DATE:
Multiple

OUT & BACK:
~ 5.6 and 2.8

ELEVATION CHANGE:
Minimal

LOCATION:
Johnson City to Elizabethton, TN

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The Tweetsie Trail is part of the national Rails to Trails Conservatory program that helps communities repurpose defunct railroad routes into multipurpose recreational nature trails. The trail runs for 10 miles from a trailhead in Johnson City to Elizabethton, TN. With its graded, crushed gravel pathway, it is a great trail for walking, running, and biking. Our family has been enjoying this trail since it opened in 2014 when we would take walks pushing a double stroller. Soon we added a balance bike to the walks, then a peddle bike, and eventually there was no stroller and we were all riding down the trail. 

vintage tweets trail
Above picture from first month of the trail's opening. Two in the stroller and one more on the way.

Unlike VA Creeper Trail there are no shuttle services operating return trips, (as of Spring 2021), so not everyone who uses the trail completes the whole 10 miles on any given trip. The good news is that there is a great mid point with a picnic pavilion and large opening off the trail at the “Cranberry Furnace Company Quarry.”

There are two ways to get to the Quarry depending on how far you feel like you, or your littles, can ride. 

From Johnson City ~5.6 mi (out and back)

The most popular route is from the Johnson City trailhead located on the corner of Legion St and Alabama St. This route is mostly a descent going in but its a gradual climb on the way back out.

There is a beautiful sign above the entrance right off the road, you can’t miss it. If you need to rent a bike, Local Motion is located right next to the trailhead or The Trek Store is less than mile away in Downtown Johnson City.

Parking at the trailhead is limited but there is overflow just down the street near State of Franklin or across Legion St at the Memorial Park Community Center. Both locations have an extended trail spur that connects to the trailhead.

Immediately after entering the trail you will travel through a short cut out rock canyon and go under an under pass.

While riding, make sure to be aware of the oncoming bike/pedestrian traffic as well as others behind you who may be trying to travel at an increased pace. When approaching walkers/runners on a bike it is best to pass on the left and announce “On your left”. Keep in mind many people are wearing headphones and may not hear your approach.

Another great feature about the trail is that there are dozens of info stations along the way. These are full of great historical and nature facts about the region.

Around the 1 mile marker, the relaxing decent will become a gradual ascent for the next half mile. This section is also the least shaded section. This isn’t overly challenging for adults, but every one of our boys has had their moment of “despair” in this section, (particularly around ages 5-6). Fortunately, there are lots of benches along the whole trail to take breaks. These benches will come in handy for the ride back as well.

The climb is short and at about the 1.6 mi marker you are coasting back down again. The trees on either side of the trail will return for a nicely shaded cool down. Soon enough you will arrive at the Milligan Depot, but just before that you will see a small shed with the words “General Store”.

We are not sure if this is actually private property or owned by the city as part of the trail. The shed was not there when the trail originally opened. It draws a fair amount of attention but it is not a historical landmark or something that we could find information about.

You will continue on to Milligan Depot which does have historical significance as a passenger stop for the old rail line from the 1890s through the 1930s. This spot overlooks some open farm land and has some of the best views on the trail.

While the depot makes for a good destination to stop and turn around, the quarry is just another .2mi down the trail.

You will see The Quarry upon approach. The trail widens to a large opening with a picnic pavilion and circular seating area. There is even a port-o-potty which, by our experience, does appear to be maintained very well. This is a great end destination to rest, have a snack or a packed lunch, and get your legs ready for the ride back.

Remember that gradual decline on the way in? Well it is going to be a climb back out. Again, this shouldn’t be too challenging for adults. Especially with a geared bike. All of our kids have had some struggles on the return trip. We just take it slow at their pace. We take lots of stops at the benches and encourage them to push through as they can. After a few rides on the trail our oldest two know what to expect and don’t have those struggles any more, even if they do still want to rest a few times. Our youngest is still learning his capabilities but he will get there…eventually. 

This direction to the quarry is definitely the longer ride of the two options. However, it has more bridges and things to see along the way than the Elizabethton option.

From Elizabethton ~ 2.8 mi

If the 5.6mi from Johnson City seems daunting, you can also start in Elizabethton near Lions Field. There is a parking lot with an access trail to the Tweetsie.

Unlike the the route for JC, this path starts with the ascent and the return is the descent. Keep in mind the mile markers will be going backwards. The first one you will see is the 4.6 marker. The 3.0 is just before the quarry.

After passing Lion’s field the trail is mostly shaded. There is an underpass and it runs along a creek for about half of a mile.

If you start getting whiffs of BBQ, it’s not your imagination. Smokehouse BBQ Company is right off the trail with steps leading down to it. They have a nice outdoor seating area with a small stage. There is an info sign marking the historical significance of Marry Potter’s Powder Mill.

About .5 mile after Mary Potter’s Powder Mill you will arrive at the Quarry. If you are coming from this direction and would like to check out Milligan Depot, it is just another .2 up the trail.

The return trip is all downhill. So, while this side may be missing out on some of the bridges and interesting structures like the General Store, it is much shorter and offers an easier return trip.

Whichever direction you choose, the Tweetsie Trail is great place for an afternoon family ride. We are so grateful to have this beautiful bike trail in our town.

To Johnson City Trailhead

To Elizabethton Trail Access