It’s a long road to Nashville for many. It takes years of practice. But, today is your day. You’re going to Nashville. It all starts in humble Charlton Park (N42 37.105 W85 11.939) a few miles east of Hastings, Michigan. In fact, you’ll pedal all the way to Nashville and return to Charlton within a few hours. I can’t promise a Grand Ole Opry, but I can promise a very nice ride. Be aware that this is a mixed media ride: both dirt and paved roads. Barry County is a real hybrid of roads and best explored with a bike that can handle both surfaces (cyclocross, hybrid, mtb, road bike with 28mm wide tires, or the like).
Confession 1 – I have a couple of confessions to make. First, on the day I rode this route, there was construction on the Charlton Road Bridge over the Thornapple River and the section of roadway between M-79 and the park entrance was closed. It might have been the main route if it weren’t closed.
Confession 2 – Second, and more embarrassingly, I had intended to ride the route straight south from McKeown Bridge on McKeown Road (Shortcut 1, below) and instead got spun around and ended up heading west up Nashville Road. It was a fortunate mistake, because I found that I liked the route enough to keep it in. It does zig-zag all over, though, due to my continuous directional ineptitude. Sometimes I like getting lost because I end up discovering some pleasant place I wouldn’t have learned about otherwise. In this case I did it on a continual basis and I’m glad I did. Barry County is really a wonder. You seldom go wrong even when you go wrong.
Charlton Park was donated to Barry County in 1936 by Irving D. Charlton, a collector of historical bits and relics of the area. A museum was completed on the property in 1950 and more local historical buildings have been added, moved from various parts of the County. Charlton’s collection is now housed within these historic buildings. There are many exhibits and events that take place in the park and they’re well worth checking out either before or after your ride. Find more info at charltonpark.org. Parking and admission is free, unless there’s a scheduled special event.
The park is situated along Thornapple Lake, which is really just a wide part of the Thornapple River, a tributary of the Grand River, with nice views over the water with possible sightings of herons, osprey, and various species of ducks. Keep your eyes peeled. (How do you like that for an image? Peeled eyes.)
I gently warmed up my legs on a small, level dirt road loop in the park that follows the river and circles back to the center of the park, then onto asphalt. Charlton Park is along the river valley, so of course it means a climb to exit and Charlton doesn’t disappoint. Up you go along the park entrance drive to Charlton Park Road (mile 1.5). Now you’re really warmed up.
From there, turn right onto Charlton Park Road and take a more gentle rise to River Road (mile 1.8). Turn left onto the dirt (or, gravel, if you prefer that term) River Road. For the next mile or so the views south are great, looking over the farm fields down into the river valley. At mile 2.8, at the intersection with Mathison Road, asphalt returns.
Continue to the corner of McKeown Road at mile 3.1 and turn left. McKeown Bridge Park and McKeown Bridge itself are just before the river crossing. You can continue on the road, but to ride across the interesting pedestrian bridge take a left just before the river. Both land at Nashville Road on the other side.
Shortcut 1 – If time is limited, or if you don’t feel like riding the full route, this is a good place to take a shortcut. Instead of turning right (west) onto Nashville Road, continue south on McKeown Road. It’s paved for the first 0.3 miles to where it crosses M-79, then becomes dirt for the next 1.4 miles to where it reconnects with the main route at McGlynn road. This will take 9.3 miles off of the total route, revising it to 26.1 miles total.
Turn right onto Nashville Road (mile 3.7) and follow along the river on the north side and a mix of fields and houses on the south. Though the shoulder is narrow, the roadway is pleasantly tucked in and winding up to River Road at mile 4.9. Turn left onto River Road.
River Road is dirt, with another climb, and it’s wrapped in trees. What more could you want? Take it to paved Star School Road at mile 5.7 and turn left. For those who like art that appears out of nowhere, you’ll like the wood sculptural display at mile 5.8 on your right, with some wood carved figures that look like they came from a slightly twisted, humorous version of Easter Island. You don’t have to go to an island in the south Pacific far off the coast of Chile. It’s right here on Star School Road. Enjoy.
Once sated with the display, continue to M-37 at mile 6.5. Turn right onto M-37. This is a busy highway, but it also has a wide shoulder and it’s a quick downhill run for just over a mile before turning left onto the quieter Campground Road at mile 7.7.
