Poplar Spring on Pioneer Trail

Pioneer Spring

This hike is on the opposite side of the state from the hike to Jane Bald along the Appalachian Trail, and located in Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park, which borders the Mississippi River. It’s a short hike, and I hiked it in mid-March when there was very little foliage. I imagine it becomes quite lush come summer.

Originally named Shelby Forest, the Meeman was added to the park’s name in honor of Edward J. Meeman who was conservation editor for Scripps-Howard newspapers and instrumental in getting both this park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park established. There is a boulder in the park, from the Smokies, noting this accomplishment. The park is particularly proud of its varied terrain and many of the activities it offers center around that aspect. From the Mississippi River to the west, the 13,000-plus-acre park features a mature Bald Cypress and Tupelo bottomland swamp alongside the impressive Chickasaw Bluffs, which were formed from wind-blown silt deposited in the Pleistocene era more than 11,000 years ago. There are four “Chickasaw” bluffs located along the Mississippi from Fulton to Memphis, Tennessee, the third of which is located at Meeman-Shelby.

In addition to its spectacular terrain, the park is home to deer, turkey, otter, beaver, foxes and bobcats. More than 200 species of songbirds, waterfowl, shorebirds and raptors, including the American Bald Eagle can be seen within the park’s boundaries making the area a favorite for bird-watchers.

Directions: From Interstate 40 in Memphis, take Exit 2-A, and head toward Millington on U.S. 51 North. In a little over four miles, turn left onto North Watkins Street/Tennessee 388 for about 7 miles (until it dead ends). Turn left onto Locke-Cuba Road. At the four-way stop, turn right and in about a mile, turn left into the park.

Pioneer Springs Trail
Round-Trip: 2.5 miles
Estimated Hiking Time: 1 hour

With the bald cypress swamp to your left, and the Chickasaw Bluffs looming over you to the right, this makes for a scenically interesting hike.

Caution: The swamp is literally just to the right (or to the left when returning) of the trail, so be careful to stay on the marked path. Also, hunting is allowed on the bluffs, and while shooting isn’t allowed within 100 feet of the trail, it’s wise to keep to the path.

Trail Directions: The trailhead is just beyond where the one-way road curves to the left toward the Poplar Tree Lake nature center and boat launch. It is on the right and there is a trail sign and map to mark the trailhead at N 35º 18’ 29”, W 90º 4’ 5” (1). This is a one-way out-and-back trail.

Begin hiking. The path quickly descends to the bottomland swamp of Bald Cypresses and Tupelos. Hiking the trail first thing in the morning, you will be treated to a veritable symphony of birdsong from the trumpeting of geese, the percussion of woodpeckers, owls providing the sound of woodwinds and hundreds of songbirds accompanying them with the harmony. At .14 mile, you will reach and cross a wooden bridge, and then .12 mile later, another at N 35º 17’ 40”, W 90º 4’ 0” (2). Because you are hiking through a bottomland swamp, you will cross numerous bridges, reaching the third bridge at .31 mile, and the fourth at .33 mile.

At .36 mile, you will cross a long wooden bridge, and reach the sixth wooden bridge at .63 mile or N 35º 18’ 50”, W 90º 3’ 42” (3). You’ll reach the seventh bridge just short of a mile (.95) at N 35º 19’ 3”, W 90º 3’ 42” (4). The eighth and final bridge is at 1.07 miles, and then the Pioneer Spring and Shelter at 1.24 miles or N 35º 19’ 32”, W 90º 4’ 11” (5).

Pioneer Springs Trail Shelter

Pioneer Springs Trail Shelter

Return to the parking area by hiking back the way you came.

1. Trailhead at Poplar Tree Lake
2. Second bridge
3. Sixth bridge
4. Seventh bridge
5. Pioneer Springs Trail Shelter


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