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Natchez Trace April 2023 Trip Summary

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Natchez Trace April 2023 Trip Summary

Old 04-26-23, 04:22 AM
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Natchez Trace April 2023 Trip Summary

This is a quick description of my recent bike tour on Natchez Trace, with notes that may be pertinent to anyone that may be interested in riding it. This was my first tour since the start of Covid, I had almost forgotten how to plan a bike tour, but got it done. I have not posted trip summaries on the internet before from my trips, decided to write up this one and post it.


Trip Summary.

Natchez Trace is a 444 mile road that is operated by the National Park Service (NPS) in Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee.

A friend/former co-worker that I have done several other bike tours with and I rode it in early April 2023. We planned to do the entire route (or it is referred to as the Trace) of 444 miles, we had been discussing this for a few years but did not get down to detailed planning until February. At that time we could have rented a mini-van from Enterprise to drive one-way from Nashville, TN to Natchez, MS with our bikes and gear. But unfortunately, we did not make the reservation with Enterprise at that time. When we went to make the reservation later, Enterprise were not renting any vehicles to leave Nashville for a one way trip, which ended our plan to start at Natchez. We ended up renting a mini-van from a different company to start the tour in Jackson, MS instead. That cut about one hundred miles and a few days from our plan. The only good thing about the fiasco with Enterprise is that the alternative that we used was MUCH cheaper, Enterprise had a substantial drop charge for a one way rental that we did not have to pay.

My touring partner and I took his car from our homes in Madison WI to Nashville and left his car with family of his to store during our trip. Once we started rolling out of Jackson, it was a total of 13 days, we took two rain days off that were in that total of 13. We rode in rain during a few other days too. Stayed in motels for two nights, one was at the start in Jackson, MS. The other was mid-tour in Tupelo, MS. We also stayed indoors for one night at a fire station that was offered to us in Collinwood when we asked what was available at the Welcome Center. For camping, at non-NPS sites we stayed at one RV park, a camping area adjacent to a restaurant and bar that was closed at the time, and a state park (Tishomingo) in Mississippi. All other nights we stayed at NPS campgrounds, one was a standard campground that had car/tent campers and RVs, the other campgrounds were bicycle only campsites.

My touring partner had a bad crash a few years ago, which resulted in needing a few surgeries. He is still recovering, but slowly. So, we planned for very short daily mileages. We are both retired, so our end date was flexible and we could decide daily whether to travel or not if there was forecast rain or high winds. Most people could do this route in several fewer days if they wanted to, we chose a relaxed pace.

Regarding other bicyclists on the route, we saw hundreds of roadies on our last day as we rode into Nashville. That was a beautiful day and on a weekend, so everybody was out. Other days, saw a few roadies here and there. We saw very few that were bike touring. There was a ACA van supported group. We saw one couple riding south with touring gear while we were going the opposite direction, one couple on a tandem that were credit card touring, one pair of older riders like us that were touring, and one solo rider that camped in the same campsite as us. For a tour of almost two weeks, we were surprised how few we saw that were bike touring.

In my discussion below, I tried to balance brevity and completeness. But tried to include all important points for any others that might want to plan a trip there. And of course I had to briefly describe our bikes, as this is bike forums where that is often the first question.


The Bikes.

Mine is on the left, my touring partner's is on the right. Sorry for the pole in the photo.



Mine is a Lynskey Backroad frame with a 2004 LHT fork, bought the frame new and built it up in 2017, this is the second tour I have done on it. Of my three touring bikes, I consider this to be my light touring bike. Drivetrain is 3 X 8 with bar end shifters, half step plus granny triple crankset and a 11/32 eight speed cassette. Shimano dynohub in front, Shimano M756A XT rear hub, Velocity Dyad rims (32H front and 36H rear), TRP Spyre rear brake, Tektro V brake up front. Tubus Tara front rack, Racktime Addit rear rack. Brooks Conquest saddle. If anyone is interested in the gearing, it is at this link:
https://gear-calculator.com/?GR=DERS...N=MPH&DV=teeth

His was a Trek mountain bike frame with a Surly fork. Drive train is 3 X 8, a vintage mountain bike triple with a 20T granny gear crank, cassette is 11/32 eight speed. Tara front rack and a Bontrager rear rack. Flat bars. He found a used tandem rear hub that was a 48 spoke hub in a used bin at a bike charity, converted that to 135mm dropout and used that, it is the strongest rear wheel I have seen on a touring bike. (He weighs more than me.)

