Thermal Belt Rail-Trail

North Carolina

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Thermal Belt Rail-Trail Facts

States: North Carolina
Counties: Rutherford
Length: 8 miles
Trail end points: Kentucy St. at Oakland Rd. (Spindale) and Oak Springs nr. US 221 (Gilkey)
Trail surfaces: Asphalt, Crushed Stone
Trail category: Rail-Trail
ID: 6032283
Trail activities: Horseback Riding, Mountain Biking, Walking

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Thermal Belt Rail-Trail Description

If you enjoy rail-trails that flaunt their railroading past, you're sure to love the Thermal Belt Rail-Trail. The pathway is paved from Gilkey to the US 74 bridge in Forest City; the remainder of the trail is crushed stone.

Along the way, the trail passes through the charming small towns of Spindale, Rutherfordton, and Ruth. A highlight of the route is its passage by the Bechtler Mint Site Historic Park, where gold was mined and gold coins were minted in the mid-1800s.

In Gilkey, the Thermal Belt Rail-Trail merges with the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail. The latter follows the route Colonial Patriots took from Virginia to join the battle at South Carolina's Kings Mountain. According to the National Park Service, 57 miles of this 330-mile trail system are open and signed. (Look for the white or brown-and-white triangular signs depicting a soldier in profile.) If you're visiting in October, you may want to check out the annual Overmountain Victory Trail March along this route.

Parking and Trail Access

In Spindale, take Oakland Road to East Main Street. The trailhead is at the intersection of East Main and Kentucky Street. Park along the road.

In Rutherfordton, parking is available at Bechtler Mint Site Historic Park (342 Gilboa Church Road) and at Fashion Circle, just north of Rock Road.

Thermal Belt Rail-Trail Reviews

Newly paved with asphalt and you can smell the new wood on the
bridges. Easy ride with long sloping hills, small towns and friendly people. Could use a rest room and more benches. To find a nice motel we drove back to Asheville NC. one of my favorite towns. I will ride this trail again !
Lattie Dockery

Finished 9 miles, not bad for someone who hasn’t road a bike in 25 years.

The entire 12 mile trail is now paved! The path is wide and level. The only annoyances are the road crossings but they are well marked. One exception is a crossing in Spindale that is very busy and perhaps needs a new design. Other than that, very nice! I love the shaded sections!


We wanted to try out this trail since we saw its beginnings in Spindale. Got on the trail near the 1 mile marker because we did not know how to get to the beginning...what intersection, etc. Parked near a church and rode our bikes to about MM 7 in Spindale. Wonderful experience. Love the grade, mostly level, but there are some places with very gradual uphill and down hill areas...but still easy for the two of us, both seniors and handle. This goes right through the town of Spindale alongside the main street, so if you need a rest, pull over and take a break there. We didn't have time to go the entire time!! Both shaded and in full sun at times...great views of the natural landscape north of Spindale. I recommend it highly.

Beautiful quiet trail especially during the week. The northern part near Gilky is more pastural than the southern half. There is no obvious trail head sign on northern trail entrance so you need to consult your GPS ahead of time to find it. There are no portapottys either on the northern part but if you go about a mile on the trail there is ‘johnny blue’ near the trail. Parking for about 20 cars are at the Gilky entrance.

Rode the Thermal Belt Trail in December 2018. This is a great trail, newly-paved for 13+ miles. We have hybrids but you could ride road bikes with no problem. We parked at Bechtler Mint Site and rode to the bridge at Hwy. 74. Perfect surface. Crossed a few roads but they are not big or busy. In that space we traveled through a number of small towns: Ruth, Rutherfordton, Forest City, and Florence. The only drawback is that I prefer countryside scenery. But the trail itself is awesome, with additional improvements to come!

Rode the Thermal Belt Trail in December 2018. This is a great trail, newly-paved for 13+ miles. We have hybrids but you could ride road bikes with no problem. We parked at Bechtler Mint Site and rode to the bridge at Hwy. 74. Perfect surface. Crossed a few roads but they are not big or busy. In that space we traveled through a number of small towns: Ruth, Rutherfordton, Forest City, and Florence. The only drawback is that I prefer countryside scenery. But the trail itself is awesome, with additional improvements to come!

Paving is now complete from Forest City near the bridge over US 74 to Gilkey. Feel free to take your road bike!

the last 4.8 miles are being prepared for paving! Active construction was seen and good progress being made. When it is complete, it will be over 12 miles of smooth, new pavement.

Crushed gravel surface from Forest City to Spindale to Ruth with asphalt pavers on the trail today laying down a new 12 ft wide asphalt surface! Nice snowcone stop on the trail at Serendipity Snowcones in Spindale. We parked at the library/gym.

I like the trail location and I am sure it will be very nice when it is done but it is currently torn up for the whole length of the trail (the rail line ties and rails were dug up and the trail is not usable) in preparation for rebuilding it.

