Before there were guidebooks, before there were travel aps, before there were GPS watches, there were real live people called guides. Experts at the terrain, and at making travelers comfortable. And at discretion.
For our money, when we have enough of it on hand, traveling with a expert guide is still one of the best ways to go. This space is open to anyone who has been on a guided trip, dreamed of going on one, or is a guide.
|TYPE:||Rural by the River|
|LODGING:||Inns, Hotels, B&Bs|
|DISTANCE:||50+ miles a day|
|HIGHLIGHTS:||History history history, and the wide Mississippi.
When most people think of traveling across America they envision going from salt to salt--Atlantic to Pacific or vice versa. But America's newest cross-country cycling route is neither of those. The Mississippi River Trail (MRT) follows the river as closely as is practical from its pristine headwaters at Itasca State Park in Minnesota, to the southernmost point in Lousiana, on the Gulf of Mexico. Whether you travel down from the Big Woods to the Big Easy, or up from Cajun country to the land of the Cheeseheads doesn't make much difference: the Mississippi is the big muddy heart of the heartland, and any trip along it is bound to be memorable.
No one knows the Mississippi River Trail better than Bob Robinson. After all he wrote the book on it: pretty much every turn, every twist, and every place to stay or eat along the 3000 mile route is in his Bicycling Guide to the Mississippi River Trail. When we caught up with him recently and asked if he knew a good shorter loop somewhere down south that one might do in the early spring, he didn't hesitate. You want to go to the delta, land of black soil and deep blues, of the epic battle of Vicksburg, of big cyprus trees, Spanish Moss, and fried green tomatos... --ww editors
"If you are looking for an entertaining bike tour to ride during Spring Break, I have a route for you...
The route begins in Greenville, Mississippi and runs south to Vicksburg. In Vicksburg you will cross the Mississippi River, taking advantage of a special procedure I'll share with you later if you promise not to tell anyone else, and then ride through northeastern Louisiana and southeastern Arkansas to return to Greenville via the longest cable-stayed bridge span on the river. There is no need to be concerned about hills either; after all, this is the Mississippi Delta region.
As I mentioned earlier, this route is a loop. This article will begin on the east side of the Mississippi River and return on its west banks. The direction you follow is your decision.
There is a wide selection of accommodations in the city of Greenville, including the Greenville Inn & Suites and the Azalea House B&B. I personally have always camped while touring in this area. With the cool nights in March, you might prefer lighting your panniers and stay in established lodging. Lodging is readily available along this entire route without having to over extend yourself with a long day in the saddle. If you are seeking an interesting overnight stay, you might check out one of the cabins at Roy's Store. Even if you are not ready to stop for the day you'll want to allow time in your schedule to lunch at the restaurant located in the store or just to visit this unique fishing village.
After leaving Roy's the highway takes cyclists along the banks of Lake Washington. Keep an eye out for waterfowl on the lake. These wetland areas are popular wintering habitats. You will also pass the remains of the St. John Protestant Episcopal Church, founded in 1854. Stop to read the interesting historical marker. During the "War of Northern Aggression" soldiers melted the lead frames of the windows to make bullets. Further along the route follows a road that runs about twelve miles along the top of a levee. On one of my rides through this section I saw water marks on the tree trunks over fifteen feet above the ground. It is along this levee road that you pass another fishing village. Chotard Landing offers camping, lodging, groceries, a recreation area, and family tavern. You approach Vicksburg on US 61 highway. After WWI this road was known as the "Great Migration" path for the mass exodus of over five million black sharecroppers, who relocated to the industrialized Northern states.Vicksburg is a paradise for anyone interested in history, especially Civil War history. Memorials line the streets documenting the vital role the area played. The city was a strategic location, hosting many momentum-shifting conflicts. The city is on my list of Recommended Stops. Plan to spend a night or two in one of the many B&Bs residing in the beautiful antebellum homes. Begin your visit at the Mississippi Welcome Center, located on Washington Street, where the friendly staff will help you plan your activities. Perched high on the banks of the Mississippi River, the center also offers cyclists a breath taking view of the river. You can even see the start of your return route on the opposite river bank.
