PRENTICE COOPER STATE FOREST TRAIL HEAD
Tennessee River Gorge Segment
Pot Point Loop
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.
From the junction of US 27 and US 127 northwest of Chattanooga, continue northwest for 1.6 miles on US 127. Turn left on TN 27 and ascend the plateau, along the way passing where the Poplar Spring Trail crosses the highway at 6.0 miles from US 127. At 8.1 miles, turn left on a road marked only with a “Prentice Cooper Forest and WMA” sign. The mileage to the trailhead is 6.3 miles from this turn, but watch carefully for Prentice Cooper SF/WMA signs, as there are two more turns. One is more of a bear left and happens almost immediately. The other is a left turn at 0.1 mile. Shortly after this turn, the road turns to gravel and enters the State Forest and WMA. Continue to the trailhead, past the Mullen Cove Loop trailhead that is 3.2 miles on the right and marked by a sign that says “Cumberland Trail Parking Lot.” Continue 2.7 miles past this trailhead. You will pass State Forest buildings on the right, then, left arrive at the parking area for the Pot Point Loop on the left. There is a kiosk with a map and a log for hikers to sign.
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.
INSERT Natural Bridge Here
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.
INSERT Boulder field Pix
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.
INSERT Ransome Hollow Overlook Pix here
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.