I recall hearing of the Fiery Gizzard Trail sometime in the past, but that was all I could recall. This was the trail that Jeff Benefield (from JBen’s Blog) had planed for our April Fools weekend hike. So I did a little Googling, and what I came up with was that it is a 12.5 mile end-to-end trail along the Southern Cumberland Plateau. One could start at either Grundy Forest, or at Foster Falls, the trail is listed as “strenuous” and there are a lot of waterfalls…
On April 1st my son and I left home about 4 am. We had a 3 hour drive to meet everyone at Hardee’s in Jasper, TN. This ended up being a pretty big group. Besides me and my son, Benny and his son Connor came, of course Jeff and his father-in-law “Papa John” came, Chris, Blake and Josh (whom I had never hiked with before). Once we all arrived and had breakfast, we all followed Jeff to Foster Falls and dropped off mine and Benny’s vehicles. From there we piled up in Jeff and Josh’s trucks and headed over to Grundy Forest. Thankfully, these area’s are all pretty close to each other, so the drives to get there and then to stage cars wasn’t that bad. This also allowed us to get an early morning start… 8:30 am!
As soon as we began hiking we could hear a stream. Then just around the corner from the parking lot, we came upon said stream. Of course we were all super excited, not only about the stream, but also about beginning our hike. As soon as we saw the stream, many of us came to a stop and started snapping pictures/videos. Then immediately after that we noticed the bluff’s at the bottom of the trail…
Beginning this trail was hard. Every step we made, we saw a new photo opportunity. So of course for the first 30 minutes or so we all stopped more times than we could count and was taking photos. And this is how the trail (and our hike) went for quite a while… We followed the stream, which would flow around bends, over and around rocks, and off cliff edges giving us some very nice waterfalls. The actual trail was easy to follow, and well maintained. There was actually lots of work done all along this entire trail, from steps cut from stone, to wooden and metal walkway’s and bridge’s, to chain’s and cables hung to aid in/on very narrow or wet/slippery sections.
We eventually came to a few tall rock formations… we dubbed them “The Pinnacles” and both my son and Connor (and even Benny I believe) climbed atop them. The rest of us followed the trail down towards Sycamore Falls (photo below) and waited for them to catch back up.
Once we were all back as a group, we kept going. Soon after, the trail split and we had a decision to make… We could take the Dog Hole Trail and climb to the top of the Gorge, where we would then hike on an easily trodden path, or we could stay on the Fiery Gizzard Trail which followed the rocky “strenuous” section of the trail… of course we stayed on the Fiery Gizzard Trail! 🙂
After navigating the rock field’s that followed the stream, we eventually climbed to the top of the gorge. Once we made it to the top we took the 0.4 mile side trail to Raven’s Point Overlook, where we all had lunch.
And before we all left I made sure to line all of us Zpacks Arc Blast carriers up and grab some photo’s of all the goodness that we were carrying on our backs… 🙂
After taking in the views, and our lunch, we hiked on… We backtracked the 0.4 miles and rejoined the Fiery Gizzard Trail. A little way’s farther we came to another huge waterfall… This one wasn’t really a fall, as much as just tumbling down a large rock surface for quite a ways… we followed the stream for a short distance, crossed a bridge, then we all refilled dour water bottles.
After refilling, we hiked back up the other side of the gorge. We came to a nice vantage point which gave us a much nicer overall view of the “waterfall” we had just come across, but then past it, we came across a much larger waterfall… we weren’t sure of what this falls name was, so we dubbed it the “I Don’t Know Falls.”
After we all took turns getting photos in front of this awesome waterfall, we still had to do a little bit of climbing to get to the top of the gorge though… so we kept going.
However, yet again, we soon came to a sign that warned us to stay on the trail as the creek bed was slick… We turned the corner and came across another waterfall! But this one was a bit different… from where we were standing, it was hard to see where the trail went (despite the fact that the sign before told us…) It was then that we noticed a chain bolted to the rock wall that went behind the waterfalls… WHAT?! This was awesome! 🙂
After going behind the fall, we continued climbing towards the top of the plateau. We arrived up top shortly after, then began following a wooded path through the forest. This was the type of trail I was used to flooding, however, so far, every bit of this trail had been following along a stream, so this was a bit odd. We eventually came upon the sound of more water though… as we rounded a corner we then came across the site of an old still. Of course, right near the still was a nice little stream, with another sweet waterfall too!