Both of use had built up our bikes from parts, thus we pretty much knew what to do if something went wrong. He had to tweak his front derailleur once and had an inner tube that split on a seam, but otherwise both bikes were trouble free. Both of us had 37mm wide 700c tires.


The Route.

Wikipedia describes a brief history much better than I can, so I pasted it here:
The Natchez Trace, also known as the Old Natchez Trace, is a historic forest trail within the United States which extends roughly 440 miles (710 km) from Nashville, Tennessee, to Natchez, Mississippi, linking the Cumberland, Tennessee, and Mississippi rivers.
The trail was created and used by Native Americans for centuries, and was later used by early European and American explorers, traders, and emigrants in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. European Americans founded inns, also known as "stands", along the Trace to serve food and lodging to travelers. As travel shifted to steamboats on the Mississippi and other rivers, most of these stands closed.

From:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natchez_Trace

The route map and elevation profile are below, this was from my GPS data and are screen prints from Mapsource (a discontinued Garmin software package). The map does not include the part of the Trace we missed between Natchez and Jackson.





If you go, you can assume that there will be some road construction along the way, a 400 plus mile road does not last forever. Check the NPS website before going for detours.

If anyone rides this route in the near future, there is a bicycle detour that is much more bicyclist friendly than the automotive detour that the park service recommends. The NPS is unable to endorse the bike detour (govt rules), but they are allowed to make you aware of it and they told us about it when we visited their office in Tupelo. This bike detour passes through rural areas that have much steeper roads than the Trace, so expect some serious hill climbing. It also has somewhere between about 8 to 12 dogs per mile of road. At this time the bike detour is at this link:
https://www.natcheztracetravel.com/n...ase-three.html

You can get an info packet mailed to you from the NPS ahead of time. See bottom of this page to send e-mail.
https://www.nps.gov/natr/planyourvis...yclinghome.htm

The Trace has a 50 MPH speed limit and prohibits commercial traffic. We saw some vehicles that clearly were commercial, including one Amazon delivery van. But there were very few. Never saw a full size semi-truck and trailer, overall most people respect the rules against commercial use. That said, a lot of traffic was faster than 50 MPH. The road surface was quite smooth, two lane, minimal or no shoulder, but traffic was generally light. Bikes can ride anywhere within their lane, but we generally held to the right-most part of the lane. We did see a couple signs that said bikes had to be single file, not side by side. We had 37mm wide tires, but if you tour on narrower tires, the road should be smooth enough for you.

Traffic was mostly quite courteous and gave us some distance when passing. That said, like on all roads, there are a small minority of jerks. One pickup truck owner rolled coal on us, or attempted to. He blew so little smoke that if he was trying to demonstrate his manhood, he showed the exact opposite.

Traffic was heavy for us on one day, not sure if it always is heavy just south of Tupelo or not, but we rode that segment on the afternoon of Easter Sunday so it could be that everyone was driving to or from family dinners at that time. Near Jackson, there is a multi-use path that parallels some of the Trace so that you can avoid any commuting traffic on the Trace near Jackson during rush hour. We rode the multi-use path instead of the Trace.

Most of the trace is through natural forest, with a wide mowed grass field next to the road, but you will pass through some agricultural lands too. Some people find this boring but I do not, I enjoyed it as it was very tranquil. The terrain was rolling, you can expect to do a lot of gear shifting. In the close forested areas, you are partially shielded from the winds.

I was a little surprised that the Trace just ended at the end point. No visitor center, did not see any sign that said it ended, suddenly we were at an exit to a busy road. I was looking forward to a sign that we could stand in front of for a photo, which did not happen.