Went to trail and was surprised to find entire trail is in upgrade phase. All rails being pulled out and no warning or notice ANYWHERE!! I am hoping they will create a dry walking/biking path. Don't know the plans, but NOT the time to go there!!

Lovely trail with some interesting points of interest along the way.

GREAT improvements to this trail, got to commend Rutherford Outdoor Coalition for their oversight & the Committee that helps guide the management for the future of the trail. New mile & 1/2 mile markers are great for those who want to keep up with their fitness goals. There are 4.5 miles of compacted gravel for hikers, runners, bikers & equestrians to be "in the country" and 3.5 miles (but more in the planning) of asphalt that access the more developed areas. Something for everyone and the BEST part is that its a project that the public can have input into & help make into their own!

Road this trail May 18 2016.The asphalt surface is now complete from Spindale to Ruth.New restaurants in Spindale and Rutherfordton were a welcome surprise as well a new brewery in Rutherfordton.Try the Firehouse Inn for a fun biking experience.Trail to be extended south from Spindale which will make this an enjoyable western Carolina ride.

This is a well-maintained easy trail. You have to applaud the town for making something of the right-of-way, but it is a 16 mile out-and-back devoid of any real "hook". No scenery, little history. Back yards of middle class America. There are plans for expansion. It is hard to justify going out of one's way for this one, but do it if you happen to be in the immediate area.

Roughest part of the trail was at the Eastern end in Spindale for a couple of blocks .. we thought the whole eight miles would be the same but were pleasantly surprised with the new asphalt and the hard pack stone. The Bechtel Historical Park is a great stop and addition to the trail.

Began our ride at 8 AM at the beginning of the paved section. The paved section is about 2 miles and is only 4 to 5 feet wide. There were walkers on the paved section and all seemed deaf. On a narrow trail, it is hard to get by walkers who don't acknowledge you are there. Once we got to the packed gravel section, we only saw 1 bicyclist and zero walkers. Pleasantly surprised to visit the remains of the gold mine.
The trip was 7.1 miles long. We did enjoy the ride and have hopes it may eventually be lengthened.

I like this trail. Starts in downtown spindale and ends by some lumber mill. It would be fabulous if they could buy up more right of way and continue it in both directions to make it an epic trail!

This trail has great potential, the town and surrounding towns are charming. The trail itself is beautiful country, a mix of shaded forest and township. We stopped at the Gilboa Methodist Church, founded in 1820 and were treated to a short tour by the caretaker.
My family and I rode the trail a few years ago and noticed there was improvement in the packed gravel section; however, there are clearly missed opportunities for tourism. One person stopped us on Main St. asking where we were going because she lives in Rutherfordton and drives to Cowpens to ride her bike. She didn't know the trail was there. Also, on our first visit we asked locals where the trail started and they didn't know. I would think there would be signs both on the highway advertising, and in town pointing out the trail.
On the trail itself there are no markers. I rode by the McDonalds and didn't even see it until I was coming back through from the other direction. There was only one store on the trail and they did not have a public restroom. The store itself was clean and well stocked with refreshments. The trail itself needs attention.
In my opinion, the trail needs better maintenance and security. My hope is that the people of Spindale would see how much tourism could be drawn to this area if the the trail was more inviting, properly maintained, and regularly patrolled.
We look forward to seeing improvements on the trail as is it is developed.

Trail surface varies from grass to rough gravel to packed gravel. At the roughest places there are roads beside the trail that are safe (little traveled). Much of the trail is shaded. There are a couple of long hills going south, but all easily do-able with a single-speed bike. Would NOT recommend it for street bikes, but hybrids and balloon-tired bikes will handle it quite well. There is parking beside the south end of the trail and a number of places along the route once you are familiar with the area. We drove 90 minutes to get to this trail and will return.

I live within a few miles of this trail & its very convenient for a quick trip on my horse. I can park & ride 6 miles or so each way (limited trailer parking but there are a few spots). It is not heavily used.

I ride this trail 30-40 times a year, it's compacted gravel, and I agree not the best for a hybrid. I use a 29" MTB and love it!
Long gentle slopes, challenging without having to kill yourself. Clean now, except directly behind the McDonald's lot - what can you do?
Park downtown on the lower lot (you'll see it) and start your ride. the downtown section is soon to be resurfaced with a compacted gravel/asphalt blend, looking forward to that!
No real posted way points, here's a few round trip miles for reference: Downtown Spindale to Hwy 64 crossing and back, 4.5 miles. Downtown Spindale to the Doncaster-Tanner complex and back, 6 miles. Downtown Spindale to the Broyhill Road intersection and back, 8.5 miles. Downtown Spindale to the old Bechtler Gold Mine and back, 10 miles. Downtown to the back gate of Gilkey Lumber and back, 14.2 Miles.
People used to the nice paved trails near metropolitan areas will find different challenges, but the scenic ride landscapes are worth the effort. Easy to moderate difficulty, allow an hour and a quarter to hour 45 for the round trip.

