53 Miles / 2900 Feet of Climbing
Explore the history and beauty of Nickajack Lake and the Tennessee River on this scenic riverside ride!
Potential Route Modifications: Because the route is an out & back, it can be shortened in a number of ways by doubling back before reaching Pot Point. Turning around at the McNabb Mine ruins, for example, will make the route roughly 34 miles.
PLEASE NOTE: This ride has a few sections of very rough pavement and where riding with traffic could be uncomfortable. It also includes a great deal of climbing and is recommended for experienced cyclists only.
Other than the potential issues with traffic and rough pavement, this route has a lot to offer, with sweeping views of Nickajack Lake, quiet sections along the Tennessee River, and fascinating relics from the past.
We recommend starting the ride at Hales Bar Marina and Resort. Another option is to park at nearby Lookout Winery, which would position you well for fantastic post-ride pizza and wine - and views! The only problem with this option is the super steep driveway leading up to their parking lot. An easier approach is to park at the marina and then drive up to the winery when you're done with the ride.
As you head out from the marina, be sure to check out the Hale's Bar Dam Powerhouse jutting out into the Tennessee River near the marina. Originally constructed in 1912 (with an addition in 1952), the powerhouse is all that remains of the old lock and dam that spanned the Tennessee River at this point. In addition to generating electricity, the dam was intended to address the treacherous nature of the river along this stretch (with whirlpools known as "the Pot," "the Suck" and "the Skillet").
Unfortunately, the dam suffered from leakage underneath its foundation due to the porous nature of the limestone on which the dam was constructed. As a result the dam was replaced in the late 1960's with the Nickajack Dam several miles downstream at the mouth of the Sequatchie River. In addition to being one of the most recognizable landmarks on Nickajack Lake, the remaining powerhouse is also known for its purported paranormal activity!
After leaving the marina, you'll roll through the little community of Haletown, named for the Hale family who owned the property where the dam was built. Hale Dam Road will take you to U.S. Hwy 64, where you'll turn right and soon be climbing the bridge across Nickajack Lake and taking in some stunning panoramic views!
The views continue on the other side of the bridge as you roll past beautiful Marion County Park, which offers excellent facilities and lakeside camping. Soon after passing the park, the shoulder along U.S. Hwy 64 disappears and the road turns up. Use extra caution on this stretch of road as the hill will reduce your speed and the bend in the road will reduce the sight lines of the fast-moving traffic behind you.
At the top of the hill, you'll take a right turn onto Griffith Highway, also known as Highway 27. (The R&R Bait & Tackle store is at this intersection and offers plenty of drinks and snacks if you need refueling.) The next five miles along Griffith Highway provide a good bit of up and down as well as a lot of curves. It's a fun rollercoaster ride but do keep an eye out for fast-moving traffic on the blind curves.
Around Mile 8.5 you'll turn right onto Mullins Cove Road. The first part of this road has smooth pavement and some really nice views of the Tennessee River. While the views never really go away (you're riding along the river for the majority of the ride), the smooth pavement gives way to some very rough sections that will have your bike chattering! Slow down and pick your lines carefully to avoid the potholes.
In addition to providing a fun ride along the river, Mullins Cove Road also offers plenty of shade as the majority of the road is in a tree tunnel with lots of wooded areas on both sides of the road. Around Mile 15.5 you may notice old stone ruins in the woods. These are all that remain of the once bustling community that formed around the McNabb Coal and Coke Company, which took over mining operations in the area in the 1880s.
Just after Mile 20, you'll see Kelly's Ferry Community Church on the right. This is the site of Kelly's Ferry, which served as an important link in the Civil War as part of the famous "Cracker Line" supply chain established by General Ulysses Grant. Thanks to the importance of Kelly's Ferry in the supply chain, Mullins Cove Road was widened and expanded to facilitate the movement of supplies. The Ferry declined in use in the early 20th century and was closed in 1952.
While there are still some rough patches of pavement to navigate after passing Kelly's Ferry, there are also some wonderful rolling stretches of road underneath a full tree canopy. After a few miles you'll start to see signs indicating that the woods belong to the Tennessee River Gorge Trust. And shortly after Mile 26 you'll come across Pot Point, which is the trailhead for hiking trails on the Trust land. It is also the site of the Pot Point Cabin, which was originally constructed in 1835 using hand-hewn logs and planks reclaimed from a flat boat that wrecked on the "Boiling Pot," a nearby rapid in the Tennessee River. The cabin (which includes a modern addition on the lower level) is available for rent, and there are also campsites available nearby. (Click here for more information.)
More miles (and more rough pavement) are available on Mullins Cove Road beyond Pot Point, but our route marks this spot as the turn-around point for a very full bike ride!