South Cumberland State Park, Tennessee – Backpacking Guide
About 2 weeks ago my dad and I did a father daughter backpacking trip together. We went to South Cumberland State Park to enjoy the weekend in the mountains chasing waterfalls. Growing up my dad used to take my brothers and I out to the mountains almost every weekend. Whether it was hiking, biking, camping, looking for a new waterfall, or finding new parks to visit. Either way, it was always out in nature surrounded by God's marvelous work of art.
My dad and I haven't had some father daughter time since my husband was deployed to Afghanistan in 2012-2013. I remembered my dad and I going camping at Hillman Ferry Campground at Land Between The Lakes in Kentucky. Bella was with us and she was extremely excited. Six years later and my dad and I, after postponing a few times, finally were able to do the backpacking trip to South Cumberland State Park that we've been wanting to do for almost a year. Finally some well needed bonding time with my daddy... and yes I will forever be a daddy's little girl.
As the planning guru that I am, I decided to sit down with my dad before heading out and plan our route for the next two days. I love that he is a planning guru like me cause we were able to arrange a well-rounded trip for the weekend with great stopping points. We did a meal plan, arranged and packed our backpacks (probably like 20 times), tripled checked everything, and off to bed we went. We headed out around 5 in the morning to grab breakfast and enjoy the day. This was our Itinerary for the next two days.
Arrive at South Cumberland State Park.
Set up our campsite at Stone Door Campground.
Rearrange our backpacks so we can limit our weight.
Headed to the Ranger Station for a restroom break before starting our backpacking route.
1st Trail: Laurel Falls Loop Trail - 0.3 miles
2nd Trail: Stone Door Overlook and Stone Door - 0.9 miles // Had lunch overlooking the tops of the mountains.
3rd Trail: Connecting Trail - 7 miles
4th Trail: Big Creek Gulf - 1.15 miles
5th Trail: Ranger Falls - 0.8 miles // Filled up on water and refueled on trail mix. Started to rain. Met our orange salamander friend Larry.
Headed back to camp the same route before the storm arrived. Had dinner at camp.
Total Distance: 7.2 miles
Time Elapsed: 8 hours
Elevation: >1,400 feet
Woke up around 0700 and had breakfast.
Broke down camp and packed our bags.
Loaded everything in the car.
Cleaned up our campsite and picked up any trash that was left behind.
1st Trail: Headed off to Laurel Falls again. Had to get more pictures of this gem.
Drove to the Greeter Falls side of South Cumberland State Park.
2nd Trail: Blue Hole - 0.4 miles
3rd Trail (a): Greeter Falls: Upper Falls
3rd Trail (b): Greeter Falls: Lower Falls - 0.8 miles approximately
Headed back to the car.
Headed back home.
Total Distance: 2.2 miles
Time Elapsed: 2.5 hours
Elevation: >480 feet
Spots We Missed
Due to time crunch and rain we weren't able to hike the entire route we had planned for Day 1 and Day 2. These two spots were on our original route but sadly we missed them. Good thing is that now I have a reason to go back to visit.
Big Creek Rim Overlook
Board Tree Falls
About South Cumberland State Park
South Cumberland State Park is located within four different Tennessee counties. It holds approximately 30,845 acres in nine separate areas in south central Tennessee. This state park boasts some of the best hiking and backcountry camping in the region. You can find trails like The Fiery Gizzard, Grundy Forest, Foster Falls, Stone Door, Lost Cove, Buggytop Cave, Greeter Falls, Ranger Falls, Laurel Falls, and the list goes on and on.
From caves, to mountain top views, down to waterfalls, South Cumberland State Park has everything you need for a great adventure. You can read more on what South Cumberland State Park has to offer here.
Camping and backcountry camping is available at South Cumberland State Park. I stayed on the Savage Gulf side where there is two different campgrounds at. There is Stone Door campground which is close to the Ranger Station which is best for those not doing all of the trails. Then there is Alum Gap Campground which is at the end of Big Creek Gulf and Big Creek Rim trail. It is at a perfect mid-way point for a two-day trip.
Wherever you are camping at, I recommend reserving your campsites way ahead of time. Alum Gap campground tends to fill up much faster than Stone Door campground but they also have less campsites available.
Make your camping reservations here.
What to bring
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Portable stove
- Propane tank for stove
- Food for the number of days you will be there
- Water bottles - I used my Hydroblu and filled it up in creeks, streams, and waterfalls. The Hydroblu Clearflow Water Bottle has a built-in water filter. You can get yours here. You can read my review here and learn more about the Hydroblu here.
- Water filter - My dad brought a water filter which helped us fill up our other water bottles with clean drinkable water for the hike.
