#TravelTuesday: The Tennessee Cumberland Plateau is Anything but Flat

by Selena Swartzfager on November 23, 2021 in Travel,
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Most Texans would probably choose to fly to Nashville or Chattanooga for this adventure, but a 12-hour road trip from Dallas would take you through some beautiful country, making the drive a very pleasant journey. Your experiences in Southeast Tennessee on the Cumberland Plateau will be music to your ears and a feast for your eyes.

Foster Falls at the South Cumberland State Park is a spectacular 60-foot waterfall plunging into a deep pool. Photo courtesy Tennessee Tourism/Andrew Saucier

It’s All About the Destination

The ultimate destination on this trip is a music venue in a cave, called The Caverns, but while you are there be sure to plan a couple of extra days to enjoy the natural beauty of the South Cumberland Plateau.

Made famous by PBS and the show Bluegrass Underground, The Caverns is located in Pelham, TN and needs to be on the bucket list of anyone that loves live music or that simply wants a one-of-a-kind experience.

Located in Grundy County, Tennessee, The Caverns is a world-renowned destination for underground live music, home of the Emmy-winning PBS television series Bluegrass Underground, and a magical cave system for different skill levels of exploration. Photo Michael Weintrob

This natural cave is an underground music venue that is like no other. Book a tour for earlier in the day to experience the beauty of the underground wonder. Standing room only for some shows (check the ticketing page to know if a show is reserved seating or standing) so wear comfortable shoes if you’re going to be on your feet. Since the average temp of the cave is 59 degrees, take some sleeves. Pro Tip: There’s no restaurant on site or nearby so go equipped to tailgate before the show with folks from all over the country.

Lodging From Leisure to Luxury

Lodging options in this beautiful part of the country vary from primitive to luxury. Pick one or progress through all three.

Camping

If you like to camp, you can’t go wrong with the Tennessee State Parks. In the area is South Cumberland Sate Park with Foster Falls Campground. The park is made up of several different geographic locations, so be sure to enter the name of the campground in your GPS. The campsites are primitive, without electricity or water, but the park has several very clean and easily accessible bathhouses. Reservations are required and can be made online.  The most adventurous travelers can hike into campsites only accessible on foot. Pro Tip: Don’t forget your hammock as the park is lush with trees!

The LX Hotel will surprise and delight travelers. The outside is unassuming, but the interiors have all been recently renovated. Photo Selena Swartzfager

LX Hotel

If camping is not your thing, or you need a break from being in the woods, stay at the LX Hotel in Manchester, TN, only a 20-minute drive from The Caverns. Don’t be fooled by the simple exterior. You will be greeted at check-in with a smile and a complementary beverage of your choice from the full bar in the lobby. The rooms are very clean, comfortable and well-priced.  The lobby and the rooms are all recently renovated.

Southern hospitality meets Gothic charm at The Sewanee Inn, a 43-room hotel on the grounds of the University of the South in Tennessee.
Photo courtesy Ryan French/South Central TN Tourism Association

Luxury Lodging

The luxurious lodging option is the Sewanee Inn in Sewanee, TN. This boutique hotel is known as the “living room of The University of the South – Sewanee.”  Sewanee is a village where the University president is also the mayor! The Inn has several outdoor areas with fire pits and an indoor fireplace where you can sit and enjoy your morning coffee or your evening Lynchburg Lemonade (named after the nearby Lynchburg, TN where the Jack Daniels Distillery is located).  If you are looking for an upscale meal and cocktails, you won’t be disappointed by the on-site restaurant. The land the lodge is located on is known as the Domain and should be explored.

The Fiery Gizzard Trail leads you deep into the old growth forest, coming across many creeks tumbling over the rock ledges that dot the landscape.
Photo courtesy Ryan French/South Central TN Tourism Association

A Nature Lovers Dream

Accessible from the Foster Falls Campground, the Fiery Gizzard trail is 13 miles from end to end and runs by many beautiful waterfalls. This trail is ranked in the top 25 in the nation. Easy Stroll: View Foster Falls by taking a short walk to the overlook. Adventurous Hike: Take the trail from the south trailhead where you will see the Falls from another perspective, with natural art and birds enjoying thermals making a swooshing sound overhead.

Trails Around the Domain

The Domain, home of the University of the South in Sewanee, boasts more than 65 miles of hiking trails. The Perimeter Trail, a 20-mile loop with varying difficulty, circles much of the Domain and provides a hiking experience unparalleled anywhere else in the region.

The University of the South-Sewanee is known as the most beautiful university campus in the United States. Strolling, hiking and biking are all encouraged on this campus with eye-catching buildings made of local rock dating from the mid 1800s. Photo courtesy Tennessee Tourism

Easy Stroll:  Walk around what is undeniably the most beautiful campus in the United States. The buildings are circa 1850 and made of local limestone. Many showcase colorful stained-glass windows that all tell a story. Adventurous Hike: Take the round trip trail to see Bridal Veil Falls which is not too long in distance, but has a strenuous amount of climbing. Pro Tip: Buy a copy of Under the Sun at Sewanee before making your trip and stop at for lunch in the village at The Blue Chair Cafe.

Old Stone Fort Archaeological State Park has miles of hiking trails that run along the Duck River allowing hikers to see many beautiful waterfalls such as this.
Photo courtesy Tennessee State Parks

Around the Old Stone Fort

If learning about history while enjoying the outdoors sounds fun, then be sure to visit Old Stone Fort Archaeological State Park in Manchester, TN. While native Americans likely didn’t live here as the number of artifacts found on site were few, archeologists believe the land was a ceremonial gathering place. It was called a Fort as there are barriers on each side that are thought to have kept out evil spirits. Easy Stroll: Enjoy a short walk to the ancient enclosure. Adventurous Hike: The trail around the park is 2+ miles and will take you on a journey past several beautiful waterfalls on the Duck River.

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The Village of Sewanee is a world apart from the hustle and bustle of urban and suburban life. With a population of only 2,300, Sewanee will surprise you with its worldly outlook. Photo courtesy Ryan French/South Central TN Tourism Association

Cover photo courtesy Tennessee Tourism

Selena Swartzfager is a nonprofit president, an amateur athlete, lover of adventures and life. Her favorite type of travel allows her to learn about history while enjoying things for the first time. Instagram/Twitter: @sswartzfager