Explore Foster Falls & Denny Cove ~ South Cumberland State Park
South Cumberland State Park, Tennessee’s largest state park, is comprised of a number of units scattered across the South Cumberland Plateau. Two of these sections, Foster Falls and Denny Cove, are located fairly close together between Jasper and Tracy City, and along the eastern side of the canyon system known as the Fiery Gizzard.
At the southern terminus of the nationally-known 12.5-mile Fiery Gizzard Trail, Foster Falls has become a world class destination for rock climbing. A boardwalk leads to a viewing platform for the main attraction, the 60-foot waterfall. There are several options for hikes of 5 miles or less and of varying difficulty.
A popular choice is to hike out the Fiery Gizzard Trail for 2.5 miles to the point where the trail descends into the Laurel Branch Gorge. Along the way, Saddle Horn Rock Overlook provides the first really good view after leaving Foster Falls. A recommended alternate 3.6-mile round-trip hike is turn around at one of the best overlooks on the Fiery Gizzard Trail, a bit off the trail on the left just before crossing another stream about a half-mile past Saddle Horn Rock.
On the return, there is the option of retracing your route to the trailhead on the relatively gentle main trail or dropping below the bluff to hike the final mile on the more rugged Climbers Loop, which takes you to the base of Foster Falls. From here, it’s a rather steep but relatively short climb out, reaching the top near the falls overlook.
The only drive-up camping area in South Cumberland State Park, the Foster Falls Campground is open year-round. The site also features restrooms and a picnic area. Backcountry camping is available at the Father Adamz Campground, 0.5 miles from the parking lot and the Small Wilds Campground, 2.5 miles out the Fiery Gizzard Trail.
One of South Cumberland State Park’s newest additions is Denny Cove, a tributary of the Fiery Gizzard located just south of Foster Falls. The 685-acre tract at Denny Cove was acquired primarily because of its potential as a rock climbing destination, with around 150 climbing routes on nearly 3 miles of cliffs.
But Denny Cove isn’t just for climbing. It’s also great for hiking. There are 3 miles or so of hiking trails traversing a variety of terrain. From the parking lot, reached by driving about ¾-mile of gravel road, the first half-mile of trail to the rim of the cove is easy hiking, passing through plateau-top forest. Upon reaching the cove, a short trail to the right takes you to a double overlook of Denny Cove and the Fiery Gizzard. Because of trees, the winter view is much more expansive. While the right overlook is larger, the left one offers a better view in summer.
Back at the beginning of the overlook trail, continuing straight ahead, the trail begins to descend into the cove. Another short trail to the right, called the Denny Cove West Trail, follows the base of the bluff with some impressive overhanging cliffs. Going the other direction on the Waterfall Trail for at least a mile, you’ll arrive at the very scenic 70-foot double-drop Denny Falls.
Overall, this trail travels along a somewhat-even elevation partway down the hill from the bluff, but is a bit more rocky than the plateau-top trail. Another trail, Denny Cove East, parallels the Waterfall Trail uphill along the base of the bluff. It’s primarily for use by climbers and is a bit rugged for hiking.
Denny Cove is for day use only, closing 30 minutes after sunset.
Directions and More Information
View a detailed map of the Fiery Gizzard, showing trails at both Foster Falls and Denny cove.
To learn much more about South Cumberland State Park, visit the Friends of South Cumberland website.
Article by Bob Butters, Nickajack Naturalist