When Paycheck and I get in the mood to throw down some miles, we head to the refuge or to the Richard Martin rails to trails path north of Athens, AL. We have walked this stretch from the north end to the middle and back, south end to the middle and back and from the middle to each end and once (and only once) from the north end to the south end and back. We have walked it dozens of times. Having hiked with a GPS over and over, it tracks longer than the 10.5 miles advertised.
The trail is multi-use, it’s open for bikers and horseback riders and the occasional crazy person who runs-even with no bear chasing them. There are 3 main parking spots to get on the trail, the north end is at Veto, TN, (34.9932°N 86.9890°W) the south end is on Piney Chapel Road (34°50’54.2″N 86°58’08.1″W) and the middle is downtown Elkmont, at the old depot (34.92900°N 86.97331°W). In warm months, there are bathrooms with water at each end, in the winter they are padlocked and only the bathroom in the depot is open, it’s on the south end of the building.
It’s a well-used trail, expect to share it with many others anytime it’s nice out. Most people bring their dogs and not many of them use leashes, so be aware. There are also local dogs who use the trail to get around as well as dogs living along the trail who will bark and sometimes head right on out and give a sniff or follow along for a mile or four.
RM is basically one long gravel path that goes along near houses at times, passing a swamp, flanking pastures and fields, it dips between hills looking like parts of the Natchez Trace and other times is high above the surrounding landscape. There’s a long covered bridge on the north end and a little bitty one on the south end. It crosses creeks several times as well as roads and driveways. For 6 years running, the first spring peepers I have heard each year have been along the Richard Martin trail!
The south end of the trail is easier walking, with only one short uphill bit around the Battle of Sulphur Creek Trestle historic site. The North end is more scenic, but 4 of the 6 miles are on a gently graded uphill slope headed back to Elkmont from the TN end. There are times that wears me out!
Our usual practice is to start in the middle at Elkmont because-Belle Chevre! It’s a tiny sit-down restaurant with a large factory behind it. You can tour the factory and see how they make their delicious goat cheese and then head inside for sandwiches, cheesecake, ice cream or just grab some cheese to take home. We like to check Groupon for a coupon-they will often run a $30 cheese shop deal for $15. Then we get a sandwich each and sometimes split a cheese plate, have a cold bottled drink and get goat cheese to take home! Then we walk it off. PERFECT DAY.
Their hours have changed and the menu is smaller, so we are hoping they are just scaled back for winter. The 5 cheese grilled cheese is my go-to, Paycheck likes the turkey grilled. Both are done to perfection with buttery toasted bread and stuffed with cheese and goodies.
She also likes how muddy the trail gets after a rain. It’s good for a hot dog belly!