I found the GPX file for my GPS somewhere on Ride With GPS a few years ago. Not sure which file I used, there were several. But I would suggest finding a GPS track on the internet for your GPS. I split the track up into segments on my GPS, one segment for each day, except that if we would need to get off the trace for groceries, I split those days into a couple segments to include the grocery store. That way I could always see distance to our planned destination as we rode each day.


Weather.

We rode towards the North, which is the recommended option for spring. That way, you are going north with the warming spring weather. And prevailing winds were towards the North or East at that time. Weather averages at Natchez and Nashville are at:
https://weatherspark.com/y/146294/Av...tes-Year-Round
https://weatherspark.com/y/146559/Av...tes-Year-Round

We had rain on four days, chose not to travel on two of the four. The temperatures ranged from low 40s to upper 80s. And yes, the upper 80s were hot. Some cooler days I rode with long bicycling pants instead of shorts, plus wore an ear band under the helmet and rain cover over it. A down vest and stocking cap made some campsites more comfortable in chilly evenings or mornings.


Campsites, Community Infrastructure and Support.

The NPS campsite that we stayed at that that was not bicycle only (Jeff Busby) was about 90 percent full when we got there. It is possible you could arrive at a campsite and find it full. But, that should not be any problem at the bicycle only campsites. None of the NPS campsites have showers, but all have water or are near water. The Bicycle only sites have water at nearby toilet facilities in sinks. Tall water bottles do not work well in some of the sinks, my shorter bottle that I carry under the downtube could be filled in all sinks. All NPS camps were free. There were no NPS fees for anything. But, you could buy some beads and trinkets in the park office in Tupelo if you wish.
https://www.nps.gov/natr/planyourvis...ampgrounds.htm
https://www.nps.gov/thingstodo/campg...ce-parkway.htm

As I noted above, we also camped in three non-NPS campgrounds that I found on the internet.

I suspect that the only bike shops along the route other than the start or finish would be in Jackson or Tupelo. We never saw a bike shop, but did not look for one. I carried a spare tire. My touring partner had an inner tube fail (not a puncture, a seam split). We each carried two tubes. We had spare cables, spokes, tools, brake pads, etc.

Grocery stores and restaurants are not common. I put the grocery stores that I could find on Google Maps into my GPS before the trip. Brands were Kroger and Piggly Wiggly. There also are quite a few Dollar General stores in the communities along the Trace. We started with four days of food just to make sure we did not run out of food between grocery store stops, that included some contingency if we decided to have a zero day on the spur of the moment.

You will not find signs along the trace for any non-NPS facilities. The only signs are for exits, highway numbers, the names of the communities or NPS facilities on the Trace. So, if you are looking for something specific off of the Trace, bring a GPS or a good map, there are mileposts every mile. For the non-NPS campgrounds that we used, only my GPS told us where to turn, there were no signs on the Trace to advertise them. I would suggest planning where to shop ahead of time when you initially plan a trip so you know which days you can find groceries and where.

We did not need to buy stove fuel, but I noted in my GPS that there were a couple sporting goods stores in Tupelo in case we needed to shop for any.

Other than the few times we slept indoors, the only time that electric power was available to us was at the RV park we stayed at one night. I had a dynohub and USB charger that was powered by the dynohub (Cycle2Charge V3) which I used for all of my power needs. I was trying to see if I could ride completely self sustained for electrics from my dynohub, so I never plugged into the mains, I had plenty of power in my power bank at the end of the tour. My touring partner charged his phones and power bank when he could from the mains.


Other Misc.

If you are the type of person that brings a novel on bike tours, I suggest Deep South by Nevada Barr. If you bring it, you should read the first chapter or two before you start the trip.


Photos below:

All photos are reduced to 20 percent of original size to save electrons, no other post-processing was done. The comments on photos are above each photo:

A typical scenery view.



More.



We had been warned you can be fined for riding the closed portion of the Trace. We took the bicycle detour that I mentioned above.



