BSA Troop 328

Oak Ridge, Tennessee

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Savage Gulf Backpacking

On the weekend of March 29th, the troop went on a backpacking trip to the Savage Gulf State Natural Area. There were 7 scouts and 2 leaders on this trip. We met at Kern UMC at 8:30AM on Saturday morning and checked everyone's gear to make sure they had the essentials. We got to the Stone Door ranger station at 11:45AM after driving through heavy rain the whole way. After signing in at ranger station and obtaining a backcountry camping permit we hit the trail. The trailhead was right next to the ranger station. We hiked along the Stone Door trail and after passing through the "door" continued on the Big Creek Gulf trail. FYI: "Gulf" is a local term for a gorge. The trail descended 700ft down into the gorge and runs along Big Creek. When we first got down to the bottom there was virtually no water in the river, but when we were about halfway up the gorge it suddenly filled with swift water -- runoff from all the rain that had just fallen. We took a long break to the junction with the Ranger Falls Trail (a side trail that leads up to ranger falls. This trail crosses the river but the water was up so high the rocks you were supposed to walk across on were wait deep. While we were there a family (father, two boys and a teenage girl) came back down the trail from Ranger Falls but they were stranded on the other side of the river. We helped them as much as we could by scouting up and down the river for a place to cross. Eventually, they risked wading across and all made it to safety but we were ready to intervene if necessary. The family headed back to the ranger station where they were staying at the campground and we headed on up the gorge. After another mile and a half we took another break before climbing the 700ft back up to the rim of the gorge. This climb was a challenge but everyone made it OK. Just over the rim was the Alum Gap camping area where we setup camp for the night. We had light rain all afternoon so we cooked dinner and went to bed at around 8:00PM. The tents and sleeping bags were mostly dry so even though it was near freezing Sunday morning, there was not much complaining about the cold. We built a fire to warm up,cooked breakfast, packed up camp, and got back on the trail around 10:30AM. This was about an hour later than we had planned but we stayed in our warm sleeping bags an extra 1/2 hour and some of the less experienced scouts has a hard time getting all their gear back into their backpacks. After the fog burned off, the morning was bright and sunny, and very pleasant. We headed out on the Big Creek Rim trail which went along the rim of the gorge. We got back to the Stone Door and around 12:30 and had lunch. From there it was an easy 1 mile hike back to the ranger station. We loaded up our gear and were on the road home at around 2:00PM and got back to Kern UMC at 4:45PM.

Packing Checklist
Trail Map (6MB)

Here we are at the Stone Door ranger station ready to hit the trail.

The first overlook near the rager station. Our first glimpse of the river gorges.

At the rim of the gorge next to the entrance to the "Stone Door". This is where we stopped for lunch.

Here we are passing though the Stone Door. It is huge crack in the bluff at the rim of the gorge that is wide ehough to walk through.

Just for a sense of scale, I am standing about half way through the stone door and the scouts are near the bottom.

Taking a break when we finally reached the bottom of the gorge.

Here we are taking a break at the junction with the trail that leads up to Ranger Falls.
This is where we found the family trapped on the far side of the river by the rising water.

Here is where the trail crosses the river and where the family had to wade across to get back.

A view of the river just before we started the climb back up to the rim of the gorge.

Taking a short break before we start the climb.

Just before reaching the rim of the gorge the trail ran along a stream that was more like a waterfall because it was so steep.

Setting up camp at Alum Gap.

Having breakfast on Sunday morning.

Packing up camp and getting ready to head out on the Big Creek Rim Trail.

We are finally ready to hit the trail.

Here we are at the Big Creek Overlook.

Taking a break at the Pine Rock Overlook.

We saw a lot of hawks catching the updraft along the rim of the gorge.

Because of all the rain, the rocks for stepping across the creeks were under water. We had to ford 5 or 6 streams.

Sometimes there was more mud than water.

Taking a break at the Sinks Overlook.

Making good time along the Big Creek Rim Trail.

We stopped to fill our water bottles at the next creek. The scouts are using a water filter.

Checking out the view at the Split Rock overlook.

A big crack in the bluff. The was a large stone slab across it so we didn't have to jump.

Back at the Stone Door. We had lunch at the same spot we had lunch on Saturday.

Back at the trailhead next to the Stone Door ranger station.