About this Itinerary
On the old rail bed of the Tennessee Central Railroad, the Cumberland River Bicentennial Trail offers 6.5 scenic miles of trail along the northeast banks of the Cumberland River. Built on the upper edge of the river valley to avoid flooding, this former rail right-of-way, now recreational trail, is bordered by steep bluffs to the north and floodplains to the south. Beginning in Ashland City, just 20 minutes northwest of downtown Nashville in northern Tennessee, the rail-trail weaves past lakes and designated waterfowl areas, cuts through wetlands and forests, and features six original rail trestles that pass over the valley’s numerous creeks.
The Cumberland River Bicentennial Trail (CRBT) consists of two segments, both of which have trailheads with parking areas and portable toilets. The first section is 3.7-miles of paved trail beginning a mile north of Ashland City and running northwest to the Sycamore Harbor trailhead. The second segment, the Eagle Pass, is unpaved and continues westward 3 miles toward Cheatham Dam. Its compacted gravel surface is unsuitable for road bikes so make sure you have a mountain bike if you plan on riding this segment. Development of the CRBT has been a long, collaborative process between community members, organizations and the town of Ashland City. Visit the trail’s official website for up-to-date information on the trail’s condition and development status.
If you need to rent a bike for the ride, you’ll find yourself in Nashville at either the Green Fleet Bicycle Shop or Trace Bikes. Once on the trail, you won’t pass through any communities so pack enough snacks and water for the entire round-trip ride.
You can stay overnight in Ashland City and get on the trail bright and early. Boarders Inn and Suites is practically at the eastern trailhead itself, while Lock A Campground is at the western trail terminus off of Cheatham Dam Road.
The Cumberland River Bicentennial Trail, an Ashland City park, starts at the Marks Creek trailhead. This paved section begins in a wooded corridor and much of the trail remains under the shaded canopy of hardwood forests of sycamore, oak and sweet gum trees. Tennessee is considered among the most biodiverse states in the U.S. and traveling down the CRBT offers a chance to explore some of this rich wonderland of flora and fauna. Signs along the trail point to some of the plant life that grows along the path. Keep an eye out for the state’s official wild animal, the raccoon, and the state reptile, the box turtle.
The first mile leads past trickling waterfalls and spring dogwood blooms to the Turkey Junction Native Gardens & Comfort Station. For much of the trail, the Cumberland River is just out of site but the pathway passes over small creeks that have cut their way through the riverside bluffs and companionably sidles up to the embayment of the Sycamore Creek (which flows into the river). When the CRBT crosses over a second trestle at mile 1.4, look for a side trail that leads left to picnic tables besides Sycamore Creek. The CRBT runs along the edge of the Cheatham Lake Wildlife ManagementArea,which contains marshes, constructed waterfowl ponds, cultivated fields and woodlands. Be aware that hunting is permitted here seasonally for ducks and geese as well as small and large game, such as deer and turkey.
Continue on the trail, over two more trestles, until the tree canopy begins to open up by mile 2.4 and you reach a bridge that spans 200 feet above the Sycamore Creek embayment. Enjoy the more open vistas of Tennessee’s rural, agricultural landscape. Less than a mile farther, a curved, steel-framed trestle, the largest of the CRBT, crosses over Sycamore Creek (mile 3.2). Shortly thereafter you will see a trailside kiosk and restroom and come to the Sycamore Harbor trailhead on Chapmansboro Road. This is the end of the paved segment of the trail.
From this trailhead on Chapmansboro Road, the Eagle Pass trail section runs 3 miles through equally beautiful surroundings to the campground at the Cheatham Lock and Dam. The trail ends here though at some point the CRBT will continue another 4 miles to the Cheatham-Montgomery county line. This is not yet open to the public but, when it is, the trail will be nearly 11 miles long. At the Lock A Campground there is a boat launching ramp, courtesy floats, a picnic shelter and nature trails. The Cheatham Lock, open to navigation traffic since 1951, is a feat of engineering worth marveling at if you feel like biking an additional 1.5 miles west on Cheatham Dam Road. During normal lake levels, the lock will lift a boat 26 feet from the river below the dam to the lake above the dam.
Ashland City, a small community nestled into the bottomlands of the Cumberland River, has much to offer for the second day of your trip. Its location is ideal for anyone who enjoys wildlife viewing, fishing, hiking and watersports. The town’s River Bluff Park provides a boat dock and ramp on Cheatham Lake, Blue Heron Cruises offers seasonal cruises down the river on a 40-foot pontoon boat, and just minutes away is the 32,000-acre Cheatham County Wildlife Management area. Sydney’s Bluff, a jagged cliff system on the opposite bank of the river, is not only scenic to look at from town but is also a popular place for rock climbers and hikers.
Ashland City has been the county seat of Cheatham County since 1856. One of the first industries in the area was Sycamore Mills, a black powder manufacturer established before the Civil War (now a historical marker north of town). Construction on the freight rail line between Nashville and Clarksville began in 1901 and was soon operating between its namesake cities, opening doors to the expansion of more industries and the movement of commodities, such as lumber and ore. The former right-of-way west of Ashland City now comprises the CRBT. The rail line east of Ashland City is still active, however, and is under the ownership of the Cheatham County Rail Authority.
One industry that has thrived in this county over the centuries is agriculture; there are seventeen farms that have been in operation and owned by the same family for 100 years or more. The Ashland CityFarmers and Artisans Market, located at Riverbluff Park during summer months, is an excellent way to support local producers and enjoy the bounty of this region. The Riverview Restaurant is across the river from Riverbluff Park and specializes in catfish and river views. In the downtown area, Cody’s Diner and Sunrise Café offer southern country-style breakfast and lunches and the Lunch Box is known for their homemade soups, sandwiches and salads. Nearby are grocery and convenience markets and fast food joints as well.
If you are in town during August, check with the local chamber of commerce for the dates of the annual Riverbluff Triathlonas the town and trails will be very busy at this time. Ashland City wouldn’t be a proper Tennessee town, only minutes away from the Nashville, if it didn’t show its own support of musical traditions. The town hosts annual festivals including Summerfest, a combination music, arts and crafts show (plus catfish cook-off), and Music on Mainstreet, a day-long bluegrass music festival held each October.