A Father Daughter Backpacking Trip – South Cumberland State Park
Growing up I remember all the times that my dad used to take my brothers and I on outdoor adventures. We used to spend our Saturdays and Sundays outdoors exploring new trails or even camping all across the south-eastern states of the US and in Puerto Rico. Last year my dad and I decided to plan a father-daughter trip together to recreate those moments and bond again.
Shortly after I moved out at 18 years of age I didn’t feel so close with my dad. We talked but with my living in Puerto Rico and him in Alabama, we didn’t bond on the weekends like we used to. I missed those moments. I missed talking face to face with my dad on a trail. Those were pure genuine, deep moments when I can talk to my daddy about anything.
FAMILY CAMPING TRIP
Fast forward a few years to when my husband deployed to Afghanistan. I felt alone, depressed, scared and anxious all at the same time. I had my parents there for me through it all. We lived in Tennessee at the time and my parents were about 2.5 hours away so I got to see them more frequently but it was still hard.
My dad decided to plan a camping trip with my little brother Alex, my daughter Bella who was only one at the time, and I. We decided to camp at Land Between The Lakes – Hillman Ferry Campground (read more about Hillman Ferry Campground here). We were able to talk and open up some but it still wasn’t the same. There is always some things that you tell your parents that your children or brothers/sisters don’t know about. It’s just that special connection you have with them where you can open up and find comfort somehow in your darkest moments.
We had an amazing time though. Went kayaking and swimming at the lake and roasted s’mores. Bella had a blast and that’s where my heart was at. I wanted her to feel secure and like she still had a father figure near her even if it came from her abuelo (grandfather).
During deployment my dad would also make trips to Chattanooga where I did my USAR drills at the time. We would always grab dinner together and spend a good two hours together talking about anything really. It really helped me forget the fact that Rob was deployed and I was literally worried sick about him.
FATHER-DAUGHTER BACKPACKING TRIP
Five years passed in which we moved to Hawai’i and then to Florida. Last year we finally moved back to Tennessee and that’s when it finally clicked. We had the opportunity to have that one on one time together out on the trails, disconnected and away from the world. We planned to go backpacking at South Cumberland State Park last fall but sadly things had to be postponed when my daughter got the flu and was sick for several weeks.
Winter passed and things got better so we decided to plan our trip again. This time nothing was going to stop us. It was beginning of May when he headed to my home to pack, grab a few things to eat, and head out to South Cumberland State Park in the morning that Saturday. We spent the night going through everything making sure we had all the necessities for the trip. Reservations were made in advance, meals planned, and even planned our route. We decided to go to Savage Gulf West at South Cumberland State Park. It had the most beautiful waterfalls as well as the famous Stone Doors of Tennessee.
Saturday morning arrived and off we went to South Cumberland State Park trying to beat the rain. The forecast showed rain and thunderstorms starting at noon and lasting till Sunday. Luckily we set up camp at Stone Door campground which is close to the main parking lot. We rearranged our bags so we could travel lighter, grabbed our food for the trip, rain gear, mosquito repellent, camera equipment, and headed out to the Ranger Station to start our backpacking trip.
We headed off to do our first leg of the trip. Laurel Falls Loop Trail which is a 0.3 mile loop overlooking a gorgeous waterfall. The trailhead for this loop trail was located directly behind the South Cumberland Ranger Station. The waterfall was an absolute beauty. I decided to take advantage of not having the kiddos around or the fear of them falling to relax. I was able to pick my dad’s brain about photography and how to get those gorgeous flowing photos of waterfalls. We set up the tripod and he showed me the tips and tricks on how to capture those perfect photos I have been craving to take for the longest. I felt like a little kid when I finally got the picture.
We grabbed our stuff and headed out to Stone Door. This was about a mile one way. We stopped half way at the overlook to see the mountain views. I mean how can you not when the view looks like that (left picture above). We stayed here for a few minutes before continuing on our way.
