Hike to the stunning cascades of Foster Falls in South Cumberland State Park near Chattanooga, exploring the dramatic, 80-foot plunge of this enormous waterfall.
LOCATION:near Chattanooga, TN
OFFICIAL MAP: Fiery Gizzard Trail Map
Spilling in an ultra-scenic, single-drop cascade over a towering, curved cliff, Foster Falls is quite simply one of the most impressive waterfalls in the entire Southeast. Its 80-foot direct plunge down into the turquoise pool below is iconic for the region and the geology of the Cumberland Plateau, which begins Alabama, carves through northwest Georgia near Cloudland Canyon State Park, and continues into Kentucky.
Just 30 minutes from downtown Chattanooga, the Foster Falls area has long been famous with the local rock climbing community, but also boasts some great hiking trails, too. This hike follows a short boardwalk to a viewing platform, catching distant views of the falls from above. The hike drops into the valley, crossing a swaying span bridge to catching an up-close view of the waterfall and its azure pool below. At under a mile, round trip, it’s a beginner-friendly hike with an enormous reward, and the opportunity to capture some incredible photos throughout the adventure.
Foster Falls: the hike
The adventure begins at the Foster Falls parking area in South Cumberland State Park (view maps and driving directions). Restrooms, a pavilion, and a campground lie next to the trailhead, making this a very accessible adventure for those wanting to extend their stay beyond the short hike. A short boardwalk leads the trail through a narrow section of hardwood forest, and into a clearing. In the clearing, a sign indicates that the Fiery Gizzard Trail veers to the right, over and around the waterfall, and the Foster Falls Trail veers to the left.
Following the directions to the falls, the hike reaches a large observation platform that offers an initial glimpse of the roaring waterfall. During summer months, thick vegetation can somewhat limit the view of the falls from the platform, but the view still offers an idea of the incredible sights still waiting to be discovered.
The trail descends a series of wooden and rudimentary rock stairs, dropping over 100 feet into the valley. Fiery Gizzard Creek and its enormous suspension bridge soon become visible.
The suspension bridge is a fun element of this hike, bouncing with every step as hikers cross. From the bridge, views of the beautiful cascades of Foster Falls emerge about 75 yards away, and a clearing on the bridge’s opposite side provides a spectacular view of the waterfall. In the warm summer months, this often becomes a popular spot for cooling off in the chilly turquoise water.
Many climbers use this route to access the climbing walls of the Climber’s Loop, which offers some of the best routes in the region. After exploring the area near the base of the falls, watching the climbers in action makes this hike one of the most exciting in the area. Departing the waterfall, this hike backtracks along its original route, making a relatively easy climb to the trailhead and completing the adventure at just over a half mile.
More incredibly scenic hikes near Chattanooga
In the area and up for another adventure? Visit the tumbling cascades of Greeter Falls on a beautiful hike in the Savage Gulf State Natural Area. Hike to incredible, sweeping vistas on the Cumberland Trail at Signal Mountain, or catch stunning views from Lookout Mountain on the opposite side of the Tennessee River at Sunset Rock. Follow the Fiery Gizzard Trail though a waterfall-filled forest, scrambling over enormous rocky boulders and climbing to stunning views at Raven Point. Or check out the full list of our favorite hikes near Chattanooga for even more adventure inspiration.
Note: slippery rocks and fast moving water can be extremely dangerous! Please don’t climb, stand on, swim near, or jump from any waterfall.
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Free parking is available at the trailhead.
35.182200, -85.673967 // N35 10.932 W85 40.438