail, back to the parking lot).
The historic Stagecoach Trail was built in the 1840s, partially by enslaved laborers, as a way for one of the early stagecoach companies in this area to get their horses, carriages and passengers up and out of Savage Gulf, on their way to Chattanooga and points beyond. As you descend the Stagecoach Trail, notice the amazing stacked-stone walls that support the old stagecoach road — just as sturdy as the day they were laid, nearly 200 years ago! If you look carefully to your right, as you descend, you’ll see a second set of rock-works that supported a less carefully-crafted roadway, used for moving cattle to market, up and out of Savage Gulf.
Once you’re on the Collins Gulf Trail, look for a small sign for “Schwoon Spring,” and a short (0.2 mi) detour to check out a cave-spring that provided reliably cool, clear water for the early settlers of Savage Gulf. The spring is named for Fred Schwoon, an early settler.
As you work your way up the Collins River valley, you’ll notice that the creek seems to appear and disappear periodically. Here, the river traverses layers of limestone, pock-marked with caves, or “sinks”, as well as springs. The river’s flow can be completely swallowed by these sinks, only to pop back out, downstream, in the form of a spring or “seep”.
In April, the wildflowers along this portion of the Collins Gulf Trail are especially beautiful. Take time to stop and enjoy nature’s beautifully blooming garden!
You’ll also pass Horsepound Falls, a short but impressive waterfall, and an area said to be used during the Civil War to hide horses from enemy troops (hence the name). Near the end of your adventure, you’ll cross a suspended metal bridge just below Suter Falls, a tall, beautiful waterfall surrounded by a massive amphitheater-like canyon.
After traversing the amphitheater, the trail ascends the bluff and rejoins the Collins Rim Trail for the final mile or so, out to the trailhead and parking area.