The Natchez Trace Parkway between Nashville, Tennessee, and Tupelo, Mississippi, seems like a natural route for bicyclists traveling between the country music capital and the birthplace of Elvis.
Of course there are many other reasons to travel the 444-mile route across Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi. Among them is the fact that the parkway is designated a bicycle route by the National Park for its entire route and commercial traffic — trucks — are prohibited.
Even so, many cyclists avoid this route, citing safety concerns.
According to WTVA in Tupelo, a pilot program will begin in the late summer of 2014 that will raise motorists’ awareness to bicyclists.
They plan to use more signage and other methods on two sections of parkway — one rural and one urban. Natchez Trace Parkway Superintendent Mary Risser says most of the bicycle fatalities over the years have been on rural sections of the parkway.
The parkway is designated as a bicycle route for its entire length. Although trucks are banned from the route, the speed limit for cars is 50 mph and there is no shoulder.
As Tupelo bike shop Bicycle Pacelines, owner Brian Piazza notes that the parkway is narrow and cars are bigger now.
The Old Natchez Trace served as a commerce route between the Mississippi River and central Tennessee from prehistoric times into the early 1800s. The trail served as a trade route for Native Americans and was later upgraded as a wagon road for settlers and traders.
Construction on the modern Natchez Trace Parkway began in the 1939, and continued in fits and starts into the 1990s. The last missing link was opened in 2005.
Encourage and warn
The National Park Service encourages bicyclists to use the Parkway, although it warns cyclists away from two sections during morning and evening commute hours: “Clinton to Ridgeland, Mississippi, Milepost 87-103, from 7:00-9:00 a.m.and from 4:00-6:00 p.m.and Tupelo, Mississippi, Mileposts 258-268, from 7:00-8:30 a.m. and 3:00-5:00 p.m. on weekdays.”
There are numerous campgrounds along the parkway, including five bicycle-only campgrounds. Also fresh water and restroom facilities are available every 20 miles along the Parkway.
Back in the 1980s, I biked and camped along the Natchez Trace Parkway for several days. I don’t remember any problems with traffic during the early summer bike tour. Except for another camper at the Meriwether Lewis Campground (the site of an inn where the explorer committed suicide), I don’t remember seeing another cyclist.
Today there’s a website devoted to Bicycling the Natchez Trace Parkway. It lists 10 reasons why the Parkway is an awesome bicycle route and has maps of the parkway, lists of campgrounds, bike shops and food stops along the route.
The National Park Service Bicycling on the Parkway webpage also lists rules of the road for bicyclists, camping information, and more.
There also are several guidebooks for bicycle travel on the parkway.