Tackling the Natchez Trace Parkway

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There's no better way to experience the Natchez Trace Parkway than by bike

There’s no better way to experience the Natchez Trace Parkway than by bike

For cyclists, hikers and equestrians the Natchez Trace Parkway is truly heaven, but for motorcyclists, it’s even better. This 444 mile stretch of road provides a spectacularly scenic drive through no less than three separate states. It follows an ancient and tried and tested travel route, having been used by Kaintucks, soldiers and even presidents. If awe-inspiring landscapes, a rich historical past and a selection of great stops along the way is the kind of road trip that floats your boat, then make sure you tackle the Natchez Trace Parkway this year. Here’s a good way to get started for the first couple of hundred miles; after that, your journey is up to you.

Rest at the Magnolia Bluff Hotel & Casino

A good place to stay the night before your journey begins is the Magnolia Bluff Hotel & Casino. This small hotel has a sizeable carpark and is just off the Parkway, so when you get up in the morning you can get going straight away. As well as comfortable, clean rooms at competitive prices, the hotel also features a choice of restaurants and a casino. The Bandsaw Buffet is a great option for those with a hearty appetite, as it features plates and plates of Southern-style comfort food. Once you’ve filled up here, be sure to check out the casino before turning in for the night. There are loads of slot machines for people who are that way inclined and if you’re familiar with the mechanics of poker then get in on the action in the live poker room. It’s really popular with locals in the area, so you’re guaranteed a good game.

Get on the Road to Jackson

Start your day bright and early, check you’ve got your repair kit, fill up with gas and get on your bike. This day will see you ride a comfortable hundred miles, with plenty of opportunities to stop and rest. The road between Natchez and Jackson is home to many beautiful sites and it’s up to you which you choose to stop for, but The Sunken Trace at mile 41.5 is one that you absolutely should not miss. This gully between the trees is one of the most photographed scenes of the whole ride and it’s not hard to see why. Over the course of hundreds upon hundreds of years, the soft soil here has eroded creating a ‘sunken’ pat. Standing in the depths of the path it’s hard not to feel connected to the people that walked this trail all those years ago. Just over ten miles further down the road you’ll find a totally abandoned town called Rocky Springs; there’s a short trail here which is good for a leg stretch and there are restrooms, but little else. It’s worth a stop for the ghostly feeling that hangs over the village though.

Rest and Refuel at Hal and Mal’s in Jackson

Day one is just about over and as you pull into Jackson, there’s no doubt you’ll be fancying some hearty food. Hal and Mal’s is something of a culinary institution in Jackson and has been for the past 35 years, so it’s well worth a stop. Interestingly the restaurant is built inside a 1920s freight train depot, but the interior could not be cozier, with Southern charm oozing from every corner. Live music fans should set themselves down to the Red Room and enjoy the local talent, whilst those who just can’t get enough fresh air should sit out in the breezy courtyard and have a look over the menu. Be sure to try the gumbo, as it really is just about as good as it gets and if you’re still peckish then get a catfish po-boy. The dishes on offer here are certainly no-frills but are freshly made and delicious.

Park up at the Little Mountain Overlook and take in the views

Park up at the Little Mountain Overlook and take in the views

Back on the Road from Jackson to Tupelo

This stretch is considerably longer than the first ride and can be split into two quite easily if you fancy camping halfway. One of the sites that you really must-see is the Cypress Swamp at around mile 122. Park your bike up and enjoy the short (half a mile) walk around the trail through the swamp. If you make it here early, before many visitors, then you’re likely to spot alligators basking in the shallows. Another site that you really mustn’t miss is The Little Mountain Overlook. This is one of Mississippi’s highest points and therefore boasts beautiful views across the countryside. If you’ve decided to tackle this stretch in two stretches then the campsite here is comfortable, well maintained and who could ever tire of waking up to that view?