As we arrived to Stone Door my jaw dropped. How beautiful is this spot. The hawks and vultures were flying right in front me. The view was absolutely beautiful and scary at the same time. We saw a cliff that was perfect for photos and we decided to take turns taking pictures. I slowly inched my way to the edge to see how high we really were and my heart just dropped. We were probably several hundred feet up. The trees down below looked tiny compared to the ones next to us. It was literally a ledge. Nothing else was underneath that ledge for a while but it was worth it. I am not going to even lie. I crawled to the edge. Knowing how clumsy I can be the last thing I needed was to test out my flying skills, which I am sure are not all that great.
We decided to grab lunch here. I prepared some delicious chicken pita pockets. While we ate we literally talked about everything. My dad asked me about my blog and took interest in my passion for it. He even asked me about my other photography jobs and side gigs as well. We talked about different things. I feel that this spot was the beginning of us opening up to each other again and having deep conversations about life.
We wrapped up lunch time and took a few more photos before heading down the Stone Door stairs. These stairs are absolutely beautiful and so cool to witness. Each step is made out of stone and as you go down you can see the different layers of rocks that are making up the mountain that is around us. Off we went to continue our trip to Big Creek Gulf through the connecting trail (about a mile).
BIG CREEK GULF
The way down to Big Creek Gulf was a little rocky to say the least. Literally it was all rocks. We met a frog and saw a tick land on my leg. Found a small cave looking stone as well. This was the stretch of the trail where we lost civilization. There was not a single soul since we left the stairs at Stone Door. It was just me and my daddy. We would stop for breaks at random spots on the trail to listen to the owls hooting. I kept trying to find the owls but not once did I see one.
The deeper into the woods we went the more wildlife we saw. We saw the cutest little frogs jumping around, deer and what may have been fox or coyote tracks, and even smaller birds flying above us in the trees.
We finally saw the sign for Ranger Falls. I was so excited. I haven’t seen many pictures of these falls because not many people hike out to it. Probably because of the long distance and the time it takes to get to it. We crossed the stones on the dried creek and headed on our way to Ranger Falls. We felt the humidity in the air and we grew even more excited. This meant that we were finally getting close to the falls.
As we continued to walk we saw some of the weirdest looking bugs. We started to also see a lot of moss and moist terrain. Soon enough we heard water flowing. Crazy cause we didn’t see any water flowing through what looks like a dry creek next to us. Not a single drop of water was flowing through those rocks.
The waterfall sounded even louder. It was full of life. I grew anxious and started to speed up the pace as the clouds started rolling in. As we arrived we immediately decided to gather more clean water through our water filter and take pictures. I collected some fresh water in my Hydroblu Clear Flow Water Bottle and grabbed my camera as I started to feel rain drops falling. I snapped a few pictures before it started pouring down rain.
WAITING OUT THE RAIN
As I called out for my dad who was still at the bottom of the falls gathering clean water through his water filter, it started to pour down rain. He didn’t even realize it was raining. Ranger Falls was flowing so powerful that he thought the water that was getting him wet was the same one from the falls. He wasn’t wrong though, it was the waterfall but it was also rain.
We immediately grabbed our ponchos and of course, my poncho was defected. I watched my dad put on his poncho and slide his head and arms through and I was still trying to figure out where the holes were on my poncho. Sadly it didn’t have holes so I had to make my own. We covered up our pack and decided to sit under the trees to eat some trail mix and admire the beauty of the Ranger Falls.
As we both ate our trail mix on the rocks, we just sat silently taking in the beauty of this place. We would look at each other and just knew that we were both in a little piece of heaven on Earth. All we can hear was the water flowing, the birds singing, rain falling, and the trees dancing with the music of the Earth. I started playing with the tiny little stones on the ground and found some very cute ones for my daughters. My dad and I then started talking about the trail mix and everything that we like to add to it such as walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and a few other yummy treats.
The rain stopped but we can still hear thunder at a distance so we took advantage of the moment to take pictures of the waterfall. I seriously didn’t want to leave. I saw this spot next to the falls that would have been perfect to pitch a tent. No trees or plants, just dirt surrounded by rocks and trees and the waterfall in front. Like it was calling my name but sadly this isn’t a designated camping area so off we went to head back to our home for the night.
HEADING BACK TO CAMP
Original plans were to head towards Alum Gap and take Big Creek Rim but we were behind schedule and with the thunder pounding in the distance we decided to play it safe and head back the way we went.
