26 Miles / 850 Feet of Climbing
Travel back 10,000 years on this short ride out of South Pittsburg, featuring beautiful farm country and a national monument!
Potential Route Modifications: This route can be shortened to 21.5 miles by heading back to South Pittsburg after seeing Russell Cave rather than continuing on to Orme. This also reduces the climbing by 200 feet.
We recommend starting at Dragging Canoe Coffee Traders on Elm Avenue in South Pittsburg. In addition to offering some excellent coffee (and pastries!) to get you primed for the ride, they also have a large parking lot where you can leave your vehicle. Unfortunately, they don't have a restroom. If you need one prior to the ride, pop into the Dollar General store just around the corner. (As is always the case, making a small purchase in exchange for use of the restroom is good cycling etiquette.)
From the Dragging Canoe parking lot, head west through town. There are a few hills to tackle as you roll through the neighborhoods, but they are all relatively short.
Be sure to check out the Richard Hardy Memorial School when you're on Marion Avenue. The school is an impressive structure built in 1925 when South Pittsburg was a booming industrial town.
A couple of blocks after passing the school, Marion Avenue will end and you'll turn onto Highway 27 (also known as Business 72). After riding through neighborhood streets, the highway may feel a little busy, so keep an eye out for passing vehicles and ride single file.
It won't be long before you cross the Alabama state line, and the "highway" will begin to feel more like a rural road in terms of traffic (very light), scenery (gorgeous farmland), and pavement quality (bumpy!). It will also change names and become County Road 74.
Roughly six and a half miles into the ride, the road "T's" into County Road 75. You'll take a right onto 75, and then another right onto County Road 98, which gives you a straight shot all the way to Russell Cave National Monument, about 3.5 miles down the road through open farmland.
The entrance to the Monument is obvious with good signage, but be cautious as you pull into the driveway as there may be loose gravel at the intersection. The driveway is relatively short and takes you straight to the visitors center. This is an excellent facility with lots of information about the cave and how the indigenous people of the area lived thousands of years ago. You'll also find clean restrooms and a cold water fountain in the visitors center. Check the Russell Cave website for current hours of operation.
After checking out the visitors center, take the short stroll along a boardwalk from the back door to the cave. (It's flat enough and short enough for bicycle shoes.) The boardwalk ends at the cave entrance and has a number of interpretive panels explaining how the cave was used by different populations throughout history. Archeological finds in the cave represent 10,000 years of human use in a single place! The setting is beautiful and the cave is well worth the stop.
When you've had your fill of ancient history, continue on County Road 98 another couple of miles to the little community of Orme. The road quality will be noticeably less polished after leaving Russell Cave, but the scenery will be even more impressive.
The road turns into gravel and turns sharply uphill when you get to Orme, which is your cue to turn around and head back to South Pittsburg. However, before leaving Orme, check out the unaltered 1902 railroad depot by the side of the road (it has a sign reading "Orme" on the side of it). It's a classic example of the "railroad style" of architecture and a reminder of Orme's past as a significant coal mining community.
After retracing your steps and returning to South Pittsburg, head downtown for pizza at Stevarino's Italian Eatery and take some time checking out the unique stores and historic architecture of the buildings, primarily from the late 1800's/early 1900's, which was when the town flourished as one of the South's industrial centers. South Pittsburg was originally founded as a company town after coal seams were opened up following the Civil War, and was named in homage to the major iron-making center in Pennsylvania.
Today there is only one foundry in operation, Lodge Manufacturing Company, which dates back to 1896. It is the nation's leading producer of cast-iron pots and pans, and its Factory Store attracts thousands of visitors each year. It's also one of the primary reasons why South Pittsburg hosts the National Cornbread Festival each April, an event that draws close to 30,000 people annually!
For more information on the history of South Pittsburg, check out the South Pittsburg Heritage Museum on Cedar Avenue.