When time is short, my go-to “backyard” hike is the 6-mile out-and-back trek from Signal Point to Edwards Point, and back. A 10-minute drive from my home on Signal Mountain, this section of the Cumberland Trail offers everything that I love about hiking here in Southeast Tennessee. Follow along as I share several of the highlights that have led me back there time after time, over the past 30-plus years.
Signal Point is part of the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park, and as such, requires that you follow the posted ordinances, especially the ban on nighttime/overnight parking. The moment you make your way down to the small park overlook, you instantly realize that you have arrived at a magical place, for that is exactly what the Tennessee River Gorge is. This section of Southern Appalachia is home to vast deciduous forests, endless spring-fed streams, and a myriad of wildlife.
Follow the aging, manmade stairs and walkways leading down to the actual trail itself. Sure footing in this section is a must, as the decline is both steep, and trippy. Erosion in this area is a constant issue, so be prepared to improvise footholds until you reach the trail—a few minutes below the overlook.
One of the loveliest, fairly unknown vistas in the entire Chattanooga area can be quickly reached by taking the short spur directly ahead, upon reaching the actual trail. What awaits is a picturesque, but very steep drop-off, like can be found all along the length of the Cumberland Plateau.
The author takes in the view on a recent jaunt up one of his favorite trails. All images: That Outdoor Guy
After returning to the main trail, the path continues out to well-known Julia Falls Overlook, named for the daughter of Cumberland Trail legend, and friend, Sam Powell. This vantage is among the most photographed in the tri-state area, primarily because of the ease of getting out there, but even more so because of the scenic majesty visible. By looking across Middle Creek Gorge, it is easy to spot the final destination; Edwards Point is the large, rocky outcropping almost directly across the span.
The remaining two miles are rock-strewn, very trippy, and can involve lots of contact with poison ivy during the summer months. The area is also home to two species of rattlesnake, as well as copperheads.
Ahead, the sound of majestic Rainbow Falls can be heard, as it cascades 40 feet to a large pool below. A massive rain event—11 inches fell in only 4 hours—back in the early 80s washed out the original trail down to the base of the falls and was never repaired, so continuing on is the best course of action.
Further ahead, is one of the many masterfully-constructed suspension bridges found along the Cumberland Trail, and what awaits hikers on the other side is the most difficult section of this hike. Until reaching the top of the plateau again, they will ascend along a very steep, rocky portion of trail that has been the demise of many adventurers.
The remaining distance out to the point is one of the quietest sections of trail on Signal Mountain, and it often frequented by hawks and owls, which I encountered on a very memorable night hike a few year ago. Several vistas offer great views, but none compare to that found out on Edwards Point, and the look back toward downtown Chattanooga. I’ve enjoyed a backcountry lunch here more times than I can count, and I hope to many more times through the years ahead.
That Outdoor Guy, a.k.a. Adam Noll, lives in Signal Mountain, Tennessee. He’s taught, worked as an executive for YMCA, led wilderness trips, writes, and explores. His goal in life is to get outdoors and to inspire others to follow suit. Check out his thoughts and adventures all over the web: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and his website.