Tennessee trails offer plenty for cyclists of all abilities

By KATE COIL
TML Communications Specialist

Established in 1956 by the League of American Bicyclists, National Bike Month is celebrated each year in May to showcase the recreational and health benefits of cycling as well as to raise awareness about cyclist safety.

National Bike Month also aims to encourage those who have never been on a bike to try cycling and those who haven’t biked in a while to pick it back up.
Bike paths and trails are becoming more and more popular in communities across Tennessee, offering residents ways to get to home, work, and school as well as spend time outdoors. There are plenty of ways for those of all skills levels to see what Tennessee has to offer.

BEGINNER ROUTES
Erected in honor of a local trail advocate, the Brian Brown Memorial Greenway in Martin does a lot more than connect downtown Martin with the campus of the University of Tennessee at Martin. The 3.4-mile, round-trip multi-use trail is a favorite of walkers, runners, skaters, and cyclists who all enjoy the route through a former railroad corridor and farmland owned by the university. Asphalt trails cruise by wildflowers and the local creek with equal amounts of sun and shade.

Following Mouse Creek in the northern part of the city, the Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway is presently a 3.94-mile trail that takes users through the heart of the city, uniting the city’s retail sector, residential areas, and park facilities. Five footbridges span the linear, lighted path that is also lined with public art. Plans are in progress to expand the route further south by the end of 2022 with the possibility of the route growing in the future.

A multi-purpose 4.3-mile trail, the Springfield Greenway connects the city’s historic downtown business district with J. Travis Price Park. Along the tree-lined path, cyclists can take in local color with historical buildings and land markers telling the Springfield story. Spotting wildlife like herons, turtles, and ducks in the Sulphur Fork Creek is a popular pastime among locals who frequent this trail.

Built for the students, faculty, and staff of Union University in Jackson, the university’s Wooded Trail System is also open to the public. The system has 6.5 miles total of hiking, running, and mountain biking trail with a mix of beginner to intermediate trails ranging in length from a mile to nearly 4 miles long. For those who want to get in mountain or off-road biking, this is a great place to begin.

Nashville’s Shelby Bottoms Greenway takes visitors on a tour of a natural oasis in an urban setting. The 6.4-mile multi-use trails takes visitors through hardwood forests, open fields, wetlands, and streams with the option to take a paved path or traverse the road less traveled with more natural routes.

Several trails across Tennessee bring communities together in a literal fashion, like the Mountain Goat Trail. Following the path of the former Mountain Goat Railroad, the current 7.5 trail connects the cities of Monteagle, Sewanee, and Tracy City. Riders can also segment the trail into the 5 miles between Sewanee and Monteagle or the 2.8 segment connecting Monteagle to Tracy City. Plans call for the trail to expand to a full 35-mile route along the former rail line, allowing cyclists to travel to Cowan, Coalmont, Gruetli-Laager, and Palmer.
Another great rails to trails route connecting communities is the Tennessee Central Heritage Rail Trail including the municipalities of Cookeville, Algood, and Monterey. A paved 4.23-mile section connects the Cookeville Depot Museum in downtown to the Algood Community Center while the remaining trail is located in Monterey. Eventually, these two trails as well as an extension to the town of Baxter will bring the trail to a full 19 miles.

With nearly ten miles of paved and concrete linear trail for cyclists, the Kingsport Greenbelt connects the city’s neighborhoods, shopping centers, and park system. Visitors can stay on the main route from the South Fork of the Holston River along Reedy Creek or branch off onto connector trails. Along the way, stop off at more than 20 points of interest that highlight the history of the Model City.

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MODERATE ROUTES
Located between Linden and Parsons, Mousetail Landing State Park has much more to offer than its famed fishing and camping. The park also boasts four-miles of easy mountain biking trail and 9 miles of more advanced trail for those who want to test their limits. Visitors from bigger cities like Nashville, Jackson, and Memphis are frequent overnight visitors to get a chance to conquer the hills and enjoy the river views the park offers.

While many have taken this route as part of a motor trail, the Cades Cove Loop Trail in the Townsend area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is also a favorite among cyclists who want more of a challenge. The 11-mile loop takes visitors through one of the most popular destinations in the national park and cyclists come out in droves on Wednesdays when the trail is closed to vehicles. Those who want a shorter ride can also use some of the many turnoffs available along the way.

Those looking to escape back into nature don’t have to travel far from downtown Knoxville to do so. The Knoxville Urban Wilderness Loop Trail is a 12.5-mile nature trail for cyclists that can connect to more than 30 miles of trails in the citywide trail system. The trail offers a variety of ways to enjoy the outdoors by bike. Scenic vistas and historical landmarks add to the overall experience of the trail.