Starting about six years ago, I started to show the ACA triangle on my bike for better visibility on bike tours. I might be imagining things but I think when it is on my left pannier instead of centered on my bike, the cars seem to give me a bit more room. I am not trying to advertise for ACA, just using it because it adds to visibility and the yellow part of the triangle is reflective. For those of you that do not know what this is, if you take a trip with Adventure Cycling, you are issued a triangle and asked to put it on your bike or body every day while riding with them.



A scenic stop with a water fall. Trees not fully leafed out yet, so it would be harder to see in mid summer.



More of the typical scenery on the Trace.



One of our campsites, this was the Highway 50 bicycle-only site. This site has about a 20 minute round trip walk for water, the walk (which for me included a shortcut by bushwhacking about 50 feet through forest next to the camp to get to the Trace) was much shorter in distance than the bike route, but likely still took a few more minutes.



I hope you enjoyed this.

I plan to respond to comments once a day.

After posting this, I checked all internet links that I posted and all function, but I will not be checking them or updating them later.

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Old 04-26-23, 09:34 AM
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Nicely done, thanks
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Old 04-26-23, 01:30 PM
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Thank you for posting and useful information.

I cycled the Trace the other direction in a while ago (October 2002 Natchez Trace, October 30th to November 4th, 2002).

Similar to your trip, I went between Jackson and Nashville, but I went the other direction: flew in to Nashville and cycled from there to Jackson where I rented a car to return to Nashville. I stayed in motels and didn't camp and cycled it in a week.

I had occasion to look for a bike shop as close to mile marker 240, my right pedal snapped off. There was a bike shop in Tupelo, but that was 25 miles back. Instead, I continued with one pedal for another 13 miles to Houston, MS. Here I found a Walmart, bought a spark plug and threaded it to replace the pedal. That got me to outskirts of Jackson where I found a bike shop to buy a new pedal and get to the airport and my rental car.

The Trace was a reasonable ride and like yourself, I found a road without large trucks and sometimes speeding traffic but mostly polite in giving roon and passing. Compared to some other roads I've cycled in MS that is an improvement.

Most all services are off the Trace which is both good and bad. Not as much traffic going to those services but also then one needs to leave the Trace to find them. My ride in 2002 was before I (and many people) had smart phones, so my technique was to look in the yellow pages of phone books (e.g. in motel rooms), before my rides to locate potential businesses coming up that day. This is how I knew of the bike shop in Tupelo.
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Old 04-26-23, 05:45 PM
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Nice!
Thanks for the information.
I have had good luck with one way car rentals between airports. They also seem to be open 24/7.
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Old 04-26-23, 05:45 PM
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Between work (collecting beetle specimens as a biology graduate student) and play (road group rides with various local clubs and teams), I spent quite a bit of time on the northernmost few miles of the Trace when I lived in Nashville, back in 2009-2013. The terminus is definitely a bit anticlimactic and frankly none too beautiful. There is a sign, but it’s actually on the Trace itself, about a mile or so south of the terminus. Roughly midway between the dramatic bridge over Highway 96 and the actual terminus. I used to pull off near that spot frequently in my field work days, as there were sycamore trees nearby, and that’s what my beetles were eating.

As for cycling, I did enjoy riding on the Trace, but the narrow shoulder does mean there’s not a lot of room when someone decides to be a jerk. Still, the light traffic, good pavement and the lack of angry dogs to chase you make it a decent experience overall. Some of the country roads nearby are prettier and more interesting to ride, but they don’t have the historic sites or public restrooms that the Trace does. I never did get further south than maybe 20 or 30 miles from the northern terminus. I understand it gets quite bit straighter and flatter from there. I hope to get back out there at some point.
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Old 04-27-23, 04:42 AM
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Originally Posted by balto charlie
Nicely done, thanks
Thank you.


Originally Posted by mev
...
I cycled the Trace the other direction in a while ago (October 2002 Natchez Trace, October 30th to November 4th, 2002).
..., my right pedal snapped off. ...
..., bought a spark plug and threaded it to replace the pedal. ....
Wow, I had no idea that some spark plugs had the same thread as a pedal. After your clearly unlucky equipment failure, you were lucky that you knew that, and that it was the right instead of left. And that it did not break too, the ceramic portion of a spark plug is not very strong.


