Savage Gulf State Natural Area is one of nine properties that make up South Cumberland State Park in Southeastern Tennessee. Roughly an hour and a half from both Nashville and Chattanooga, TN, and 5-6 hours from Midwestern cities such as St. Louis, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati, the beautiful views and extensive trail system are enough to justify a multi-day trip for beginners or advanced hikers alike. A trail map is available here or at the trailhead, and here’s a helpful distance-finding map for planning your hike. See the notes below for more camping tips, costs, & hiking information.
Between ferry rides and the camping reservation fee, Rock Island State Park may very well be one of the most expensive backpacking destinations in the Midwest (if not the most). But it offers history and beauty, with views like no other backpacking destination within six hours of Chicago. It’s four hours from Milwaukee, and 2.5 hours from Green Bay. It’s also great for day hikes, family camping, paddling, beginner backpacking trips, or any nature lover spending time in the Door County area!
Over the past several years I’ve had the great fortune of introducing some of my favorite people to nature through backpacking. The most meaningful of those introductions occurred this May, when I took my three-year-old son, Charlie, on his first backpacking trip. He absolutely loved it, and so we shared our second trek together just last week (mid-September). He has his very own Osprey 12L backpack that he picked out himself, and in it he carries his snacks, rain jacket, mini water bottle, headlamp, a change of clothes, and most importantly, his favorite teddy bear named Patchouli Bear.
My good friend and long-time backpacking buddy Kevin has a similarly aged son, so it was natural that we co-planned these trips. (It’s also a convenient excuse to get the wives to let us out of the house for the weekend.)
As I’m sure you can imagine, these trips aren’t anything like the treks that I take when traveling solo or with other adults. They’re within two hours of the Chicago metro area, we typically get cell service the whole time (definitely not “Zero Bars” destinations), and the hike to the camp site has to be less than two miles (because three-year-olds have short legs).
But we’re beginning to learn that this style of backpacking has its advantages; it lends itself to new luxuries, especially with regard to the food that we can bring. You’re not forced into a dehydrated and freeze-dried menu when you only have to carry your food for two miles, and you don’t really need to worry about refrigeration when you’re going to be cooking your food within a couple of hours of leaving the car*. Our most recent trip was our first foray into backpacking gourmet, and it turned out exceedingly well. Continue reading First World Backpacking Food→
Five hours from Chicago and Minneapolis, roughly four hours from Madison and Milwaukee, and less than two and a half hours from Green Bay, backpacking in this wilderness area may not offer dramatic bluffs or broad vistas, but you will definitely experience peace, quiet, and wilderness.