Now for the special procedure to cross the river, just for those reading this article. Directly below the welcome center is the Vicksburg Bridge Commission. If you phone them, 601-636-0881, and tell them when you plan to arrive, they will shuttle you and your bicycle across the river on the old bridge. There are plans to eventually open the bridge to bicycles and pedestrians, which will be great. But in the mean time call the friendly people at the commission to arrange your shuttle. If you are arriving from the Louisiana side of the bridge, you can stop at the Delta City Town Hall, located next to the bridge on the west bank, to use their phone to notify the bridge commission of your arrival.
Once you have been shuttled across the river you will be riding on US 80, an historic stretch of highway. On the south side of the road you pass a memorial to Grant's Canal. During the Civil War there were four attempts to dig canals in an effort to bypass the Confederate guns positioned on the bluffs of Vicksburg. Most of these canals have been destroyed by farming operations, but a small segment of one of these canals remains, preserving the original width and depth of the man-made channel. Further along US 80 cyclists pass a structure that lays claim to being the first indoor shopping mall in the United States. When I last rode through here the building still remained, but the mall was no longer open.
After the turn in Tallulah, cyclists will follow US 65 for almost the remainder of the ride, so no more signs to watch for. But there are more serious issues to concern one with. For soon you will be passing through the town of Transylvania. Plenty scary, huh? Be sure to stop at the convenience store to pick up your souvenir T-shirt that says, "Welcome to Transylvania. We're always looking for new blood."
As you ride through the Lake Providence area, the MRT borders the lake, giving cyclists scenic views of cypress trees on both lakeshores. There are also several points of interest along this stretch to visit, including the Byerley House – that serves as a visitor center -, the Louisiana State Cotton Museum, Grant's Canal Park, and a 600-foot lake pier, making the area another of my Recommended Stops.
The ride along US 65 through southeastern Arkansas is an enjoyable one, with wide shoulders and far reaching views of the rich farmland. The slow pace on a bicycle allows for ample time for cyclists to observe the complex irrigation ditches required to grow rice. Arkansas is the number-one rice producer in the United States. It is interesting to note that farmers initially had difficulty accepting the concept of flooding their fields to grow the grain. But judging by the numerous irrigation channels crisscrossing the rice fields, it appears the farmers have adjusted to the process.
Before crossing the Mississippi River to return to Greenville, at the beginning of the bridge follow the signs directing you to Chicot Lake. This short side trip will take you to the largest oxbow lake in North America. These crescent-shaped lakes were once a part of the river. However, over time, as the fickle river altered its course these isolated bodies of water were left behind.
After your visit to Chicot Lake the tour's grand finale awaits you. It is time to ride across the newly constructed US 82 Greenville Bridge, with its wide shoulders it is a true Godsend for cyclist. I had to ride across the old US 82 bridge, an experience I prefer to not repeat. Anyway, life is good with the new bridge. Conveniently located on the Mississippi banks of the river is the Harlow Casino. Be sure to stop off and do a little gambling to pay for your trip before continuing on to Greenville and the end of your tour.
About the Author
Bob Robinson, seen here with a friend he met in Minnesota, has been an avid cyclist for over 25 years. During this period he has raced both road and mountain bikes, organized races for both road and mountain bikes, built mountain bike trails, served as cycling club president, organized bicycle tours, and worked as a committee member for the National Trails Symposium. Bob strongly believes in actively supporting sports that he participates in.
Bob and his wife, Dawna, are avid backpackers. They recently fulfilled a goal of backpacking the Chilkoot Pass Trail, outside of Skagway, Alaska. They also have visited all of the 50 states in our beautiful country. The couple live in Fort Smith, Arkansas, within a short drive to the Ozark Mountains and the Ouachita Mountains. They are both active members of the Ozark Highlands Trail Association and the Friends of the Ouachita Trail organization. Bob looks forward to meeting cyclists, and sharing stories with them around the campfire, during his future rides along the Mississippi River Trail, as he researches updates to the guidebook.