Ashland City’s Cumberland River Bicentennial Trail is 13.3 miles that accommodates both beginner and moderate skill levels. The first portion of the trail is paved but those seeking more of a challenge can try the newer, unpaved routes. One of the highlights for visitors is crossing one of the six original train trestles utilized by the trail. Visitors can take in waterfalls, local flora and fauna, and even end the day with a camping at the trail terminus at the Cheatham Lock and Dam campground.
Collegedale is home to a variety of unique biking trails, including the interlinking Biology Trails and White Oak Mountain Trails as well as the Bauxite Mountain Trail. While there are some 25 miles of trails on both sites, there is a more moderate 14.3-length visitors can take. Part of the campus of Southern Adventist University, the trails are open to the public. While suitable for beginners when taken individually, these trails combined can give bikers a variety of challenges. Considered a hidden gem to many, these trails allow users of all abilities to design their own routes.

More than 15 miles of trail connect the cities of Alcoa and Maryville on the joint Maryville-Alcoa Greenway. Cyclists can start at Alcoa’s Springbrook Park or Richard Williams Park and follow the nine-mile path down to Maryville. From there, bikers can continues through the Maryville Greenbelt to Sandy Springs, Pearsons Springs, or Founders Park for a total of 15 miles. There are also plenty of places to stop off and get snacks along the way.

While the last train has long since left this route to Clarksville, the 16-mile former rail route turned greenway along the red River and West fork Creek is a popular destination for both those seeking to run quick errands and take more recreational routes. Those looking for more of a challenge can take the full route from Valleybrook Park to Billy Dunlop Park, hitting up sites like the Clarksville Riverwalk, Raymond C. Hand Pass pedestrian bridge, and still seeing plenty of local wildlife.

Also known as the Tennessee Riverpark, the Chattanooga Riverwalk will eventually stretch 22 miles from downtown Chattanooga to the Moccasin Bend National Archaeological District. Presently, the trail offers 16.1 miles from the Amincola Highway ending either at the Tennessee Aquarium and riverfront at Ross’s Landing or crossing the iconic Walnut Street Bridge into Coolidge Park. The route takes visitors through the city’s Bluff View Arts District as well as marshes and wetlands.

EXPERT ROUTES
The Shelby Farms Greenline in Memphis has sections and routes for cyclists of all abilities, but those who want a challenge can take the full 21.4-mile route through the city, spanning from Midtown to Cordova. Located on the Former Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis Railway line, the trail connects residential neighborhoods and one of the country’s largest urban parks; Shelby Farms. Those on the greenline may even forget they are in the middle of a city with a large canopy of trees, scenic wetlands, riverside routes, and the occasional wildlife.

Not for the faint of heart, the Cherohala Skyway from Tellico Plains to the Tennessee state border is a 23.7-mile rugged scenic byway through the northern part of the Cherokee National Forest. A favorite challenge among cyclists in the southeast, the route offers numerous overlooks and side routes that can stretch the journey even longer. Those who want an extreme route can take the full 43-mile route from Tellico Plains to Robbinsville, N.C.

In the southern part of the Cherokee National Forest, cyclists can challenge themselves to the 30-miles of trail near the Tennessee-Georgia border at the Tanasi Trail System in Ducktown. Ranging from paved roads to knobby mountain trails, the system allows visitors to explore the old Copper Road Trail, see the Olympic whitewater rafting course on the Ocoee River, screech down the Thunder Rock Express, and more. This route was designated an “Epic Ride” by the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA), one of only six in the Southeast and 32 in the country.

Another IMBA rated Epic Ride is the Big South Fork 5 at Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area in Oneida. This mountain biking trail across the Cumberland Plateau boasts miles of scenic gorges, sandstone bluffs, and historic features that dot the backcountry. A 33-mile ride total, this route offers amazing views and challenging drops that will get anyone’s heart racing.

Pack some camping supplies and plan to stay overnight to meet the change that is the 83.1-miles of the Natchez Trace from Franklin to Collinwood in Tennessee. Beginning at the famed double-arched bridge in Franklin, this route is often taken in a vehicle but can be just as fun and even more challenging by bike. With gorgeous scenery no matter the season, the route is a hot spot for Tennessee history. Along the southern route to Collinwood, there is plenty of time to stop off in neighboring cities including Hohenwald, Mt. Pleasant, Lawrenceburg, and Waynesboro.

Those who are really ambitions can also tackle the BRAT: Bicycle Ride Across Tennessee. Held each year by its namesake organization, the BRAT encourages cyclists to get out across the state, tackling new routes each year. The organization also hosts two other major biking events each year: the Horton 100 at Henry Horton State Park in Chapel Hill and the Paris Century at Paris Landing State Park in Paris.