The Cumberland Trail is a state trail of Tennessee. It runs around 300 miles from its southern terminus at Signal Mountain, TN, to its northern terminus at Cumberland Gap, TN. It is not fully completed yet, but a lot of sections are open. It passes over the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee, and is a very beautiful trail. I hope to hike many sections of it in the future. One of the most beautiful sections of it was the Tennessee River Gorge, my destination for this hike. This hike occurred on Saturday, April 5th, 2014. My plan was to hike the Cumberland Trail from its southern terminus at Signal Point Overlook to Edwards Point Overlook, and then return the same way.
R/T Length of Trail: 5.6 Miles
Duration of Hike: 4:00
Type of Hike: Out and Back
Difficulty Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Great views on this excellent segment of the Cumberland Trail
Cons: Some sections of the hike are extremely rocky and slow
Points of Interest: Signal Point Overlook - 8 stars; Julia's Falls Overlook - 7 stars; Edwards Point Overlook - 10 stars
Trail Blaze Color(s): Cumberland Trail - White
Best Season(s) to Hike: Winter
Beginning Point: Signal Point Trailhead on the southwestern corner of the town of Signal Mountain.
Directions: From Chattanooga, TN: Take US 27 North to the exit for Dayton Boulevard, Signal Mountain (US 127). Drive 4.8 miles on US 127 to Mississippi Avenue on Signal Mountain Turn left, and drive 1.1 miles to Signal Point Road. Turn left onto Signal Point Road and drive 0.3 miles to the large parking lot.
My original plan was to hike a 12-mile loop hike in the Prentice Cooper State Forest, but it didn't take me long to find out that they closed the area because of a managed hunt. Thus, I changed my plans to hiking a section of the Cumberland Trail east of TN State Route 27. It was a beautiful section of trail from the southern terminus of the Cumberland Trail near Signal Mountain. The trail starts as a paved downhill path from the parking to the extensive overlook of Signal Point. The views were amazing, and I really liked it. This was just a taste of what was to come. There was a sign for "Cumberland Trail --->". The trail started off along a fence, and then went down some steps to a trailhead kiosk. I was returning in the dark, so I took a picture of the kiosk, with a camera flash, on my way back, and I included it in the photo gallery at the bottom of this post. After the kiosk, there was a pretty hard part of trail. First it went down several steep fights of steps, and then there were several switchbacks, with a steep descent, along the bluff of Signal Point. There did not seem to be any sane way to get this trail down the bluff. No matter how they would take it down, it would be a steep descent, and this was probably the best way to do it. At the last switchback, there was another flight of stairs, which was steeper than the others. There was a chance that you might lose balance here, so there is a cable along the left side of the stairs to help you come down. Once you are down this set of steps, there is a spur trail to the left that leads to another overlook. It is only 0.1 mile long, and it leads to a close-up view of the Tennessee River Valley Gorge. The views were breathtaking!
Once back on the main trail, I think that you can say you have cleared the hardest section if the hike, with the exception of the climb back up the bluff on your return. The trail follows the base of the cliffs, and keeps going over rocks. At about 0.7 miles from the start of the hike, there will be an overlook to the front with an extensive view of the Middle Creek Valley, and another view of the Tennessee River Valley. I really liked this view even more than the other two overlooks. At this overlook, the trail turns right, and starts following the Middle Creek Valley. The trail will pass some apartments perched on the bluffs to the right. It will also cross several boulder fields. In a really large boulder field, there is a good view of Julia's Falls below. It is a waterfall on Middle Creek. It is easy to get lost in this boulder field too. There is a path going to the right, and it is not the trail, even though it will still come back to the main trail. However, it might be troublesome to get back on the main trail, because I accidentally got on that path, and there was a bunch of fallen trees and overgrowth. On my way back, I picked up the correct trail. The correct trail actually goes to the left, where there is a sign about the danger of high cliffs. The sign can be confusing, because it makes t look like you can't go there, but it actually means not to go off the trail. The trail passes through several more boulder fields, and at one point descends through a steep gap between stones. It will also cross a couple of small creeks. Roughly 0.3 miles from the Julia's Falls Overlook, the trail crosses a small, old suspension bridge over a creek. After the bridge, the trail descends pretty steely toward Middle Creek, and at 1.4 miles from the start of the hike, there will be a trail junction. Here, the Cumberland trail turns left over Middle Creek via a large suspension bridge. From here, it is 1.4 miles to Edward Point. Meanwhile, the Rainbow Lake Trail goes forward towards Rainbow Lake, and it is a way to access the town of Signal Mountain at the top. My goal was to go to Edwards Point, so I crossed the long suspension bridge, and here the trail started going steeply uphill. There will be another trail junction. The Bee Branch Trail goes to the right, also towards Rainbow Lake. It will reconnect with the Rainbow Lake trail. Meanwhile, the Cumberland Trail goes forward, and steeply ascends this side of the valley. After a little bit, it levels out, and there will be a rock formation called Lockhart Arch.
Lockhart Arch is a natural bridge, and the bluffs around it look impressive. There is also a campsite next to Lockhart Arch. After this, the trail doesn't' ascend much for a while, but keeps following the base of the cliffs. However, there will be a confusing section son, so I recommend paying attention to the blazes, which I myself didn't do. The trail turns right, and steeply climbs the bluffs, just before a small stream. I crossed the stream, and soon found that I was in the wrong place, so I came back to this spot, and then saw the trail climbing the bluffs. It is not hard to climb the bluff. There are some rocks, but at least no scrambling is needed. Once the trail reaches the top of the bluffs, it will be almost level for the rest of the time to Edwards Point. It shortly crosses a stream, and then a little later there will be an unmarked trail junction. Well, the Cumberland Trail and its white blazes go left, while to the right, the trail goes out onto an ATV trail. I kept following the Cumberland Trail, and crosses numerous small streams. At 2.4 miles from the start of the hike, and 1 mile from the large suspension bridge, the trail crossed a large, but unnamed stream, via rock hop. The trail than ascended a hill, and leveled out for the last 0.1 miles. And there it was! Edwards Point overlook was located on a bend in the trail. The Cumberland Trail turned right, while the Overlook was straight ahead. The views were spectacular! I could see the Tennessee River entering the gorge, and Signal Point on the left side and Raccoon Mountain on the right side were like the entrance gate. I could see right where I came from, and it actually seemed more than 2.7 miles. After taking in the views, I went back on the trail the way I came, but because I thought it would take me less time to do this trail, I ended out hiking the last mile or so in the dark. I took the correct trail in the boulder field this time, and the ascent up Signal Point seemed easier than the descent, although I did find the cable on the stairs helpful. It was a good 4 hours since the start, when I finished the hike. An average 5.6 mile trail would take me 3 hours to hike, another evidence of how rocky the trail was.
Update 11/25/17: I have learned that there are several more views past the first rock outcrop near Edwards Point, and each one is better than the first view I went to on my first hike on 4/5/14. Click here for an updated trail report with more accurate mileage and additional details.
In summary, this trail was excellent. I can call it a "Best Hike". While it was slow and rocky, the views were spectacular, and I think I could safely say this is the most beautiful canyon I have been in yet. No matter how I liked my trip to Little River Canyon a short two weeks ago, this trip was even better, and I look forward to hiking more trails in this area in the near future. The photos from the trip are in the gallery below.
Add the Bee Branch Trail and Rainbow Lake Loop to the hike.
The trail to a side view of Falling Water Falls is quite short and is located to the northeast not far off nearby US Route 27.
Mark Oleg Ozboyd
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