Thursday, March 4, 2021

Day Trip: Thermal Belt Rail Trail

Want to go for a ride? Hop in your car and then hop on your bike for an outing on the Thermal Belt Rail Trail, a 13.5-mile paved greenway running through the heart of Rutherford County, about an hour and 15 minutes from uptown.

Wide, flat and super accessible, the Thermal Belt Rail Trail connects the foothill towns of Gilkey, NC at the north end and Forest City, NC at the south, with and handful of trail access parking areas in between.

From start to finish, the trail is well marked with mileage signs. It also sports a number of bike racks, bike repair stations, fountains, bathrooms, shelters, information kiosks and benches throughout.

The beginning section (starting in Gilkey and heading south) is more rural, traversing through woods and small neighborhood communities. It has little traffic and few cross streets. 

Miles 5 through 13 becomes more urban, winding through towns and passing by restaurants, shops, parks, sports fields and four libraries. There are two bridges, one at mile 12.5 over highway 74 and one at mile 13.2 over the railroad.

When we went, we started at mile 0 and rode bikes east for a couple of miles to the Bechtler Mint Historic Site Park. This was a cool, educational destination and made for a good stop and turnaround point for our young crew.

While we haven't ridden the trail in its entirety, several friends have told me it's a pleasant experience. When the weather warms, we look forward to checking out a longer stretch, maybe beginning at the other end and working our way back to the Bechtler park for another visit, a longer ride, and a picnic lunch. 

How to get there
There are a number of parking areas along the 13.5-mile trail. See options here. We began at the Mile 0 trailhead, which is located at 100 Oak Springs Rd., Rutherfordton, NC, 28139. To begin at the other end (mile 13.5), parking is available at 50 Forrest West Hunt Dr., Forest City, NC, 28043. 

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