After we left these falls, the trail became bland. Just a wooded area, no cliff edges, and only about twice did we come upon small streams again… this was just a walk in the woods. Don’t get me wrong, I still loved it, but after the trail that we had been hiking on that morning, it was a bit of a shock to be in such a plain area…
As we got closer to the Small Wilds Campground (which is where we were staying that night) we came suddenly took a dive off the side of a gorge and ended up back on a section of trail that we were used to hiking on…
After climbing just a short ways back up to the top of the plateau, we came upon another rocky outlook. When looking across the way, we noticed a couple of hammocks set up on another cliff edge across the way. We could also hear another waterfall… After hiking a short ways farther and crossing over a small bridge we were suddenly standing next to one of our reserved camp sites! We dispersed ourselves out amongst the 3 different campgrounds and all took to getting our shelters set up and getting settled in for the night.
Benny and his son Connor, along with me and my son took campsite #3. Chris, Jeff and Papa John took campsite #4 and Blake and Josh took campsite #5. It didn’t take all that long for everyone to get settled in. Once we were all set up Benny and I sat down and he talked for a while about his recent #fastestgsmnp900miler hike (see that interview HERE.) While we were talking, the boys went off and got water for the night.
By the time everyone was settled in some of us began cooking. After a while, Connor got us a nice fire going. At the time, the temps were well into the 60’s, so it wasn’t necessary, but as the sun began melting away, the temps also started dropping quite a bit…
By the time the sun had gone down we were all sitting by the campfire, just having a good night. The stars twinkled above and the fire crackled near our feet. The air was still, but getting cooler as time passed. I had even pulled on my new Zpacks Vertice rain pants to help stay warm! By dark, a few started heading to bed for the night while the rest of us stayed around the campfire and talked. About 8:30 or so a ranger even came up and asked us about our permits and made sure we were split up in the different camp sites like we were supposed to be. After wishing him a good hike back out, the rest of us began heading to our tents for the night as well… It was a good night!
That night got a bit cooler than we were expecting. We had seen a forecast of 45F that night, so when I went to bed I didn’t loft my quilt and instead left all the down around the edges. However, in the middle of the night I noticed my legs got a little cool… nothing too bad, but noticeable. When I got up to pee I took my watch off and laid it next to me in my tent (so it could read the temperature) and later saw that it was 41F inside my tent! I don’t know what it eventually got down to, but after talking with Chris the next morning he said he measured 34F outside!
I woke up around 6 am that morning and just laid there. It was so good to wake up in my tent, and I didn’t really want to get up… First off, it was a little cool that morning, and then of course I didn’t want the trip to end… But eventually I knew I had too… So I got changed, packed everything back up in my pack and then crawled out of my tent. I ruffled my son’s tent and walked over to get our food bags. Surprisingly my tarp was almost completely dry, however, after taking it down I laid it out over some bushes to let the sun continue to dry it. I then used the dry spot from where my tent was set up to sit down and boil some water for me and Benny’s coffee.
I again went over and ruffled my son’s tent… he was sleeping like a rock! (He later informed me that that was the best night sleep on the trail he had ever gotten!)
By the time everyone was up and ready to go, it was already 10 am! So, we got going…
When we was leaving we hiked along a couple more cliff edges, giving us some more fantastic views of the gorges below, and of course of the cliff walls that lined them. It didn’t take us long, but we soon came to the last fall we would see on this hike, Foster Falls.
Our first view of Foster Falls was from a cliff edge. We had spectacular views of the falls and of the pool of water below that the falls emptied into from this side. As well, from this point we could see a built walkway and platform on the other side of the gorge, which was where we would end up soon enough. As usual, we all took time grabbing photo’s of the falls, and then continued on. We backtracked the falls for a little ways before crossing over the stream via a nice metal bridge. We noticed a small family having a nice little snack on a huge boulder in the middle of the stream as we crossed the bridge…
In no time, we were standing on the wooden walkway that we saw from the other side of the falls. Once we got here we took in the views and then all gathered in for a group photo!
What I didn’t realize is that we were already finished with our hike. When we finally turned to continue on, this is when I noticed that we were basically back at the parking lot where we had left our cars…
So, we piled into our cars and headed back to Grundy Forest to pick up the other vehicles.
After we all got our vehicles back, we stopped in at the Dari Delight in Tracy City for lunch. They have some pretty good burgers, chicken strips and Jo-Jo’s. It was a great end to a great hike!
I gotta say thanks to Jeff for inviting us along on this adventure, as well as for picking this trail. This trail was more than I read about… it was a very enjoyable trail, with some very beautiful scenery. The first 5 miles or so from Grundy Forest were absolutely amazing and I could spend a few days in this area alone… just taking pictures and exploring. I will definitely have to hit this trail up again! But until then… thanks for reading!