As we were leaving, we walked at a fairly fast pace trying to beat the rain when I saw this orange looking thing on the ground. I immediately pushed my dad in hopes of saving the cutest salamander I had ever seen in the wild. It was orange with spots on it. This tiny little thing was just lying there in the middle of the trail soaking up the rain. I tried to take a picture of him but it came out blurry. My phone wouldn’t properly focus due to the rain that kept falling on my screen. We left the little guy alone and headed back to Big Creek Gulf and up to Stone Door and then to our camping spot at Stone Door Campground.
On our way back to camp we decided to stop at Stone Door. After hiking up the mountain and climbing all of the stairs we needed a few minutes to rest and take in the last bit of sunlight from the top of the mountain. There was fog setting in and clouds down below. It was beautiful. We both just talked about the moment we were in. How beautiful the view was despite the rain clouds above us.
Once we arrived to camp we freshened up. We changed from our wet clothes to our dry ones to avoid catching a cold. Then we started cooking our mashed potatoes and corn for dinner. Drank some hot cocoa, jotted a few things down in my travel journal and headed off to bed.
We woke up early Sunday morning to eat a delicious oatmeal breakfast. I topped it off with a granola bar and some almond butter for protein and energy to take on the day. My dad and I broke down camp, washed our dishes at the water spout and headed off to the trails.
We decided to go to Laurel Falls again. It was so beautiful and we rushed it the day before that we wanted to go again. It was the closest fall to the parking lot so it was a good pit stop before leaving this area of the park. This time around there was less people. One family came by and left quickly so we were able to enjoy the falls without any interruptions. No one bothered us and we were able to take as many pictures as we wanted.
BLUE HOLE TRAIL
Afterwards, we headed out to the other side of Savage Gulf West. If we backpacked the entire thing the day before like we had originally planned we would have ended up on this side of the Savage Gulf West. We parked at the Greeter Falls parking lot and crossed the road to start our journey. Like we were on a time crunch, we did this part fairly quickly. We had to be heading home by 1pm so my dad could make it to his home at a decent time to go to work the next day. We will definitely be coming back though for sure.
Blue Hole Trail was our starting point. We decided to get the shorter route out of the way before heading to the waterfalls. The water was flowing beneath the stones. I saw this huge stone in the middle of the creek and I just had to get on top of it. My dad of course took pictures of me before we switched (pictures below). The view from up there was stunning. There was so much green and blue in sight that I was in awe (pictured above). My dad and I kind of did our own thing here after taking a few selfies. I wandered around taking pictures while he recorded and took pictures from the rock.
UPPER GREETER FALLS
We decided to head back to the trailhead and take Greeter Falls Trail. Once we reached Greeter Falls it splits into two, Upper Greeter Falls and Lower Greeter Falls. We decided to do Upper Greeter Falls Trail first. It was such a gorgeous day. Blue skies, sunny, and the waters were cold yet flowed beautifully amongst the rocks as it made its way down to Lower Greeter Falls. Sadly I wasn’t able to get the photos I wanted due to the sunny day but the views were still breathtaking.
My dad decided to give me a little heart attack. I look over my shoulder and see my dad sitting on the edge looking down below. From my angle it looked like he was literally right on the edge. I rushed over to see him and saw he still had a few more steps to go so I decided to join him (pictured above). The stone wall behind us was beautiful and in layers. I haven’t seen stoned walls like this since I was little (pictured below). Off we went to take a few more pictures before heading down to Lower Greeter Falls.
LOWER GREETER FALLS
I swear this was the perfect ending to this trip. The most beautiful waterfall was Greeter Falls and it flowed beautifully. The entire lower falls was stunning. We headed down the mountain, down the spiral stairs, down the staircase, down the ramp, and on to the rocks. The sun was still not my friend for photography but I definitely didn’t mind. Views like these are priceless memories whether you capture them perfectly on your camera or not.