On an August 6th, 2013, daytrip from Lake Lure. I enjoyed the trail. Not well marked. The trail near Main Street in Springdale is gravel and grass. Very flat.

This trail is barely marked and poorly maintained. I parked along Main St. and picked up the trail heading from Spindale to Gilkey. After a short ride out of town the trail travels behind residential and commercial properties. There was a great deal of garbage and empty beer bottles along the trail. Sections of the trail were overgrown but passable. The trail ended abruptly in Gilkey with no markers indicating such. I was the only one on this trail riding it from one end to the other and back. Would not recommend this trail be travelled alone. Will not ride this trail again.

Ran on the Thermal Belt Trail today as part of my training for a marathon. As another reviewer noted, the section north from Ruth is quieter and less trafficky, but waits at road crossings were no more than minor pauses. I'll have to come back for other seasons--it was lovely to see the mountains through the barren treetops, but I'm wondering how it is in spring with the budding, summer with the full leaf, and fall with the blazing color.

The drive from Hendersonville (via 64) is also quite nice. In warmer weather I'll stop and swim at Lake Lure or Chimney Rock.

I did think it was kind of odd that signage at road crossings was minimal/nonexistant. Seems like the local C of Cs would want to play up that they have this kind of thing right there for the using.

This trail is a good trail, the conditions are better, the gravel is better than a couple of years ago, mainly because the inventors on this trail, used big gravel, hopefully one day someone in Rutherfordton, NC will paved some parts of this trail, and maintain the trail on a full time basis. As a local, i use this trail, and it is good training trail for running, the trail is better from Hwy 64 at Ruth, to the end at Gilkey Lumber Company, it is peaceful and the scenery is better there than the first mile or two at the start in Spindale which is more business, and you have to deal with crossing traffic at cross walks of the trail.

I rode this trail in April and the condition of the trail was in poor shape. There wasn't many others using the trail. I rode on a hybrid and it was rough going. I may ride it again but it is not high on my list of rides.

I rode this trail May 29, 2010
After riding most of the rails/trails in the southeastern U.S. states I was very disappointed in this one.
There are larger stones that don't do well with hybrid bikes. The grass was all grown up, street crossings aren't very safe and it runs close to the road where you get more traffic noise than the sound of wildlife. I guess it's better than riding on the road; but it needs something better before I would bother to come back.
Susan K.

My wife and I rode the trail on a Sunday morning - early afternoon. We were the only bikes on the trail which I found hard to believe because it's a great ride. Yes, it is flat but we have been riding the Blue Ridge Parkway for the last few weeks (including some snow time) so we found it a very pleasant change. It is a great trail to make adjustments on your bike and to experiment with gear combinations. If you miss a shift you don't fall off the mountain or loose you momentum. Take the ride on a day when you're not sure if you want to ride or not. You'll be pleased.

Very flat trail, easy to ride with a mountain bike.
There is a quaint church on the trail to stop and eat lunch.
I parked in a church parking lot right across from the trail.

I have lived in Rutherford County for most of my life and always traveled outside of the county to ride my mountain bikes. One day I decided to give the RT a try and really enjoyed it, it was well maintained for the most part (when you cross over Hwy 64. there is a patch of Kudzu that is trying to reclaim the trail, and there are a few spots where ATV’s have damaged the trail). Once you leave Spindale and cross over Hwy.64 it becomes quiet and has some nice vistas. This is a great ride for riders of all skill levels, especially family rides.

A friend of mine and I rode this trail today. Overall a great experience! Only complaint was the roughness. Large gravel made for a rough ride in places ( this won't be an issue if you have a good mountain bike with shock absorption ). Other parts of the trail are quite smooth. There were no roots or downed trees to deal with. There are a couple of places where a rail protrudes from the ground so you have to be careful there. Being mostly through wooded areas, with only an occassional glimpse of the highway or a house along the way, the trail is great if you want to "get away". There are some great views of the surrounding mountains and countryside, and plenty of muscadines to snack on! We encountered only a handful of people, perhaps because it was a weekday. The trail begins in Spindale, and goes through the town of Ruth, which provides the opportunity to take a meal break if you need to. In town, be careful to look before crossing where the trail crosses the road. The length of 8 miles and relatively level grade is ideal if you want a good day bike ride without riding a marathon. I will definitlely ride this trail again!

"The route is so promising, but the city parts need maintenance. The surface there is quite rough, and the kudzu threatens to cover the trail in spots. Litter and homeless camps dominate the Spindale leg. On the positive side, the bluebird houses are nice, and the Overmountain Route signs are inspiring."

"I finished up nice October mountain trip by riding a couple of miles of this trail, has good surface and very nice scenery. Was pleasantly surprised on Sunday afternoon by deputy sherrif riding the trail in his patrol car, we chatted, he was very nice! Pretty safe I would say!"

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