Two Days on the Natchez Trace

When we lived in Brentwood -- a suburb just outside of Nashville, Tennessee -- 'RandoGirl' and I took this two-day tour a couple of times. Most of it is on the Natchez Trace, a federal road closed to commercial traffic and carefully maintained by the National Park Service, making it a truly superb bicycle route. It makes for an easy self-supported tour; you can follow the route either to one of two bed and breakfasts, or to a full-amenities campground. By following the "off-Trace" part of the route, you'll go by a great country store for lunch, and a fine little winery for an afternoon break.

Day 1

Picking a place to start is one of the trickiest parts of the ride, since there is no overnight parking directly along the Natchez Trace. One possibility is the Loveless Cafe at the Northern Terminus, but you should get permission to park from them first. Once on the Trace, you have a long climb to warm your legs up before crossing the Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge -- the first segmentally constructed concrete arch bridge in the United States. You'll stay on the Trace for 25 rolling miles, finally leaving it at Highway 7. Turn left at the bottom of the ramp and go 1.5 miles to the Fly General Store, a classic example of a real Southern country store. Mr. Fly makes a great one-dollar sandwich, and he has plenty of drinks, ice, and MoonPies on hand. During winter months, the potbellied stove is fired up in the back, and a number of locals are usually found sitting around it, talking about this and that. 

One option is to retrace your tracks back to the Trace from here, but that entails a long climb on Highway 7. I recommend instead that you continue for the rest of the day off the Trace, where you'll see more of rural Tennessee. (The parts of the Trace that you miss by going this way you can see tomorrow on the ride back up.) 

From the Fly General Store, ride on Highway 7 west back towards the Trace for half a mile, then take the first left onto Leiper's Creek Road. After 3.5 miles, you will be in Water Valley. Turn right at the stop sign to stay on Leiper's Creek Road; go half a mile to the top of the hill, then bear left to continue riding on Leiper's Creek Road. After another 3.5 miles this road ends; turn right on Snow Creek Road (TN-247) and go west 1.4 miles to Williamsport Pike and turn right. (If you need another store, you can turn left on Williamsport Pike and ride about a mile to the Williamsport Store.) After turning onto Williamsport Pike, take an almost immediate left onto Greenfield Bend Road, following it for 4.5 miles. You won't see many signs, but it's hard to get off the route if you stick to paved roads. Just before the Duck River, the road name changes to Kettle Mills Road.

Kettle Mills Road goes on for another two miles, with a long climb near the end. At the top of that hill, there are roads going right, left, and center; you'll take the one in the middle -- Love Branch Road. (None of these roads are signed, so choose carefully.) After descending gently on Love Branch Road for 2.4 miles, bear right on Stephenson Schoolhouse Road. This road climbs through a forest, runs along a field, and crosses a one-lane bridge to end at Cathey's Creek Road, where you turn right. In one mile, turn right to cross the bridge and stay on Cathey's Creek Road. Go 1.5 miles on Cathey's Creek Road to another optional stop, the Keg Springs Winery. This is a great place to take a break, taste some wine, eat some cheese, and maybe listen to some local homegrown music. To get there, just turn right on Keg Springs Road and ride one fairly flat mile (the climb up their driveway is the tough part, but you can walk it).

After this break, retrace Keg Springs Road back to Cathey's Creek Road and continue west. This is one of the highlights of the trip, as the road quietly rolls alongside the creek on smooth pavement in lush shade for almost five miles. The last half-mile is a climb, but fairly gradual by Tennessee standards and still nicely shaded. Cathey's Creek Road ends at Ridgetop Road.

If you're staying at Ridgetop Bed and Breakfast, turn left on Ridgetop Road and go 1.5 miles. The bed and breakfast is on the right, down a long gravel driveway. There's a sign, so you shouldn't miss it. The bed and breakfast has two small guest houses, and one room in the main house. We've always been partial to the log cabin, which has a fireplace. Note that Ridgetop does not offer dinner, but it does serve an incredible breakfast in the morning. The owners have been known to loan an old pickup truck to those staying there, in case you want to drive to dinner (they can offer recommendations). However, we usually plan ahead and bring sandwiches to enjoy with a bottle of wine procured at Keg Springs.

If you're staying at Fall Hollow Village, turn right on Ridgetop Road and go 2.2 miles to Columbia Highway (US 412/TN 99). Use particular care along the last half mile, because the road descends steeply near the end. Columbia Highway is busier than the roads you've enjoyed so far, but it has a good shoulder. Turn right at the end of Ridgetop Road and go another 2.2 miles. On your right is Fall Hollow Village; on your left is the entrance back onto the Natchez Trace. Fall Hollow Village has two hotel-style rooms, but plenty of camping. They also have a restaurant.

Day Two

The return trip back to the Northern Terminus is pretty simple: Get on the Trace at the point mentioned above and ride! 

Get more information about bike overnights.Tips for this adventure: Bring a snack and take a break on the bridge over the Duck River on Kettle Mills Road. It's a great chance to watch the world go by, and it will allow you to rest your legs for the climbing you'll have over the next mile. Full details on this ride may be found on my blog, The Adventures of RandoBoy. You can do it as an out-and-back, or change your return to use more of the Trace (as described above). Either way, it's less than 60 miles each way, but with plenty of hills. The roads are good, with some dogs to watch out for when not on the Trace (this is rural Tennessee, after all), but decent pavement overall. Note that both bed-and-breakfasts are very small, so book early if you prefer not to bring camping gear along!

Favorite local bike shop: Gran Fondo Cycles in Nashville.

2 responses so far ↓

Kevin Bradbury - Aug 7, 2012 at 4:18 PM

Thanks so much for this article! My wife and I were just talking about doing some bike overnights as part of a road trip from Ohio to Texas, and this pops up on the Adventure Cycling Facebook page!

Randy Fought - Aug 8, 2012 at 7:08 AM

Love your article about this ride. Great description of the back roads off the Trace from Fly down to Hampshire area. An update about Ridgetop B&B - they now offer dinner (by advance reservation) for their guests. But, you can still borrow a car to drive to town for dinner! Also there is a really neat B&B on Leiper's Creek Road just south of Fly's General Store - Creekview Farm Retreat B&B - see http://www.natcheztracetravel.com/fly-santafe-bedandbreakfasts/creekviewfarm.html

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