Gilkey Trail - Thermal Belt Rail - Trail
Old churches, a gold mint and pizza
Author – Jim Williams
Difficulty Level: Advanced
Forest service roads and dirt trails. Well defined and maintained. There will be some gain and loss in elevation. Usually close to parking and other conveniences. You’ll get some exercise but in a more controlled environment.
comfortable walking shoes or tennis shoes are fine for this trail.
Time: It’s an out and back. Spend as much or as little as you want.
Distance: Total distance round trip is 16 miles from end to end. Elevation gain or loss is minimal.
Safety: If you start at the lumber company the trail may be a little grown over, especially in the spring and summer, so keep an eye out for snakes. I have seen a couple but never had a problem. As you get closer to Spindale, the trail surface gets better and better. It has been recently paved at the Spindale end.
Courtesy: You will encounter bike riders. This is a converted railroad bed. It is designed for bicycles. As a hiker, you will be the outsider. So, try to move over if you see or hear them approaching. I have hiked and biked this trail many times and never encountered anyone who wasn’t courteous. The hardest part is trying not to stop and chit chat with everyone you meet. You have to keep your heart rate up.
HOW TO GET THERE:
From Marion, take Hwy 221 south toward Rutherford. When you get close to the small town of Gilkey you will cross Gilkey School Rd. You will see a lumber yard on the left. Turn left on Oak Springs Rd. The trail head parking is a small gravel area on the right of the road. The official trail name is Thermal Belt Rail-Trail. I have never heard anyone call it that but it might be handy to know the name if you Google it.
The trail starts at the parking area and heads south to Spindale.
Once you’re there and get the lay of the land, you’ll see that there are several other places to access the trail, depending on how far you want to walk.
THE TRAIL: From the trail head at Gilkey, just head south. It is an obvious road bed/trail. Relax and enjoy. You may hear some dogs barking. I have not, as yet, encountered one on the trail.
After a short distance you will encounter a small church, a little off the trail. This is still an active church but worth a look around.
About 1.5-2 miles down the trail you will come to the site of the Bechtler Mint. Good place to wander around. This is a new attraction and was a pleasant surprise to us on our last bike ride there. If you want to know more about the mint go to: http://www.southerngoldsociety.org/bechtler-mint/ .
For those of you who ride a bicycle, the first thing you’ll say when you start your hike is, “I wish I had my bike”. Or if you are like the guy I ride with; “I wish I had a beer”. For the biker, go to http://www.traillink.com/ for info on riding the trail.
If you ride or hike to Spindale, consider a stop for lunch. There are a couple of pretty good eateries there. The last time we were there we got a great, thin crust, pizza at Barley’s. You can see the restaurant from the trail.
Enjoy. This is a good Sunday outing for the entire family. Usually doable year round.