Located just 90 minutes drive from Nashville, the southern area of the Cumberland plateau is home to some of the most beautiful landscapes and natural areas Tennessee has to offer. There are countless hiking trails and multiple waterfalls, making it a perfect area for a day trip or weekend away from Nashville. So pack up the car and get ready for a full day of hiking to Greeter Falls and Foster Falls with the kids, followed by some play time and dinner near Sewanee.
First Stop: Greeter Falls
The Savage Gulf Natural area, comprised of 15,590 acres, is part of the Cumberland Plateau and home to Greeter Falls. The landscape surrounding the falls is covered in pine, oak, hemlock and maple trees, along with multiple species of wildflowers, shrubs, mosses and ferns. We went in the late fall, while the leaves were still brilliant shades of orange and red. It was the last weekend with nice weather before the cold, so we wanted to soak up every bit of sunshine before the winter.
The 90 minute drive from Nashville leads you to the Greeter Falls parking lot, where even on crowded days you can usually find a spot. There aren’t any facilities here, so you might want to stop at a gas station on your way for bathroom breaks.
This area is only about an hour from Chattanooga, TN. It would serve as a great day trip if you’re visiting that area as well.
The Trail to Greeter Falls
Directly across the road you’ll find the trailhead, with the trail map a little further along. From the fork near the map there are two options: veer right to go straight to the falls or left to do a full loop. We opted to do the full loop to Greeter Falls, as our kids are used to hiking with us.
The Quick Hike Option
If you choose to go right, you can go straight to Greeter Falls and back for an easy one mile walk. First you’ll see the Upper Falls, which are much wider than they are tall. You can hike down here, but we chose not to. Continue on the the lower falls for the truly impressive views.
Longer Hike Option (and a surprise waterfall!)
If you are up for a longer hike of about three miles, I would encourage you to go left. The trail almost immediately takes you to a makeshift set of steps leading down a steep embankment. You’ll hear rushing water, but you won’t be able to see the source very well until you reach the bottom. Be careful; the steps are steep and can be slippery. At the bottom you can get a better view of Boardtree Falls to your left. We didn’t even know about this extra waterfall before the hike. Bonus! To your right are massive 40 foot sandstone cliffs, overhanging the trail in several places. You can venture off the trail for a bit to walk down to a small creek at the bottom of the falls.
Back on the trail, continue on through the forest over a few hills until you reach the lower falls of Greeter Falls. A glimpse can be had from the top, but the true beauty is seen from within the gorge. This does require descending a spiral staircase, a steep wooden staircase, and a makeshift gangplank. However, the views from the bottom are impressive as the 50 foot falls cascades over cliff into the small pool directly in front of you.
In the summertime you can swim here for a refreshing dip after your hike. We stayed for quite a while letting the kids throw rocks into Firescald Creek. There are large boulders and a few open areas that would be perfect for a picnic. Once you reach the top of the stairs to leave, the parking lot is only about a half mile walk. On the way you will pass the aforementioned viewpoint of the upper falls.
Tips for Greeter Falls with Kids
The short in and out hike is an extremely easy hike for kids of all ages. The trail is relatively flat and short. Keep an eye on younger children near the edge. The longer loop trail was fairly manageable for our four year old. We took our time, and she did great. The stairs were the only tricky part. Overall I’d give this hike a 2 on a difficulty scale from 1 (“that was a breeze”) to 5 (‘never again”).
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Next Stop: Foster Falls
The next stop, Foster Falls, is only about a 35 minute drive away. Foster Falls is the official ending point for the famous Fiery Gizzard Trail. The facilities at Foster Falls consist of a restroom and a few picnic tables under pavillions. We used the opportunity to have a picnic lunch before our hike.
The Trail to Foster Falls
From the parking area, the overlook is about a third of a mile. Like Greeter Falls, this is a beautiful view, but a short hike will take you to the base of the Foster Falls. The trail is fairly easy, but does require descending some makeshift rock stairs. Watch children carefully to avoid a fall on the uneven terrain. After the 100 foot descent into the gorge, you’ll cross a suspension bridge. There you’ll see the 80 foot falls plunging into the water below.
The surrounding cliffs create a sense of being inside an open cave. There are plenty of pebbles for little ones to throw into the water and large boulders to climb on. Of course, they will love playing on the suspension bridge as well.
Watch for Rock Climbers
You can walk a short distance to the left side of the bridge to watch rock climbers ascending the sheer cliffs. We spent about 30 minutes just marveling at their feats. You can continue on and make a loop back to the parking lot or go back out the way you came. If you choose to go out and back, the hike is roughly a mile or so.
Once we completed our hike, a park ranger was doing an impromptu education of snakes in the area. He had a snake for the kids to hold if they wanted, and our adventurous girl jumped right in after only a quick second of hesitation.
Tips for Foster Falls with Kids
This hike was slightly more challenging for young kids due to the steep descent into the gorge (and ascent coming back) over the large rocks. Our four year old was still able to make it pretty easily, but did complain a few times about being tired. Overall on a scale of 1 (that was a breeze) to 5 (“never again”) this was around a 3.
Last Stop: Sewanee
After a day of hiking, finding a place for dinner is probably high on your list. Another quick 30 minute drive will take you to Sewanee: The University of the South’s gorgeous campus. The private liberal arts college, started in 1857, truly resembles a college campus from a movie scene. The town and campus are essentially one and the same. Ornate buildings surrounded by trees and plenty of green space, coupled with streets lined by adorable houses create an idyllic atmosphere in the small town. There is a great playground located on campus that is ideal for burning some time before dinner.
Dinner in Town
Make your way to Shenanigans, the town staple, for dinner. Located in the oldest building in Sewanee, this kitschy restaurant was started in 1974 and still serves as favorite for visitors and locals alike. They have southern fare, deli sandwiches and made from scratch pizzas. There is truly something for everyone. Nothing fancy, it is a great place to stop after a day filled with outdoor adventures.
This is a full day’s itinerary. Make sure to account for driving time when planning your day. Of course, you could always find a cute property to stay in and make a weekend out of it. Better yet, add this on to a trip to Chattanooga. It would be an easy day trip from there, as well. Do you like to hike with your kids?