Campground Road runs beside Fall Creek, first on the left behind some houses, then crossing the road and becoming more visible on the right. It’s quite a rich and fecund landscape to pass through until coming to Broadway Road at mile 9.1.
Turn left onto Broadway. This is one of the main roads through the area, and is an active roadway through the heart of Hastings a short way to the north. It’s quite a pleasant scene in this section with farmland on each side, but be aware that there’s very little paved shoulder and traffic moves rapidly past you, including trucks. Add to that a gradual uphill climb and it is one of the few sections of this route that feels more exposed to traffic. It’s only a mile long and from here on out, the traffic is less intense.
Turn left onto Sager Road at mile 10.1. This narrower stretch of roadway climbs a short rise for half a mile in a wide expanse of fields on each side, then over the top and rolling downhill in a forested residential area for the next half mile, arriving at M-37 at mile 11.1.
Okay, I lied. There is another short stretch of a busy roadway. M-37 is active, but again, it has a nice, wide shoulder and you’ll only be on this for a very short time. Turn right and rapidly drop down to McGlynn Road at mile 11.4.
Turn left onto McGlynn, but take care as you enter, as this transitions to a dirt road. For the next few miles you’ll wind through this beautiful farmland on dirt roads. Take a right onto McKewon Road at mile 13.1, then a quick left onto Roush Road at mile 13.3. Turn right on Bird Road at mile 14.1, then left onto Ickes Road at mile 15.1. The route returns to pavement at Charlton Park Road at mile 15.6. The dirt road route just traversed is one of the most forested of the ride and it’s dotted with farms throughout. It also rolls continuously, with a gradual overall uphill grade to Ickes Road onto Charlton Park Road. In the past, it’s been possible to cross Charlton Park Road and continue on Ickes, but as of this writing there is a bridge out on Ickes and this part of the road is closed.
Turn right off of Ickes Road onto paved Charlton Park Road and roll to Lawrence Road at mile 16.1. Turn left onto Lawrence Road. Drop sharply into a valley and over High Bank Creek at mile 16.5, then uphill once more to continue on a gently rolling roadway surrounded by majestic farmland. There is not much of a shoulder, but traffic is usually light. Cross Barryville Road at mile 18.0, Assyria Road at mile 19.9, and continue on to Guy Road at mile 21.0.
Turn left onto Guy Road, a return to dirt. The farmland theme continues, only on a quieter note along a quieter road. At mile 23.0, Guy Road swings right onto Casgrove Road and T’s into M-66 a mile up. Take a left onto this paved highway and head into Nashville.
The town was named after Garaudus Nash in 1869. He was the chief engineer of the Grand River Valley Railroad and he must have been quite charismatic, since he never actually lived in Nashville, yet somehow convinced them to name the town after him. It had been nameless since its settlement in 1936. Don’t you kind of wish they would have used his first name? How did we lose such wonderful given names? How many Garaudus’s do you know?
So, you’re in Nashville. You’re a Nashville Cat. Be aware that though you’re going through Nashville on a main highway, there is a wide paved shoulder on the road. Hang out, or head north and cross the Thornapple River. If you need a break, there’s a park (N42 36.521 W85 05.648) on the left just over the bridge (mile 24.9). If not, continue north, up the hill, to Thornapple Lake Road at mile 26.1 and turn left.
Thornapple Road passes through more farmland and eventually it crosses the river once more at about mile 28.8. Turn right at Barger Road a short way further at mile 29.6.
Shortcut 2 – For a more direct return to Charlton Park, continue straight on Thornapple Road for 2.4 miles to M-79. Turn right onto the highway for 0.7 miles to Charlton Park Road. Turn right and take this across the river once more, and up the hill 0.7 miles to the park entrance. It’s about 3.7 miles total going this way and 5.1 miles taking the regular route up Barger Road. You choose. Again, Charlton Park Road over the river was closed for bridge repair when I marked the route, but it should be open by the time this hits the webpage.
Continuing north on Barger Road, ride through the heavily wooded lowland river valley and across the river once more, then over Mud Creek, to Center Road (30.6 miles). Turn left and roll, then gradually climb, up to Charlton Park Road at mile 33.3. Turn left once more and undulate over the roadway until you return to the park entrance (mile 34.6). Drop, or maybe it’s more of a plummet, into the heart of the park until it levels out and you can pedal back to your vehicle, finishing at about mile 35.4.