- Poncho or a weather jacket
- Hiking boots
- Change of clothes - comfortable hiking clothes is good. Plan according to weather.
- Scrunchies - I did find ticks so having my hair braided was a must for me.
- Mosquito repellent
- Backpacking tent
- Backpack to put it all in. I used my stepmom's backpack which is an Outdoor Products Internal Frame similar to this one. I really liked it and highly recommend it.
- Flashlights - I would use both headlamp and flashlights.
- Small portable bowls and camping pans, like this one.
- Utensils. I absolutely love my bamboo utensils from ToGoWare and highly recommend them to anyone. They are eco-friendly and come in a pouch that you can clip to your backpack. Get yours here.
- Snacks - It is always good to eat something while on the trail whether it's trail mix or a granola bar.
- Cell phone - You won't have signal out there but you can definitely use it by the Ranger Station to stay in touch with a loved one and keep them updated or even call for help.
- Trekking poles - I don't use them but if you do, definitely bring them.
- Camera - I used my GoPro Hero and my Canon Rebel T6 EOS.
- Lip Balm - This is my go to. My favorite is the Mango Lip Butter from Bendsoap Co. You can use coupon code TWM10 for a 10% off. Grab yours here.
Food is delicious. I am such a fatty when it comes to food but I also like to pack light especially if we have to carry it for several miles up and down the mountains under the rain. This is what our menu for the two days looked like.
Ate on our way to the state park.
Lunch - Chicken pita pockets and water.
Dinner - mashed potatoes (easy to make packets) and a can of corn.
Had hot cocoa before going to bed.
Snacks - Trail mix, almond butter, and granola bars.
Breakfast - instant oatmeal, coffee, granola bars with almond butter. I like to eat the Nature Valley Crunchy Oats and Honey bars and add some almond butter on top. Almond butter is a great way to add some protein to your diet.
Lunch - Tuna pita pockets and water.
Snacks - Trail mix and crackers.
We only drank water for both days but you can always buy juice or even those small packets to add to your water.
Other backpacking routes
We backpacked the Savage Gulf West at South Cumberland State Park - which is the shorter route. There are two campgrounds on this side and several different ways to backpack it. You can do our way, which got cut short or if you have more time to backpack, you can backpack it these other ways.
Make sure to download their map here.
You can also purchase their Geo map for the Avenza app here.
Backpacking Trip 1
Day 1: Arrive at South Cumberland State Park - Stone Door Ranger Station. Hike to Laurel Falls Loop Trail to view Laurel Falls. Head to Laurel Trail and backpack to Alum Gap Campground. Stay the night there.
Day 2: Wake up early and hike to Greeter Falls and Blue Hole Trail (you can do this after you set up camp on Day 1 if you have enough time). Hike back and take Big Creek Gulf Trail and then Ranger Falls Trail. Enjoy Ranger Falls before heading back to Big Creek Gulf Trail and making your way to Stone Door. Once you enjoy Stone Door you can make your way to the Ranger Station. **Adjust according to your backpacking experience level.**
Backpacking Trip 2
Day 1: Arrive at South Cumberland State Park - Stone Door Ranger Station. Hike Laurel Falls Loop Trail. Hike to Stone Door through Stone Door Trail. Take Big Creek Rim, check out the overlooks on this trail. Hike it till you get to Alum Gap Campground and set up camp.
Day 2: Hike to Greeter Falls and Blue Hole Trail (you can do this after you set up camp on Day 1 if you have enough time). Hike back and take Big Creek Gulf Trail and then Ranger Falls Trail. Enjoy Ranger Falls before heading back to Big Creek Gulf Trail and making your way to Stone Door. Once you enjoy Stone Door you can make your way to the Ranger Station. **Adjust according to your backpacking experience level.**
Backpacking Trip 3
Day 1: Arrive at South Cumberland State Park - Stone Door Ranger Station. Hike Big Creek Rim to Alum Gap. Set up camp.
Day 2: Hike Big Creek Gulf Trail stopping at Ranger Falls. Enjoy Ranger Falls before heading back to Big Creek Gulf Trail and making your way to Stone Door. Once you enjoy Stone Door you can make your way to the Ranger Station. Set up camp at Stone Door Campground.
Day 3: Hike Laurel Falls Loop Trail. Drive to Greeter Falls and do Greeter Falls Trail, Blue Hole Trail, and Boardtree Falls. Day 3 will be much easier. *Adjust according to your backpacking experience level.**
Note: Greeter Falls does NOT have overnight parking so please do not attempt to park there and hike to Alum Gap Campground. Overnight parking is only located at Stone Door Ranger Station.
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 experience 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 say 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.
Why a Father Daughter 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!!!
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Disclosure: 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.