The Poplar Spring section of the Cumberland Trail connects Suck Creek Road to the popular Mullins Cove Loop in the Prentice Cooper State Forest. Whether done as part of a longer run or as a simple out-and-back, there is plenty of scenery to take in: views of the Tennessee River, rainy weather cascades, and bluffs with secret hiding places to explore.
What Makes It Great
Not everyone is an ultrarunner capable of great distances, and luckily you don’t have to be one of the elite to enjoy the Poplar Springs section of the Cumberland Trail. This is not an easy trail to run, but it’s highly rewarding. In the spring, you’ll find blooms and wildflowers. Through the bare branches of winter you get an even better view of the rock formations and the gorge. In fall the brilliant leaves will be everywhere, including underfoot. And in the summer carry lots of water, because this trail will make you thirsty.
You can start at Suck Creek Road, but parking is limited and a bit precarious. The best option is to drive into Prentice Cooper State Forest and begin at the main trailhead on Tower Road. From the gravel lot, cross the road and enter the woods. The first half-mile is an easy descent to Indian Rock House, a large overhanging bluff that you’ll reach by descending steps down a long, narrow crevice. For the most part the trail follows the contour of the mountain, so there are no huge climbs.
Take a few minutes to enjoy the view from Lawson Rock, looking out over the Suck Creek Gorge and the Tennessee River. After you take it all in, continue on and you’ll come to a set of steps that will lead back down to the base of the bluff. Eventually, you’ll meet up with a streambed where a spur trail leads down to Suck Creek Road. Cross the stream to continue on the main trail. Thankfully, this is an easy section of running on soft pine needles.
After a steep descent to Suck Creek Road you can retrace your steps or walk down the highway a hundred yards to continue on the Cumberland Trail towards the trailheads at Signal Mountain High School, Rainbow Falls, or Signal Point.
Who is Going to Love It
This trail, like most, is what you make it. Although the elevation gains are modest, you’ll find a challenge in the rocks, stream crossings, and cursed obstacles. Relax and let the trail flow, going whatever speed you feel comfortable, and you’ll enjoy it all the more. For those new to trail running, perhaps half of the trail will be more of a hike than a run—and that’s okay, too!