Originally Posted by Pratt
Nice!
Thanks for the information.
I have had good luck with one way car rentals between airports. They also seem to be open 24/7.
Thank you. Unfortunately, Enterprise appears to be the only major car rental company with an office in Natchez. Jackson had more competition and a Budget rental to Jackson was much cheaper.


Originally Posted by grolby
Between work (collecting beetle specimens as a biology graduate student) and play (road group rides with various local clubs and teams), I spent quite a bit of time on the northernmost few miles of the Trace when I lived in Nashville, back in 2009-2013. The terminus is definitely a bit anticlimactic and frankly none too beautiful. There is a sign, but it’s actually on the Trace itself, about a mile or so south of the terminus. ...
...I never did get further south than maybe 20 or 30 miles from the northern terminus. I understand it gets quite bit straighter and flatter from there. I hope to get back out there at some point.
I apparently missed the sign near the end, if it still is there.

I think just about all of it is fairly straight, but curved and hilly enough that you rarely can see more than a few miles. Further south, the hills appear to be less steep. I do not think I used my granny gear (smallest chainring on a triple crank) until I was north of Kosciusko and I do not think I used my lowest gear until I was north of Tupelo. Since I did not ride south of Jackson, I have no first hand knowledge, but I understand it to be fairly flat. Of my three touring bikes, the one I had has the highest lowest gear at 20.7 gear inches, thus it is the worst for hill climbing.

I hope your entomology studies led you to a career that you enjoy.

***

I added a few more photos:

Our rental van packed with two bikes and the rest of our gear.




We were there on Easter Sunday, so of course the Easter Bunny arrived.




The campsite at the Mississippi State Park. There was no green on the ground, which visually was a bit disturbing to see the lack of grass, but it was actually a pretty nice site once we got our tents up and got used to the site.




Much of my camping is canoeing, kayaking or backpacking where grocery stores are not available. One thing I like about bike touring is that when there are frequent opportunities to stop at a grocery store, you don't have to suffer dull camp food. For example, we had a few breakfasts of eggs and sausages. My 31 liter Rack Pack was only used for food and when you have more volume than you need, you can properly pack and carry fragile foods. I had a small soft cooler in the Rack Pack, but without ice it did not really accomplish anything and I should have left it at home.








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Old 04-28-23, 10:03 PM
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Enjoyed your summary, very nicely done.
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Old 04-29-23, 03:12 AM
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Originally Posted by robow
Enjoyed your summary, very nicely done.
Thank you.
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Old 12-06-23, 05:38 PM
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Natchez Trace

Thank You for a nice report. I am considering doing the Trace this spring, I plan to do it with a group and will not be camping. I've done the Erie Canal and C&O Gap trails, each re about 350 miles. A concern I have is that all the outfitters do the 440 trip in 6 days and this means there are multiple 60+ mile days and several 80+ mile days. At 70 years old, I am more interested in sight seeing than getting there fast. Does anyone know of a tour group who has a 8 or 9 day ride?
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Old 12-06-23, 07:12 PM
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Originally Posted by Chrismwh
... I am considering doing the Trace this spring, I plan to do it with a group and will not be camping. ..A concern I have is that all the outfitters do the 440 trip in 6 days and this means there are multiple 60+ mile days and several 80+ mile days. At 70 years old, I am more interested in sight seeing than getting there fast. Does anyone know of a tour group who has a 8 or 9 day ride?
I do not, but we did not consider doing a supported trip, so we did not look for one. I turn 70 in a few weeks so you are not too far ahead of me. My touring partner on this trip is early 70s.

If you are a member of a gym or can become a member as part of your health care plan, I recommend that. I did about three gym visits per week last winter getting ready for the trip, usually that included an hour on an exercise bike each time but sometimes instead did an hour on the stairmaster. I am glad I did that. It is a lot easier to do a trip like that if you get ready for it. Exercise bike or stairmaster is dreadfully boring, I put news articles on my phone to read while on the bike or stairmaster.

