Savage Canyon.

43milAnother weekend, another round of adventure. More on that in a sec – but first, I crossed over 43 million steps on my FitBit. That’s just an insane amount of steps, in 4.5 years. My goal is to hit 50 million by my 5-year anniversary next June; not sure that’s doable, but that’s my goal. That means more than a million steps a month for the next 6 months, which is probably overly-optimistic, but I’m gonna shoot for it, nonetheless. Probably need to go get some more shoes.

So, this weekend, adventures at the opposite ends of the earth (well, to me, anyway). Saturday, it was Savage Gulf, about an hour north in the South Cumberland State Recreation Area; and Sunday, it was Cloudland Canyon, an hour south and high atop Lookout Mountain. All told, more than 26 miles exploring, 3 impressive waterfalls (and many smaller ones), bluffs, vistas, full-on Mother Nature.

Savage Falls - click for larger

Savage Falls – click for larger

I rode my motorcycle to Savage Gulf last weekend, just to figure out where it was and what it was like, but didn’t actually explore. Not this time – I explored the entire South Rim, for a total of 18.5 miles. The highlight was clearly Savage Falls, just a few miles into the hike. A somewhat small yet spectacular waterfall, nestled deep down in the canyon. A little tough to get to, but the steps leading down made the climb a little easier. Following that, an uneventful hike all the way to the end of the South Rim, with side trips up shorter trails to the many overlooks above the gulf itself. I had intended to turn north at the end of the trail, and take the connector trail to the North Rim and get back that way – however, by the time I was at the “decision point”, I knew there wasn’t going to be enough daylight to do that. After-dark hiking is forbidden here (because of the high bluffs), and my trail name is “Dangerboy”, not “Stupidboy”, so I had no choice but to backtrack back. I had also read that the connector trail is the hardest, most dangerous trail in the area (it goes down into the gulf, then back up to the North Rim), so that helped with the decision-making process.

Still, there was enough daylight left to divert onto the Day Loop trail for the last couple of miles. I’m not a fan of straight-line hiking (following the same route in and out), so this at least gave me a little variety. By the end, though, I was wiped out. Bruised, cut up, aching legs – but worth it. 18.5 miles is the longest hike I’ve taken in a while; my goal will be to break my 26-mile record this season. The only thing stopping me will be the amount of daylight available. We’ll see. Regardless, there are still trails to explore at Savage Gulf, so I’ll definitely be back.

click for larger, or Endomondo data, or Movescount data, or the Official Trail Map

click for larger, or Endomondo data, or Movescount data, or the Official Trail Map

Sunday, a pair of hikes that ranked right up there with the Best Hikes Ever. Not particularly long or challenging, but step-for-step, some of the best scenery I’ve ever seen. My first trip to Cloudland Canyon, and it did not disappoint.

Cloudland Canyon - click for larger

Cloudland Canyon – click for larger

Because I was still pretty well shredded from Saturday, I decided to break this hike up into two shorter hikes. By doing this, I didn’t have to carry my pack or any gear other than water and my camera. This made the going much faster, and was easier on my still-sore bod (I did go to the gym first, though – naturally).

Hemlock Falls - click for larger

Hemlock Falls – click for larger


I started out on the West Rim Trail right as the sun was coming up. I just can’t say enough about this trail – the views were spectacular, even with the fog laying over the valley below. There are multiple overlooks, all nicely constructed with steps and fencing where necessary (because it’s a long fall down to the valley floor). The trails themselves are very clearly marked, which is a big plus. The West Rim isn’t a long trail; it was only 3.5 miles to make the loop back to the Jeep.

After that, a drive over to the main park area, and the Overlook Trail. As the name implies, more spectacular scenery of the canyon as the trail winds around the bluffs. It connects to the south end of the West Rim Trail, and spurs off to the Waterfalls Trail. This is where the scenery transitioned from “spectacular” to “breathtaking”. My favorite parts of any trail are the waterfalls, and there are two on the Waterfalls Trail. First, down into the canyon to Cherokee Falls. Because there hasn’t been a lot of rain lately, there wasn’t a huge amount of water (far different than the recent Lula Lake adventure), but it was beautiful, all the same. Following Cherokee Falls, back up the trail, then down hundreds of steps and multiple bridges to reach Hemlock Falls. This is by far the tallest waterfall I’ve seen in my trekking, and was totally worth the climb down. I must go back after the next heavy rain – I can’t even imagine how fantastic it would be with more water coming over. Of course, going down means going back up, and I actually sprinted up most of the steps back to the top (and my calves are complaining about that today).

After the falls, a pretty quick trip back to the Jeep. All together, 5 miles on these trails, but in a much more condensed area than the West Rim trail, especially since a large portion of the hike was getting down into the canyon (twice!) and exploring around the base of the two waterfalls. But after the marathon hike Saturday at Savage Gulf, this was a perfect hike.

I’ll definitely be returning here, soon. In fact, my mountain bike friends are always talking about 5 Points, which are a series of multi-use trails just northeast of Cloudland Canyon that connect to the park. I’m already mapping my next MTB adventure here, which should be a good 30 – 40 miles of riding on the trails as well as on the highway between Cloudland Canyon and the 5 Points trailhead. Next sunny, mild day, you know where to look for me.

kuatAddendum: I received the Kuat Skinny Roof Rack I ordered for the Jeep, just in time to not have it over the weekend. I like it, a lot – in addition to being able to carry more gear up top, it also doubles as a bike carrier, if I don’t want to use the hitch-mounted carrier I have (or if I need to carry more than 2 bikes). The best part is that because it’s half-width, I can use it in conjunction with my kayak rack, so I can carry my boat and gear, my boat and my bike, whatever. The downside is that I won’t be able to carry two kayaks, but I rarely (if ever) do that, and if I need to, I can always use the truck. Here I come, more adventure!

Links:
Savage Gulf Hike Photo Album on Facebook
Cloudland Canyon Photo Album on Facebook