My dad and I just sat there for a good 10 minutes and talked about my little mermaids and how they would have loved this waterfall. This is one trail that they could have easily done. I am definitely adding a trip soon with my family to take them here but in the summer months when the water is warmer. I’m not fond of freezing cold water and I sure know my daughters aren’t either. My dad also mentioned that my stepmom would have loved this waterfall. My stepmom Vilma loves to hit the trails as well and you can put her anywhere outdoors and she will be a like a "happy little child at heart" soaking it all in. I guess my tribe; my family just flows like that. I don’t mind though! The more the merrier.
After enjoying this view we headed back to the parking lot. I decided to count all the steps from the ramp up to the top of the spiral stairs just to see. Can you believe that just this little stretch had 95 stairs? Yes! 95 stairs and that’s not including the ones on the trails. We met a cute little ring-necked snake along the way. Said hi and continued on our way. We arrived to our car and ate some tuna fish pita pockets and drank some water before heading home. It was truly an incredible journey for sure filled with hugs, bonding, smiles, and an overload of love.
WHY YOU SHOULD DO YOUR OWN PARENT-CHILD TRIP
I strongly believe that every child (young or old) deserves some one on one time with their mom or dad. Whether you are married, have moved out, have kids of your own, or still live with them, either way, take a weekend or a day, get out and reconnect with them. They need it as much as you do. You will be surprised as to how many conversations, advice, learning experiences, hugs, kisses, and emotions will be shared in just a few hours alone with them. Don’t be shy to open up. On the contrary, be an open book. Be honest, genuine, humble, compassionate, and most of all, BE YOU!!!
WHAT I LEARNED
One thing I feared the most was doing a trip without my husband and two girls. I always felt that any adventure I took I had to have them present. I also knew that as mom we always need to take time for ourselves, which I never really do. This father daughter backpacking trip was a huge learning experience. Not only did I feel like a little girl again hiking alongside my daddy but I also learned to disconnect from my family (just for a little while) to find peace in the mountains. I haven’t experienced this kind of peace in a long time.
There were times during the hike that my dad and I would just sit and take everything in. Literally not a single word was spoken. We just listened to the birds sing, the owls hoot, and the wind pass through the trees. There was no other sign of human life around us, no cell phone signal, no trace of human kind except for the trail. It was a pure moment of tranquility.
Don’t get me wrong, I did miss my little mermaids like crazy. I love watching their reaction when they see a waterfall or a cute little animal or bug on the trail. The moments when they fall and you clean off their knees and tell them they are ok and give them a kiss. I did miss those moments. Also with the length of this trip I knew I would have never seen the things I had seen or experienced on this trip.
Best of all, I got to bond with my dad. No one else was around, just my daddy and I. We were both able to unwind, talk, vent, laugh, and reconnect like we haven’t done in years. He taught me new things in photography, life, marriage, and as a parent. It was the best way for us to reconnect and I can’t wait to do it again.
CHECK OUT MY GUIDE TO BACKPACKING SOUTH CUMBERLAND STATE PARK, TN
If you are looking for more information on how to do this trip you can view my Backpacking Guide for South Cumberland State Park here. I have included a tentative packing list, alternate routes for your trip, itinerary, tips, recommendations, and how to make your reservations. There are many ways of doing this backpacking trip and I highly recommend doing it if you are in the South Central Tennessee area. Ranger Falls would be the only waterfall that’s several miles away but all the other points we checked out were fairly close making it easy to do with kids.
Please take proper precautions before attempting to do a backpacking trip. It is good to know your level of experience and plan accordingly. Always practice “Leave No Trace” on all of your adventures. Always let someone know where you are at all times. Best to hike with a buddy to play it safe. Also try to learn all you can about the park, plants, wildlife, etc. Always be cautious of the weather and plan ahead. Be courteous of others and your surroundings. This post is in no way sponsored or compensated for.
All opinions and experiences are my own. This blog post is to serve you as a guide. Please take note that my experience level may be different from yours. To know your level of experience it is good to do several hikes with a backpack weighing about 20-40 lbs if not more. If you have physical limitations please be cautious and don’t proceed if you know you can’t hike this trip. There will be a lot of climbing, going up and down mountains, hiking through rocks, and much more. We didn’t see anyone after Stone Door so it will be hard to get help if anything happens.
PIN TO SAVE