Monday, March 9, 2015

Trail Review: Hobbs Cabin Loop; Savage Gulf, TN

Hobbs Cabin Graphic, Savage Gulf, TN

Trail: Hobbs Cabin Loop (Savage Day Loop, North Plateau, & North Rim Trails)
Location: Savage Gulf State Recreation Area; Tracy City, TN
Trail/Loop Length: 17.6 Miles (9.4 miles out, 8.2 miles back)
Difficulty: Easy other than mileage - mostly flat terrain
Solitude: Excellent to moderate

Map of Savage Gulf, Hobbs Cabin Loop
Click map for larger image
I feel especially fortunate to have Savage Gulf within a two-hour drive of my home in Nashville. It has become a very special, almost sacred area for me personally, and my goal is to hike every trail in the wilderness area. When looking at a map, Savage Gulf is basically a three-pronged "crow's foot" in its shape with each prong being a deep gorge. I have explored the western (Stone Door) and central (Collins Gulf) gorges, but I had not seen as much of the eastern (Savage Gulf) gorge. I also had never seen any of the flat lands above the gorge in the northeast section of the park. Lastly, I had never seen nor stayed in Hobbs Cabin, a backcountry shelter with a functioning fireplace, several bunks, and even a table and bench for eating meals and organizing gear. On my most recent trip, I chose a seventeen mile loop to check out some of these areas and get closer to my goal of hitting every trail. I took this loop counterclockwise to save a slightly shorter hike and better scenery for the second day. Despite the fairly long mileage, the trek was pretty easy. Here are some details…

Dog relaxing at Savage Gulf Day Loop in TN
Ebony takes a creekside respite along the Savage Day Loop.
From the parking lot, you will enter the only trailhead taking you towards the Savage Day Loop. After only a mile or less, you will hit the day loop. Take a right here where you will enter an old growth forest. The next couple of miles around the eastern side of the day loop will be some of the best hiking this first day. The quintessential mountain laurel and rhododendron line the snaking streams and spring creeks that define the region. A couple of short but elegant swinging bridges span the limestone littered streams during this section, too. Soon, you will reach a split near the northern apex of the Day Loop. Take a right here to enter the North Rim Trail for a scant 0.3 miles. At that point, you will reach another split. Despite the signs directing you left to Hobbs Cabin, take a right to begin the long, mostly flat North Plateau Trail tracing the northeastern edge of the park.

To be perfectly honest, this section is pretty boring in comparison to the dramatic river gorges, overlooks, and rock formations that Savage Gulf is known for. As mentioned, my goal is to hike every trail in the park. If your time is limited, I suggest skipping this area for more scenic routes. If, like me, you want a long hike, good workout, and the opportunity to see all that this state natural area has to offer, the North Plateau Trail offers abundant solitude in a peaceful setting. This section provides gentle, easy terrain with only minimal elevation changes over rolling hills. It is roughly 6.5 miles. The last quarter mile offers a nice payoff, however, given the trail dips southward along the eastern gorge, offering a beautiful overlook view. To top things off, this overlook is only a short jaunt from Hobbs Cabin, making the day's end even more rewarding.

Savage Gulf Overlook at Sunset, North Rim Trail
Sunset at overlook just a short walk north of Hobbs Cabin
Savage Gulf Hobbs Cabin bunks
Hobbs Cabin interior
Hobbs Cabin is a rare treat in this region. It is the only backcountry shelter in all of Savage Gulf. This is more than a rudimentary shelter, however. It truly is a cabin, albeit a fairly spartan one. The space houses six plywood bunks and a built-in table and bench along one wall for organizing gear and eating meals. The best feature, however, is a fully functioning fireplace. Currently, no system exists to reserve the cabin; it is first come, first served. (This is not longer the case You can now reserve the cabin via the online Tennessee State Parks reservation system.) A campsite is just adjacent to the cabin with several spaces available should someone beat you to the cabin. I suggest bringing a shelter of some sort for this route in case the cabin is full. A small spring creek is nearby the cabin offering a convenient water source. (It is possible this spring might be dry during especially dry seasons; consider checking with rangers closer to the time of your hike.) Like all campgrounds in Savage Gulf, this one offers a latrine, and the site is well kept by the local rangers and maintenance crew. After enjoying an almost luxurious backcountry experience, the following day's hike offers some beautiful scenery without any real strenuous hiking.

view of Hobbs Cabin with bunks and fireplace
Interior from other direction
From Hobbs Cabin, you will head south (left) on the North Rim Trail. Photographers might consider getting up really early to take advantage of the best light for the several overlooks this trail offers. The North Trail traces the upper edge of the gorge occasionally dipping its way into the forest before emerging once again along rocky ledges with expansive views of the mountain ravine below. After roughly 5 or 6 miles, you will eventually reach the short section of the North Rim trail that directs you back to the Savage Day Loop. Take a right to head southward to the day loop.

After retracing this same 0.3 section you took the day before, you will hit the day loop. The signage will direct you to your left for the quickest route back to the ranger station. I chose to take a right to see the other side of the day loop which offers another overlook, Rattlesnake Point, as well as a short side trail with an overlook of Savage Falls.  Just after hitting the Savage Falls Overlook, you will reach a sign that offers the option for you to take a right to hit the South Rim Trail, Savage Falls, and the Savage Falls Campground. If you are ready to head back, simply take a left and follow the signs back to the Ranger Station and parking lot less than a mile and a half away.

Savage Gulf, TN creek
The spring creek and water source just by Hobbs Cabin.
Midday sun on evergreen trees in Savage Gulf
Conifer trees in midday sun as seen from North Rim Trail overlook
For those with the energy, the trek to Savage Falls is pretty short - less than a half mile - and very much worth it. The scenery is beautiful and lush down in this section of the gorge. If you decide to take this detour, you will pass a site documenting a former moonshine still. More importantly, Savage Falls offers a great swimming hole and modest-sized but beautiful waterfall cascading over enormous rocks and boulders. In summer months, this is a great spot to treat yourself to a mountain swim after a couple of days of significant hiking.

Savage Gulf TN Savage Falls
Savage Falls  - a worthy side trip. (Photo from fall 2014 during a somewhat dry spell.)

Where to park (Google Maps)
Park Website
Trail Map
Savage Gulf Phone Numbers: Savage Gulf Ranger Station- 931.779.3532; Stone Door Ranger Station - 931.692.3887


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  1. Nice Review! Haven't been on this one.

  2. Thanks for the detailed review and info! Awesome photos! Heading out to do this exact same loop this weekend. The info about Hobb's cabin is very helpful.

  3. Thanks for the detailed review and info! Awesome photos! Heading out to do this exact same loop this weekend. The info about Hobb's cabin is very helpful.

  4. Hobbs cabin requires a reservation through the park. It is NOT first come first serve. Check the website

    1. This post was written prior to the updated TN State Parks website and reservation system. I will update this post.