I am ashamed to admit that until recently, I had yet to visit and ride the Tanglefoot Trail®, the 44-mile Rails-to-Trails in North Mississippi.
The Tanglefoot Trail has a detailed history including being named for the #3 Engine on the railroad corridor built by Col. William C. Falkner, great-grandfather of Nobel Prize winning author William Faulkner.
What a stunning trail system it is! I am impressed with the Magnolia State’s newest converted train-track-turned-bike-path. Running south from New Albany through Pontotoc and ending in Houston, the trail has a lot of charm.
Don’t Speed-Date the Tanglefoot!
Many in the Jackson Metro area and around the state attempt to tackle the Tanglefoot in one day, leaving in the wee hours of dawn to make the drive to Houston, ride out and back as far as they want, and then head back home tired from a very hectic trip.
Personally, I do not recommend the “speed dating” method of experiencing the Tanglefoot trail. I do recommend picking a spot to spend the night along the trail and letting the charm of the local communities wash over you. Stop and smell the black-eyed Susans and spend some time cycle-touring small-town Mississippi.
My trip with friends, Dale and Sarah Lea Anglin, started in New Albany. It is the largest city on the trail system, making it an easy place to find lodging. It is especially nice to know that the Hampton Inn in New Albany is doing all it can to be known as the most bike-friendly hotel in the city. The Hampton has made available a bike washing area and will provide spare towels to clean your bike after a ride. They can also arrange concierge service to the trailhead if cyclists would rather not drive a car or ride their bikes to the start.
If you would prefer to stay toward the Houston end of the trail, consider staying at Bridges-Hall Manor. It is my opinion that the breakfast served at Bridges-Hall is the best breakfast in the state!
The trail starts (or ends) at the New Albany public library in the heart of downtown. Cute shops and great dining spots are an easy pedal from the trailhead.
Leaving New Albany on the trail, the cyclist has to cross over a very busy intersection at U.S. Highway 78. I was very impressed to see how courteous the drivers were, slowing and stopping for the bike riders far in advance of the actual bike crossing. However, don’t get lulled into a false sense of security. Make sure you stop and check traffic before riding out into it.
Peaceful Car-free Cycling
Heading south on the trail, a rider can smell the kudzu and fresh air. The charm of small-town Mississippi transports you back into a time when the world was not in such a hurry. Many local bike riders can be found riding the Tanglefoot. They have gladly taken advantage of having the trail in their backyard. Young and young at heart pedal the trail at all hours of the day.
Mississippi Hometown Charm
My favorite part of riding the Tanglefoot Trail was starting conversations with local riders. It was particularly fun to hear the stories of improved health and the economic benefits due to the building of the trail. It did not take long before I was wishing I lived along the Tanglefoot.
If you find yourself along the trail, make sure you ask the locals where to eat dinner. We found the answers quite interesting and a good reason to come back again to make sure we get to eat at some of the restaurants mentioned. More than once we were told that it was a shame that we were not around on a Thursday-Saturday for the feast served at the Seafood Junction in Algoma.
The Tanglefoot is still in its toddler stage, with a lot of growth planned, including whistle-stops (restrooms) and community facilities in the three major towns. Whistle-stops with water and restrooms directly on the trail are located in Ingomar, Ecru, Algoma, and New Houlka.
My favorite stop on the trail itself is the Algoma Country Store in Algoma. Grab a plate lunch or just a cold V8 or Gatorade, and sit outside behind the store in the covered pavilion decked out with overhead fans. If you have room in your bike bags, bring a paper back book to exchange in the Little Free Library.
Wildlife and Scenery
The beauty of the Tanglefoot Trail cannot be matched. Riding the trail in the late afternoon and in the early morning gave me a good feel for its tranquility. The trail is lined by hardwoods like oaks, beeches, sycamores and mulberries which keep the bike riders and walkers a little cooler in the summer with ample shade. Wildflowers abound, as well as do varied wildlife. Turkeys, deer and beavers live along the trail.
Birdwatchers will love it. I saw or heard easily 50 species along the 44-mile route. Dickcissels, indigo buntings, eastern towhees, scarlet tanagers and Mississippi kites were among the many birds we identified as we pedaled.
So, take my advice. Head over to the Tangelfoot Trail to experience virtually-car-free cycling, but plan on staying at least one night.