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Discover Mississippi: Cycle through...

Discover Mississippi: Cycle through history – Biking the Natchez Trace from Natchez to Nashville

By: Courtney Ingle - April 2, 2024

  • While the “The Trace” is often chosen as a scenic route for drivers, there’s another way to fully experience its beauty and history: by embarking on a bicycle tour.

Burrowed into the perfect landscape of the South stretches the Natchez Trace Parkway, a historic route that expands over 440 miles from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee. While the “The Trace,” as it is often called, is often chosen as a scenic route for drivers, there’s another way to fully experience its beauty and history: by embarking on a bicycle tour.

Cycling through history

The Natchez Trace Parkway is more than just a scenic route through the state; it’s a journey through time. Originally a trail used by native Americans, explorers, and traders, the Parkway now serves as a peaceful corridor connecting travelers with nature and history. As you pedal along its winding paths, you’ll find spots along the way that will take you back to the days of the natives and early settlers, immersing yourself in the rich tapestry of Mississippi heritage.

To look back at the rich Native American history, stop at one of the native mounds along the Natchez Trace. Mounds were sacred, spiritual places for native American tribes, and there are six located on the Natchez Trace. One such site is Bynum Mounds, the oldest mound site along Natchez Trace Parkway, located at Mile Marker 232.4. Created by American Indians in what was known as the Middle Woodland Period, these mounds range between five and fourteen feet tall.  

There are also historical settler sites along the Trace. Some of these contain stands, which were inns that  housed travelers along the Natchez Trace from the 1790s to the 1840s. The stands were much like you’d expect of any small town inn– a place to rest your head, fill your belly, talk local news, and gather. These became places where people from all ethnicities in the area, whether native, white American or African American, could gather and interact. Mount Locust Inn and Plantation still stands today at mile marker 15.5 in Jefferson County, Mississippi, and is the oldest stand on the Trace. 

The route

The Natchez Trace Parkway runs from Natchez, Mississippi  to Nashville,Tennessee,  over 444 miles. If you start your cycling adventure in Natchez, you’ll be instantly transported back into history as you’re surrounded by historic homes. From there, the Parkway unwinds before you, promising an unforgettable voyage through some of the South’s most stunning scenery.

As you pedal north, you’ll bike over rolling hills, through lush forests, and alongside winding rivers. Every curve in the trail brings new sights, from jaw-dropping landscapes to old homes, wildlife and everything in between. Plus, exits along the Trace will take you to local places to get a bite or stay the night. 

The experience

Cycling the Natchez Trace Parkway is about more than knocking a goal off of your bucket list. Its leisurely pace and minimal traffic allows cyclists to fully immerse themselves in nature’s sights, sounds, and scents. You’ll feel the warm breeze on your face as you glide through sun-kissed forests, hear the whisper of rustling leaves overhead, and maybe even catch a glimpse of deer, turkey, or other wildlife darting across the path. 

For those seeking a more challenging ride, the Parkway offers plenty of opportunities to test your mettle. With its undulating terrain and occasional steep climbs, cyclists can push themselves to new heights while enjoying the unparalleled beauty of their surroundings.

There are also ways to make a vacation out of cycling The Natchez Trace. Many cycling clubs offer Natchez to Nashville tours throughout the year, with packages that are either minimalistic and nature-forward, or more casually paced to emphasize the touring while stopping for luxuries along the way. 

Advanced cyclists can also participate in timed competitions such as The Natchez Trace 444, which is a 44-hour timed race from Nashville to Natchez via the Trace. This is a more rigorous ride because of the timed stipulation, but with the scenery, flat pavements, no stop signs and no red lights on the Trace, it makes it a dream for athletic cyclists. 

There are ways to tour the Trace in a group at a more leisurely pace. Vermont Bicycle Tours offers a guided trip along the Trace that is considered to be an easier level for such a long ride. Cycle of Life Adventures is another cycling vacation group that tours the Trace, and even allows for you to rent a bike if you can’t bring your own. 

Cycling is life for local riders 

Local riders are the ones who really benefit the most from The Trace. Dr. Robert Hester, retired professor of physiology and biophysics at University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson said that the Trace is a most treasured place to ride for local cyclists. 

“It really is beautiful,” said Dr. Hester. “And there is a lot of respect for cyclists on the Trace because there are so many groups that come through.”

Dr. Hester has competed in the Natchez Trace 444 on a team twice, and completed the ride in 24 hours. 

“I’ve also ridden the Trace up, gotten off on some country roads and gone through Starkville,” said Dr. Hester. “Riding a bike brings you back to your childhood, when it was just you, your bike and adventure. The Trace is perfect for that.” 

Dr. Hester has also ridden the Trace with several local groups. Jackson Metro Cyclists and Soul City Cycling are just two of the groups that take advantage of their proximity to the Trace. 

“Jackson Metro Cyclists, I’ve gone out for a ride with them,” said Dr. Hester. “And they’re a great group. And Soul City Cycling is another fantastic group, and they’ve done a really good job of teaching cyclists about riding safely.”  

Know before you go

Biking the Natchez Trace isn’t an easy venture. While it is an amazing journey for cyclists, it is also remote in many places, so being prepped with water, snacks, and basic bike repair tools is a must. Additionally, check the weather forecast– you might need sleeves in the morning, shorts by lunch, and a jacket before sundown. 

Camping isn’t allowed on the Natchez Trace, but there are sites to camp closeby. Have these annotated in your itinerary ahead of time to avoid any issues with local authorities. 

The best thing you can do to prepare for a ride on the Trace is to make yourself seen.

“My biggest pet peeve on the Trace isn’t related to the drivers,” said Dr. Hester. “It is when cyclists don’t have lights, or wear their bright orange or yellow. That’s incredibly dangerous.” 

The journey

Cycling the Natchez Trace Parkway is a journey that offers cyclists the opportunity to connect with nature, history, and themselves as athletes. Whether you’re a seasoned rider seeking a new challenge or a casual cyclist looking for a memorable adventure, the Trace is for you. So, pop that kickstand up and hit the road. 

About the Author(s)
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Courtney Ingle

Courtney Ingle is a veteran journalist with more than a decade's worth of experience in print, radio, and digital media. Courtney brings her talents to bear at Magnolia Tribune to cover family-centered education and to elevate those unique aspects of Mississippi culture.