Savage Gulf State Natural Area

April 26, 2015  •  5 Comments

This day was not unlike the many other hiking treks I’ve been on since my arrival in Tennessee over a year ago.  Today was my second trip to Suter Falls in the Savage Gulf State Natural Area of the South Cumberland State Park, on the South Cumberland Plateau.  Are you confused yet?  Don’t feel bad I am too.

Three weeks ago, a coworker and I paid a visit to Greeter Falls which I had seen in the waning part of summer last year.  I remember how hot and humid the day was, finding out just how much water I could lose through my pours and still function properly was something I don’t recommend to anyone else.  This time was different in that I did the entire loop, seeing two additional waterfalls and Blue Hole, but in more moderate conditions.  

First up, Greeter Falls.   It’s a fairly easy hike to all the waterfalls on this loop, but the unique feature about this one is the metal spiral staircase which lets you safely descend down the 25’ bluff without having to butt slide or use ropes.  The creek flows over this 50’ plunge type waterfall, my favorite kind.

Greeter FallsNikon D750: Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8: ISO: 400 1/4sec @ f//22    Metal sprial staircase at Greeter FallsApple iPhone 6 Plus: Apple 4.15mm f/2.2: ISO 40: 1/40 @ f/2.2

Next was Upper Greeter Falls.  This one is just upstream from Greeter Falls (did I really have to tell you that), and drops 15’ before heading downstream to the main waterfall.  This one is very nice, but most of it was obscured from our side of the river.  Lucky enough for me I had decided to wear my boots which allowed me to wade out into the water far enough in order to position myself for a decent shot.  The water was running high and fast, providing other areas to photograph which would normally be dry.  Flowing over what looks to be a manmade wall, horizontal and vertical lines look like someone might have tried constructing a dam at some point, but closer inspection reveals nothing to support that theory and only the force of nature could be at work.

Upper Greeter FallsNikon D750: Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8: ISO: 50 0.4sec @ f//22    

Upper Greeter Falls close upNikon D750: Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8: ISO: 50 1sec @ f//22    Upper Greeter Falls wallApple iPhone 6 Plus: Apple 4.15mm f/2.2: ISO 32: 1/220 @ f/2.2

My next stop was Boardtree Falls.  This is easily accessible from the trail and it too was flowing better than average.  This is a nice cascading waterfall that has two tiers, one of which you can stand and get a nice spray of cool water.  The reflecting sun in the mist generated from the water droplets colliding on the rocks provided us with a multicolored rainbow to gaze upon.  We then visited Blue Hole which is basically a large swimming pool and not very picturesque.

Boardtree FallsApple iPhone 6 Plus: Apple 4.15mm f/2.2: ISO 32: 1/350 @ f/2.2

The last stop in the area was the Greeter Homeplace.  Occupied into the late 19th century there’s not much left but a few rock walls outlining what once looked to be a cabin and possibly another building nearby.  I liked the look of the old stone stairway.

Greeter Homeplace stone stairsApple iPhone 6 Plus: Apple 4.15mm f/2.2: ISO 32: 1/40 @ f/2.2

We then headed to Suter Falls, after all it was on our way home.  Arriving at our first sign it said the falls were another 1/3 mile.  We encountered another sign which said Suter Falls was yet another ¼ farther.  Wait a minute, we just hiked what we thought was about 1/3 mile from the first sign.  Those nasty sign trolls are at it again.  We passed Lower Suter Falls, but were up on the side of a bluff and it was basically a ravine down to the water.  Arriving at the edge of the woods we came upon a narrowed path under a rock ledge.  Directly in front of us you could see where there had been a recent rockslide which took out the 4x4 posts and cabling that use to be a handrail.

Suter Falls trail rockslideApple iPhone 6 Plus: Apple 4.15mm f/2.2: ISO 15: 1/80 @ f/2.2

Walking along the bluff and under the ridge you could see Suter Falls the entire way.  I noticed a small skull and crossbones sign along the trail.  It’s never a good sign of things to come if you ask me, but we forged ahead ignoring all personal regards to safety.  Once at the bridge (I use that term very loosely), we crossed one at a time and began setting up for pictures.   I took a few from directly in front of the waterfall as well.  It’s amazing how much wind is generated from the water falling, hitting the rocks below.   I have placed this waterfall in my top five favorite waterfalls in the area.  

