Hike the Cumberland Trail from Signal Point, catching outstanding views into the Tennessee River Gorge from the Julia Falls Overlook and Edwards Point, and crossing Middle Creek Gorge on a long, scenic swing bridge.
Exhilarating. It’s that incredible feeling of standing on a view-packed summit, with the world suddenly falling away ahead your feet and a birds-eye view of the magnificent terrain below. This view-packed hike catches exceptionally beautiful views from a series of overlooks on the lofty stretches of Signal Mountain in Chattanooga. Following the southern end of the Cumberland Trail from three lofty overlooks at Signal Point, the Julia Falls Overlook, and Edwards Point, this hike scores simply stunning views of the Tennessee River Gorge.
Aside from the fully splendid views, this hike explores a beautiful forest along the way, skirting the sides of rocky bluffs, scaling a long swing bridge over Middle Creek, and visiting several large stone arches, including Lockhart’s Arch. While it’s relatively short on distance, at less than six miles, round trip, this hike on the southernmost stretch of the Cumberland Trail packs a whole lot of natural beauty and stunning views into a gently rolling, moderate day hike. It’s easily one of our favorites in the Southeast.
Cumberland Trail at Signal Mountain: the hike
The adventure begins at Signal Point Park on Signal Mountain (view maps and driving directions), catching expansive, broad vistas of the Tennesee River Valley from the rock-walled overlook at the southern end of the park. The Tennessee River splits around Williams Island to the south, and downtown Chattanooga and Point Park at Lookout Mountain are visibile on the far horizon.
The trailhead for the Cumberland Trail lies at the overlook’s right side. The hike makes a sharp descent into the gorge, dropping nearly 200 feet from the trailhead on a series of wooden ramps and stairs, following the trail through sharp turns. The trail reaches the base of the rocky bluff at less than a quarter mile, veering to the northwest and exploring a rocky forest filled with ferns. Tall vines climb skyward through the hardwoods, stretching tall to reach the abundant sunlight above the forest canopy.
The trail continues its northwest trek, catching through-the-trees views of the river valley and weaving through a field of massive rock outcrops. The hike reaches the rocky bluff at the Julia Falls Overlook at just over .4 mile, catching distant views of Julia Falls to the north. Stunning views of Edwards Point lie across the Middle Creek Gorge to the northwest, and the Tennessee River arcs through a wide meander just beyond. The bluff drops off suddenly here and along this route, so be sure to admire the view from a safe distance.
From the Julia Falls Overlook, the trail swings northbound, beginning a rolling ascent through a dense forest of hardwoods. The sound of tumbling water fills the forest as the trail approaches the out-of-sight cascades of Rainbow Falls. At 1.15 miles, the hike scrambles through a rocky forest, plunging elevation and crossing a small bridge to reach the rocky banks of Middle Creek. The trail crosses the tumbling creek at 1.4 miles, making a springy trek across the long swinging bridge spanning the creek’s boulder-filled bed.
After crossing the bridge, the hike veers to the southwest, following white blazes and beginning a nearly continuous 200-foot ascent. The trail passes a large campsite, several enormous caves, and several beautiful limestone arches on the ascent. The trail levels briefly, passing an overlook with southbound views across the gorge at just under 2 miles. The hike continues following the white trail blazes of the Cumberland Trail, descending through a grassy, spindly forest. The trail veers briefly to the northeast, following the contours of the edge of the gorge and crossing a rocky creek bed at 2.4 miles.
Climbing from the creek valley, the hike makes a final ascent to Edwards Point, reaching the view-packed overlook at just under 2.8 miles. Views from the rocky, sun-drenched bluff are incredible, following the broad-flowing Tennessee River southeast to Signal Mountain, Lookout Mountain, and downtown Chattanooga.
Edwards Point is one of those places that’s rather hard to leave, thanks to the sublime views, and it makes a great place to hang out, enjoy the scenery, and take a mid-hike water and snack break. Departing the overlook, the hike follows its outbound route in reverse, retracing its steps through the Middle Creek Gorge and climbing to the trailhead at Signal Point. The hike reaches the parking area at just over 5.5 miles, completing the adventure.
More top hikes near Chattanooga
In the area with daylight and energy left to burn? The views from Sunset Rock on Lookout Mountain are equally incredible, and the hike to Sunset Rock from Point Park is one of our other favorites in the city.
Just south of the Tennessee border, the trails at Cloudland Canyon State Park score beautiful views from the Georgia stretch of Lookout Mountain. Follow the Cloudland Canyon Waterfalls Trail to two plunging cascades deep within the canyon, and catch view after stunning view from the rim on the Cloudland Canyon West Rim Loop. And if you’re looking for a place to stay, the park’s walk-in campsites offer a great place to pitch a tent and extend the adventure under the stars.
Photos by Matt Van Swol. Written by Eric Champlin.
This map is not a substitute for official trail maps or topographic maps.
Free parking is available in the lot at Signal Point. Important: the parking area closes at dark, and overnight parking is not allowed.
35.120367, -85.366550 // N35 07.222 W85 21.993