Trail Review: Julia Falls Overlook

The hike from Signal Point to Edwards’ Point has been on my Chattanooga trails list since we first started talking about moving down here. My parents got married at Signal Point, and I’m an Edwards on my dad’s side, so there is a lot of personal connection to a place I had never managed to see.

My goal was for us to take a family backpacking trip out there. There is a shelter and designated campsite less than two miles past the Signal Point trailhead, and Edwards’ Point is just a mile from the shelter. If we wanted we could extend the hike and do the first 8.4 miles of the Cumberland Trail, or we could just do an out-and-back. The kids were excited about it, Billy was excited, I requested our backcountry permit…and then realized we had two major roadblocks. One–we couldn’t find the poles to my backpacking tent. And two–there is no overnight parking at the Signal Point trailhead, nor at the Suck Creek trailhead at the other end of this segment of the CT, and we couldn’t figure out how to work out alternative transportation.

Well, damn.

We decided we would go anyway and hike as far as we could before we needed to head back to be at the car by sundown.

It turns out that wasn’t far–we made it to the Julia Falls Overlook, which is only about half a mile each direction. Even being much shorter than we planned, it was still a wonderful hike, and one I recommend for young kids, or for adults looking for a quick hike to some incredible views.

The trailhead is located in the town of Signal Mountain, at the Signal Point Overlook–part of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, operated by the National Parks Service. The parking lot can fill up quickly on the weekends, and there is not a lot of overflow parking as it is located on a residential street. Carpool if you are going with friends, and plan to get there early if you want to watch the sunset.

From the parking lot, there is a paved path that leads to the overlook, which is worth an afternoon even if you don’t plan to hike. There are bathrooms with flush toilets by the parking lot, and a small picnic shelter next to the overlook where you can bring a lunch while you take in the views of the Tennessee River Gorge, and Raccoon Mountain across the river.

autumn leaves

Heading down the “mousetrap”

To access the trail, follow the stone wall towards the right of the overlook until it opens onto small steps down to the trail marker. Here you’ll see a map of the area and a sign marking trail lengths to Julia Falls (.4 miles), Edwards Point (2.9 miles), and the next access point off US-27 at Suck Creek (8.4 miles).

The trail drops quickly at first, 200 feet down a combination of steps and ramps that form “the mousetrap,” built in 1998. The final part of the descent is a very steep set of rocky steps, with a cable strung as a railing on the left hand side. There is a small side trail directly in front of this once you get off the steps that takes you to a small overlook, but the main trail continues to the right, marked by white blazes. At this point the trail is fairly level, passing through large boulders but without making many turns. You’ll start to climb just a little and the trail will get rockier, until you get to the Julia Falls Overlook.

Here you can enjoy the views. As with the Signal Point overlook you can see the Tennessee River and  Raccoon Mountain, but now you have westward views of Edwards Point across the Middle Creek Gorge, and when there has been rainfall you can see Julia Falls to the right. Stop here for a snack or to take some pictures, stay for the sunset, and retrace your steps to the parking lot for a short trip with a beautiful payoff.

Part of what took us so long the first time we attempted this hike, is there are a couple of places where the trail is not well marked, leading to a lot of backtracking. Once you descend the mousetrap the trail does not make any turns until you get to the Julia Falls overlook, but a lot of side trails have been carved out to interesting rocks and smaller overlooks. This was great for our kids in some ways! The place we lost the trail was mostly because there were so many interesting boulders they wanted to play on, which is a lot of why I recommend this trail despite it being a bit tougher for toddlers than I would usually suggest. There are several “slides” the kids had fun playing on–we have lost so many pairs of pants to them sliding down rocks, but they love doing it!

 

I ended up coming back several weeks after our trip to Julia Falls and doing the entire 8.4 miles solo. I hiked in the 1.8 miles to the Lockhart’s Arch shelter/campsite and spent the night there, and then did the remaining 6.6 miles to Suck Creek the next day where Billy and the kids picked me up. I will do a separate write up on this stretch of the trail, and some of the thoughts I had on my first solo backpacking trip!

Overall Family-Friendly Rating: 3.5/5 This is a trail I want to give a higher rating to, but also want to be cautious in how enthusiastically I tell other families to head out. I think the trail is great. The Mousetrap is not an easy hike back up, but as the trail is so short even the littlest walkers should still have enough energy to tackle it–just have a carrier for toddlers since some of the steps are almost as tall as they are and that may slow them down or intimidate them. There are also very sheer drop-offs at the overlook itself. It’s a wide area, but the hazard exists. If your kids have trouble listening or staying close, this might be a good trail to skip–or at least don’t plan on staying at the overlook if they aren’t safe in a carrier.

And finally–it can get very crowded here depending on the weather and time of day you come. When I did my solo hike, I set out on a Sunday just before sunset, and there were a lot of younger adults hanging out in groups (I feel SO OLD saying that!), who may not be appreciative of a bunch of kids playing around.

All the risks stated though, this hike is short and beautiful. And as Signal Point is the southern terminus of the Cumberland Trail, if you have any interest in checking off the miles on that, this is a good place to start!

signal for blog-2

Julia Falls Overlook

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