Some are individualists who want to travel light, and alone, and prefer to camp under the stars. Others may want to enjoy the comfort and charm of a bed and breakfast at night (and then, of course, the delicious home-cooked breakfast the following morning.) Some come with tour groups, and some with family or friends. Some are novices and some are serious competitors. Some do it for a few hours at a time, or a convenient “out and back,” while others take the whole route in one trip, all 444 miles from Natchez to Nashville for the “experience of a lifetime.”
But however they decide to bicycle the Natchez Trace Parkway, on one thing all riders agree: the Parkway offers an easy-going, easy-to-love experience. The National Park Service has designated the entire 444 miles as a bicycle route, and with light automotive traffic— commercial traffic prohibited—slow speeds (only 50 miles per hour) and no stop signs or intersections, bikers can relax and enjoy an exceptionally scenic roadway, unspoiled by commercial signage or development, and offering up gorgeous vistas at every turn, from forests to farmlands to rivers and lakes. And, as for all travelers, on two wheels or four, the Parkway provides innumerable side trails and opportunities for fun in the great outdoors or through artistic and cultural adventure, whether digging into history at significant sites or digging into delicious dining and shopping at historic and charming communities that stretch the length of the Parkway.
Those who have biked the Parkway suggest that planning is the key to a great experience.
Start with a call or a click.
Terry Wildy, the Parkway’s Chief of Interpretation and Partnerships, suggests that before beginning their trip all cyclists get the Parkway’s biking packet that can be obtained free of charge with a call to the Parkway (1-800-305-7417, the Parkway’s number available 7 days a week). “We want everybody to be safe and know the rules,” says Wildy, who notes the packet contains not only safety regulations, but also convenient information such as a map as well as lists of bicycle suppliers and outfitters, convenient places to purchase food, the location of bike-only campgrounds, and more. Cyclists may also email for the packet or download the information from the Parkway’s website at http://www.nps.gov/natr/planyourvisit/bicyclinghome.htm
Choosing the time of year for the trip is important. Because there’s an approximately 12 degree temperature difference between the most southern end of the route in Natchez and the most northern end in Nashville, most riders who want to cycle the entire Parkway in one trip do so in spring between late March and early May, or fall between late September and early November. Cyclists who want to ride during the cold winter months or hot summer months often choose to ride either the northern or southern segment of the Parkway only; an “out and back” trip allows them the convenience of a return to their starting point where their own vehicles (or friends’ vehicles or rental cars or airport shuttles) make for easy pick-up. Of course, some choose to make their trip with an obliging friend or family member who follows the route in a vehicle—not much of a sacrifice since the drivers also enjoy the beautiful views and adventure!
While most of the Natchez Trace Parkway maintains its rural character and light motorized traffic, cyclists are encouraged to plan ahead and avoid areas around Tupelo, MS and Ridgeland, MS during peak commuting times and to always wear high-visibility clothing.
Riding, staying comfortable:
While there are ten campgrounds along the Parkway, five strategically located campgrounds are bike only, equipped with tent sites, picnic tables and fire grates, with water available year-round inside Parkway restrooms and outside also during the other three seasons.* With all these campgrounds and nearby communities, cyclists can plan to ride between 30 to 60 miles daily and enjoy a welcoming rest at the end of the day.
For those cyclists who would prefer not to rough it, a little extra planning can put them in soft beds, enjoying home-grown hospitality each evening. B&Bs catering to Parkway travel as well as excellent motel/hotel accommodations can be found all along the route. In creating their itineraries, many cyclists make reservations themselves, but reservation services such as NatchezTraceTravel.com are ready to provide tips from terrain to terrific dining spots at no cost when B&Bs are booked through their website.
And, just as there are ample hospitality options to stay rested and refreshed, there are also plenty of bike outfitters and shops along the way to keep wheels running smoothly. A list of outfitters comes with the Parkway biking packet.
Going your way:
While solo riders enjoy their serene solitude, they also find the Parkway is well stocked with friendly travelers and residents alike, so making new acquaintances is a serendipitous highlight for most riders, whether they’re biking alone, in couples or groups. While Wildy notes that group riders require a permit, there are also commercial bike tours available, and every year, there are opportunities for exciting group rides like Ridgeland’s annual Natchez Trace Century Ride in May. This is a popular event for families and riders of all ages. The annual Tour de Wayne, in Collinwood, TN, runs through the Natchez Trace Parkway in June, taking in sights on the Buffalo and Tennessee Rivers in 100-, 50- and 25-mile rides, plus fun family rides.
Families or couples, groups or solo, for those ready go the distance or enjoy a short, leisurely ride, at any time of the year (or time of life) when it comes to cycling, the Natchez Trace Parkway is everybody’s ticket to ride.
So why is the Natchez Trace Parkway an exceptional bike route?
- National Park Service designates the entire parkway as a bike route. Numerous signs instruct cars to share the road with bicycles.
- Commercial traffic is prohibited.
- Maximum speed limit for cars is 50 mph.
- Motorized traffic is generally very light, however cyclists should plan ahead to avoid peak commuting times.
- No stop signs or stop lights. Access on and off the Trace is via on/off ramps which means no need to worry about cross traffic.
- The scenery is beautiful! Cyclists get to see forests, farmland, creeks and pretty vistas.
- All along the Trace through Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, historical and nature attractions offer interesting breaks and rest stops.
- Restroom facilities on the Trace are available about every twenty miles.
- Numerous side trails take you past antebellum and victorian homes, sunken roads, civil war battlefields and Southern towns.
- There are many “cycling friendly” bed and breakfasts located along and near the Trace.
FOR VISITOR INFORMATION: 866-TRACE 56