Distance: 11.7-mile loop. Trail is described clockwise.
Difficulty: Moderately strenuous
Elevation Change: 400 feet
Cautions: Some rocky sections; periodic hunting closures (check Prentice Cooper State Forest web site); rolling hills contribute to a cumulative elevation change of 1600 feet.
Camping: McNabb Gulf Campsite at Mile 8.2 (3.5 for counter-clockwise travel)
Topographic Map: Ketner Gap and Wauhatchie Quadrangles
Trailhead: Tower Drive (N35 06.098 W85 25.745)
Connection to Mullens Cove Loop Section: at Hemlock Branch campsite at Mile 11.3 (0.4) or at Snooper’s Rock at Mile 0.3 (10.9)
The Tennessee River Gorge Segment consists of two linear sections, Signal & Edwards Points and Poplar Springs, and two loops, Mullens Cove and Pot Point. Together, these sections make up 33.8 miles of trail currently open, but only the 6.9 miles of the Signal Point Section are considered part of the official Cumberland Trail.
The Poplar Springs Trail connects the CT to the figure-eight of Mullens Cove and Pot Point loops. The trailhead for Pot Point is on Tower Drive.
Highlights of Pot Point include spectacular, high overlooks of the Tennessee River Gorge and Nickajack Lake, and a natural bridge.
Mile 0.0 (9.8) Leave the parking area on the left of Tower Drive and head south for a few yards. One trailhead is on the right (west) side of the road. The other trailhead on the left (east) side of Tower Drive. This description is for a hike clockwise, so enter the trail on the left (east) side of the road.
This section of the trail is shared with the Mullens Cove Loop. Follow the trail straight ahead. Very soon, an access trail/road from the parking area comes in from the left.
Mile 0.3 (11.4) The junction with Mullen Cove Loop departs to the left. Turn right to stay on Pot Point Loop. The trail turns southwest away from the gorge. Cross a wet weather drainage with a “rock corral” at 1.4 miles. Cross another wet weather drainage at 1.8 miles. Cross wooden bridges at 1.9 miles 2.0 miles, again over wet weather drainages. The trail turns northeast back towards the gorge. Climb up to the rim at 2.7 miles, head southeast, and start seeing teaser views of the Tennessee River and Raccoon Mountain to the left. At 3.0 miles reach a partially obstructed lookout to the left on a very large boulder.
Mile 3.1 (8.6) The trail crosses the Natural Bridge (N35 05.214 W85 24.787). This is an impressive bridge about 25 feet high and 35 feet wide. The scamper down to get below the bridge is steep, but certainly doable. The trail continues southeast, crosses seasonal Blowing Springs Branch, at 3.3 miles, then curves and generally heads east.
Mile 5.2 (6.5) The trail curves south and passes two wooden stobs at 5.1 miles at an overgrown roadbed, and then reaches a sign for Pot Point Road (N35 04.823 W85 23.782) at 5.2 miles. The road does not appear to cross the trail at the sign, rather a short way back at the two stobs. The trail now curves again and west and slightly south. This portion of the trail has the gorge to the left and is exposed to the sun.
Mile 6.7 (5.0) Pass a nice “boulder garden” at 6.4 miles and reach a sign for Raccoon Mountain Overlook (N35 04.400 W85 24.836) at 6.7 miles. Take the short spur trail to the left for a partially obstructed view of Raccoon Mountain. Return to the main trail and reach a large double boulder at 7.3 miles. The trail curves northwest away from the gorge and starts descending into McNabb Gulf. Go past a large cantilevered boulder 8.2 miles.
Mile 8.5 (3.2) Start climbing out of the gulf and reach signed McNabb Gulf Camp (N35 4.439 W85 26.220) at 8.5 miles. The trail continues ascending northwest.
Mile 9.2 (2.5) Finish the climb out of the gulf and reach Tower Drive at 9.2 miles. The trail picks back up straight across the road at a kiosk (N35 04.795 W85 26.535) with a trail map. Continue on the trail and shortly turn northeast as the trail dips below the rim.
Mile 10.0 (1.7) The trail curves back northwest and reach a sign (N35 05.201
W85 26.579) for the spur trail to Ransom Hollow Lookout at 10.0 miles. Take the spur trail 0.2 miles to a superlative overlook. The view of the Nickajack Lake and the Tennessee River Gorge is one of the best on the Cumberland Plateau. This is a great place for a long, well-deserved rest when doing the loop clockwise. Return to the main trail and continue northeast and soon due north.
Mile 11.3 (0.4) Descend to Hemlock Branch and reach a signed junction
(N35 06.072 W85 26.281) with the Mullen Cove Loop trail at 11.3 miles.
Mile 11.7 (0.0) Turn east and follow Hemlock Branch. Return to the trailhead at 11.7 miles.
Description and photos courtesy of Gary Stephens.