Fiery Gizzard Trail: Hiking One of Tennessee's Top Treks
Mountain laurel, hemlocks, waterfalls and cascading creeks. Don't skip this trail in Tennessee!


I moved to Tennessee 20 years ago this month. At that time disc golf and skateboarding were my go-to hobbies. About 10 years ago I swapped them for hiking.

As I researched the best places to hike in middle Tennessee, one spot captured the affection of everyone who had been there: The Fiery Gizzard Trail.

With a name like that, how could it not?

waterfall in Tennessee

The first iteration of the Fiery Gizzard Trail came into being in the 1930s when Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) workers carved a 3-mile loop trail through the Grundy Forest. Then, in the 1970s, a coalition of landowners in the area helped to create the South Cumberland State Park and subsequently added roughly 10 more miles to the trail, taking it all the way to Foster Falls, a 60-foot waterfall.

As for the name, folklore has it that Davy Crockett burned his tongue on a turkey gizzard hot off the campfire and spit it into the gorge. A second story tells of a Native American chief who threw a turkey gizzard into the fire to get the attention of Europeans at a peace conference. And a third possibility (more likely, but not nearly as exciting) describes a coal-blasting furnace near the trail burned for three days and collapsed. They called the furnace the Fiery Gizzard.

creek near Fiery Gizzard Trail in Tennessee

Regardless of how it got its name, the trail is spectacular. There’s a clear cold stream, giant 500-year-old Hemlocks trees, swimming holes, ancient cave shelters, towering rock formations, waterfalls, and a forest of diverse flora and fauna.

This is a hike you don’t want to miss if you’re in the area.

Grundy Forest Day Loop and The Fiery Gizzard Trail

Distance: 2.6 - 12.5 miles (Grundy Day Loop to Foster Falls)

Terrain: Moderately Difficult to Difficult

Location: South Cumberland State Park / Cumberland Plateau

GPS: 35.253742,-85.7514803

Parking: At trailhead for Grundy Forest Day Loop off Fiery Gizzard Road

Hiking in Tennessee

Fiery Gizzard Trail Map: http://tnstateparks.com/assets/pdf/additional-content/so-cumberland-fiery-gizzard-map.pdf

I teach photography at O’More College of Design in Franklin, Tennessee. Part of my curriculum involves teaching my students how to shoot motion blur shots with a slow shutter speed, a popular technique for shooting waterfalls.

Every semester, I take my class to the Fiery Gizzard trail; partly to provide the perfect context for learning to shoot waterfalls, but mostly to see them connect with nature—to slow down and to experience the beauty of the outdoors.

When you arrive in the parking lot you’ll see a bathroom to the right and a pavilion to the left. Left of the pavilion is the trailhead for the Grundy Forest Day Loop and Fiery Gizzard Trail.

Sign the hikers log (especially if you’re camping overnight) and begin your trek into the woods. Special note: To the right of the pavilion is the end of the Grundy Forest Day Loop, so make sure to start your hike at the proper trailhead (left of the pavilion). It’s a nicer hike.

After only a few hundred feet into the woods, you’ll descend a rock staircase into the basin with Little Fiery Gizzard Creek to your left. To the right you’ll encounter an ancient rock shelter known as the “Cave Spring Rockhouse.” The entire ceiling is stained with carbon from the fires of Native Americans over the centuries.

Passing the Rockhouse you’ll come to a 500-year-old Hemlock tree as you again enter the forest of ferns and rhododendron.

Coming back alongside Little Fiery Gizzard Creek at .2 mile you’ll continue on into the carved chasm filled with hardwoods, evergreens, moss and ferns, boulders, and nearly constant cascades.
foliage near hiking trailYou’ll want to hike slowly, not only because the roots and rocks can be tricky to navigate, but also to simply take in all the beauty. And watch for the white rectangular blazes on the trees as they’ll mark your way.

At .5 mile you’ll reach Blue Hole Falls, a 10-foot falls with an opalescent pool, which is a favorite swimming spot in the warmer months. Don’t forget to explore the top of the falls, too. It’s a beautiful section of the cascading creek with a sheer rock wall towering above.

In case you’re wondering, the mysterious concrete pad on the south side of the bridge was the location of an old pump house from the 1950s.

Pay attention because at .7 mile you’ll come to the trail intersection of the Grundy Day Loop and the Fiery Gizzard Trail. Head left over the bridge and continue on the Fiery Gizzard.
fern on Fiery Gizzard TrailLook for the rock staircase to the right of the bridge and continue following the white blaze trail markings as you make your way to the confluence of the Little and Big Fiery Gizzard Creeks. Black Canyon is a powerful narrow channel of white water that rushes down 20-foot falls through dark-stained sandstone walls.

Continue south on the trail, as it’s surrounded by mountain laurel, hemlock, beech, holly, and tulip trees. You’ll make your way up a steep single track and through a boulder field reaching the Chimney Rocks at 1 mile. The sandstone monoliths range in size from 25 to 60 feet high.

You’re almost there. At 1.2 miles you’ll see a blue-blazed spur trail branch off to the right that leads to Sycamore Falls—15-foot falls dropping off a rough, stony lip used by many as a jump off point. The top of the falls is a great place for a snack so take off your pack, string up a hammock, and relax before you wander back or continue on.
Fiery Gizzard hiking trailAfter your respite, backtrack .6 mile to the trail intersection and choose your own adventure. Head left to explore the un-hiked section of the Grundy Day loop or go back the way you came.

Your other option is to jump back on the Fiery Gizzard Trail (at Sycamore Falls) and head south for about 10 more miles all the way to Foster Falls. To do the full 12.5 miles, it’s necessary to start early in the morning as it’s a grueling hike over difficult terrain.

Whether you opt for a short 2-mile hike or the full 12.5-mile trek, enjoy this Tennessee treasure. Remember to be careful, and to leave no trace so that future hikers get to experience the beauty of this amazing place.
cairns on hiking trail