      Suter Falls trail skulls & crossbones signApple iPhone 6 Plus: Apple 4.15mm f/2.2: ISO 50: 1/30 @ f/2.2 Suter Falls bridgeApple iPhone 6 Plus: Apple 4.15mm f/2.2: ISO 32: 1/40 @ f/2.2


Back to the present…

Meeting up with a few other waterfallers at the Collins West trailhead in Gruetli-Laager, TN we started our hike to Suter Falls.  This time was pretty much as before only the temperature and humidity would be much higher than my last visit.  I wanted to check the distance on the sign again to see if it still indicated 1/3 mile to Suter Falls.  Yep, no change, those darn trolls.

Hiking past Lower Suter Falls and then on to Suter Falls, I noticed the volume of water had increased greatly since my last visit.  We found another location as to which to shoot the falls from the side.  After that we headed into the abyss, towards Lower Suter and Horsepound Falls.


Suter FallsNikon D750: Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8: ISO: 200 0.8sec @ f//22 Suter FallsApple iPhone 6 Plus: Apple 4.15mm f/2.2: ISO 125: 1/430 @ f/2.2 Suter Falls trailApple iPhone 6 Plus: Apple 4.15mm f/2.2: ISO 40: 1/60 @ f/2.2

I decided not to make the descent to Lower Suter Falls, but instead save my energy for the trek to Horsepound Falls.  The sign had said 2.2 miles from the beginning but after what seemed like an eternity of hiking over boulders and negotiating many switchbacks I figured those dam sign trolls were at it again.  It was a pleasant walk through the forest.  Everything was bright green due to the recent rains and the farther we descended into the valley the more wildflowers could be seen spreading out like a red carpet being rolled out for a celebrity at the Grammys.  Continuing onward we heard the sound of rushing water only to find out these were false alarms.  The waterfall princess was definitely having a good time with us today.

Suter Falls trailApple iPhone 6 Plus: Apple 4.15mm f/2.2: ISO 32: 1/125 @ f/2.2


Finally, the sign I was waiting for.  Horsepound Falls, that way -->   Horsepound Falls signApple iPhone 6 Plus: Apple 4.15mm f/2.2: ISO 32: 1/120 @ f/2.2

The water was raging, trees normally dry and out of the water were now engulfed.  Rocks which had been used to bathing in sunlight were now submerged, but it was awesome.  I climbed down the back and continued to take pictures until the sun had decided to shine itself onto the water making it almost impossible to get and even exposed image of the water without having overexposed areas, thus bad images.

Horsepound FallsNikon D750: Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8: ISO: 50 0.3sec @ f//22

Packing up after a protein bar and a bottle of water we started the trip back.  Part of the group decided to check out some more waterfalls a little further down the trail.  I on the other hand decided to start back.  Somewhere in the back of my mind a little voice was saying “remember all those switchbacks on the way DOWN”.  And my answer was yes, I do and I know I have to go back UP those same switchbacks.  Onward ho, step by step, up, up, up.  I did stop often to take pictures of the wildflowers I had passed on the way down and some trail shots.

Getting back to Suter Falls I knew I had it about licked.  Just under a mile to go and one more hill to climb.  I met a guy at the falls who had a UAV like mine and we talked for a bit.  I’m a little too skittish to take mine into state parks as they have been pretty much been outlawed everywhere until the FAA has released their new regulations and guidelines for operating “drones”.

Once back at the trailhead my Fitbit registered 8.5 miles.  Those dam sign trolls.  Group photo taken, farewells taken care of.

Group Photo Suter Falls trekPhoto credit: Gary Conquest

Until next time, Big Bear signing off. 



Eldon & Bonny(non-registered)
What beautiful waterfalls!! Of course, your talent for photography does help!
You have a unique ability for storytelling and descriptions.
Janie Barbosa(non-registered)
Gorgeous photos (and some nice use of figurative language, especially about the wildflowers)! Highly enjoyable read!
DJ Greer(non-registered)
Excellent commentary of your adventures. Although, your story makes me realize I must of taken a wrong turn the day I left Greeter and went to Boardtree. I had to hike down something the equivalent of a land slide to get to Boardtree. Mmm wonder what I did wrong. (it was just me and Daisy) Meanwhile, glad we joined you for the seconds phase you reported on. I must say though, the time I show up early (1 hour 20 minutes) earns no comment....Only when I come flying in through the snow tardy or when I miss the team altogether due to "time change" error. (DJ Reminds me of my parents. Lol Silly sign facts: I was asked "How far is it to Suter". Told them to flip a coin. Bwahahaha
Great times Big Bear !!!!
Great story and pictures in fact I believe one of your very best.
Sure enjoy reading about this part of the country.

Thanks, John!
Lori Montgomery(non-registered)
Beautiful Area
Thank you for sharing.
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