During March there was not much snow here, my touring partner was only doing training for less than an hour at a time, I was doing 20 to 50 mile outdoor rides of several hours during March. Thus, I trained my body much better for endurance than my touring partner who ran low on steam in less than 20 miles each day. My point is that a month before you go, do some multi-hour training rides to get your body used to endurance riding.

The southern end of the Trace is much flatter than the northern parts. The first several days I did not even use my granny gear. And there was very little wind because most of the trace is well sheltered with good tree cover. The only day we had nasty hills was on the bicycle detour around road construction.

The ACA riders we saw were mostly on road bikes, but since their trip was van supported all they needed to carry was water, rain gear and lunch. So they traveled very light.

Good luck and have a great trip. And be prepared for wet weather. The supported groups that have a paid staff have a schedule to keep, so you would be riding on rainy days.
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Old 12-07-23, 04:08 PM
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Originally Posted by Chrismwh
Does anyone know of a tour group who has a 8 or 9 day ride?
Adventure Cycling Association has two spring trips. 3/29-4/6 and 4/7-4/15. Van supported, which means shared cooking. Camping/indoor accommodations.
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Old 12-08-23, 06:10 PM
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Excellent write-up!

I’ve ridden the length of the Trace three times on self-supported camping trips. I’ve also spent a few weekends at Meriwether Lewis riding loops on the Trace and adjoining country roads. I live in Memphis about 200 miles from the northern terminus so it’s close by and I’m planning to ride it again in 2024. Here are a few observations…

I’d happily ride on the Trace much of the year, but my window for camping on the Trace is a bit narrower. The spring is beautiful, but lots of rain and May is probably the wettest month. There can be lots of mosquitoes and pests in the hot and very humid summer and there are not a lot of showers available at the otherwise great FREE campsites. I usually go late September which is still warm and getting to the end of the dry season and less buggy, too.

While there is very little traffic overall, the area you mentioned around Tupelo is busy during peak commuter hours. The first time I rode the Trace the section through Jackson, MS was still not completed, but I enjoyed the detour through town. Unfortunately, the new section of the Trace through Jackson had a lot of traffic. It was a little disappointing so many people were using it as a commuter route. Still, the vast majority of the ride has very little traffic.

I plan to take a long slow trip down the Trace in 2024. I want to take a day to ride around Nashville and spend a few extra days on the northern section riding the beautiful country roads adjacent to the Trace. I’ll probably do a few day trips off the Trace along the way, too. Definitely looking forward to it.
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Old 12-08-23, 09:04 PM
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Originally Posted by 13velos
Excellent write-up!
...
... Unfortunately, the new section of the Trace through Jackson had a lot of traffic. It was a little disappointing so many people were using it as a commuter route. ...
Thanks.

The north side of Jackson MS, or more accurately where the Trace goes through Ridgeland, there are several miles of multi-use path that you can use to bypass the Trace. That path parallels the Trace. We used that to the eastern end where we had to get on the Trace.

We bought groceries at a grocery store (I think it was a Kroger) and immediately after that rode north a short distance to the the multi use path and rode east on that.

Thanks for your comments on bugs and other seasonal data. I could only comment on our observations during April.
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Old 12-15-23, 11:02 AM
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I am interested in riding the trace and plan on staying in Motel/Hotel accommodations along the way. No camping.

Do you have a list of accommodations along the trail? Thanks
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Old 12-15-23, 02:30 PM
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Originally Posted by WaveyGravey
I am interested in riding the trace and plan on staying in Motel/Hotel accommodations along the way. No camping.

Do you have a list of accommodations along the trail? Thanks
I do not. We planned on camping, so I had made sure I had all the campgrounds that we might want to stay at in my GPS.

For motels, you might want to try an internet mapping site like Mapquest or Google Maps and seach for lodging. And then map out your plan from that. Keep in mind that there are not a lot of restaurants on the Trace, so you might want to plan on a bag lunch every day too.
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