The Richard Martin Trail, located in the charming town of Elkmont, Alabama is a 10-mile rail-trail that offers history, beautiful scenery, and all-around fun for those who like to hike, bike, and horseback ride. It was also the very first rail-trail developed in Alabama! The trail is a is relatively flat, blissfully shaded natural-surface path that few Alabamians know about, but should absolutely make a part of their 100 Alabama Miles Challenge.
Less than 10 miles north of Athens, exit 361 on Highway 65, is Elkmont. A small town with a big trail system loaded with history. As you drive to the main trailhead in downtown Elkmont, look to your left to see a part of the trail through the trees. When you park your car, you'll have an important decision to make. Do you grab a bite to eat at The Red Caboose first to fuel your long day, or do you save it for after your ride and let dreams of homemade dessert play through your head?
When you're ready to ride, you have two options. You can go north toward the Alabama/Tennessee state line for 5.5 miles, or go south toward tiny Alabama Fork. Either way, you can't go wrong!
Taking off north, you'll pass some historical signs explaining the origins of the original railroad. You'll also see the giant Belle Chevre Cheese factory on your left. When you're finished, you can pop into their store for a tasty sandwich and ice cream, and even tour the factory.
Feel like you're going fast? That's because the trail in this direction is slightly downhill. Enjoy it while you can, because you'll feel the grade on the way back. The trail is teeming with wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for deer, rabbits, field mice, and even some friendly free-range goats!
At mile 2.8 you can hop off your horse or bike and take a break for photo ops under the covered bridge. You will also pass an abandoned caboose further down on the trail, but heed the signs and don't try to climb inside.
When you reach the end of the dirt trail, you can go further out to the parking lot, or turn around and head back to Elkmont. You'll appreciate the tree-lined path as you travel slightly uphill for the next 5.5 miles.
Congrats! You finished half the trail! You can use the opportunity of passing through Elkmont to stop for a snack and refill on water, or immediately head southbound.
This stretch of trail is steeped in history, explained through historical markers. A mile outside of Elkmont, you'll find a sign marking the spot for the 1864 Battle of Sulphur Creek Trestle, Alabama's bloodiest Civil War battle. Make sure to stop and read the sign while taking in the silence that now overtakes this lesser-known battleground.
Further down the trail, you'll pass through a swamp and another covered bridge. When you get to the southern trailhead at mile 5.6, turn around and head back to your car!
Now that you're finished, you can reward yourself with a tour of downtown Elkmont. The Red Caboose is a local restaurant full of delicious southern favorites. Don't leave without trying one of their homemade desserts you dreamed about.
Around the corner you'll find the nationally-renowned Belle Chevre store, where you can sample the best goat cheese spreads you've ever had. After you've eaten your fill, wander over to the Vinyl Exchange to shop for your favorite Bruce Springsteen album. Rumor has it that this store has quite the Beatles collection, too. It’s the perfect ending to a great day in North Alabama!
Footnote: If you’re up for more adventure in the Elkmont Area, check out the Noah Bike Trail, a road cycling route that winds along the beautiful country roads of Limestone County, or grab your paddle and hit the Elk River Canoe and Kayak Trail, along one of Alabama’s most paddleable and scenic rivers!
Greg Wingo is the manager of the 100 Alabama Miles Challenge Ambassador Program and owner of ROAM Projects, a destination trail consulting company.