Some would argue that you haven’t really seen a place until you’ve gotten your feet wet in the mud or smelled the Kudzu on the vine. While you may be inclined to drive through northern Mississippi, we think your better option has two wheels and no windows. What better way to experience the beautiful Tanglefoot Trail than by bike? It’s a sensory experience you just can’t get riding in the metal box.
Tanglefoot is a 43.6-mile rail-trail that meanders through the Appalachian foothills in the Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area. It follows the historic railroad line built by Colonel William C. Falkner, great-grandfather of Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner. The trail includes breathtaking vistas across fields, forests, wetlands, small Mississippi towns, and historic attractions. The ride can be done in a day or over the course of a week and is mostly flat. Happily, you don’t have to be crushing the leaderboard of your Peloton cohort to rock this ride. Try slowing down, taking it easy, and splashing through the puddles. Here are a few sites we think are worth a stop. Enjoy the ride!
Houston (Not the One in Texas), Mile 0
The southern gateway to the Tanglefoot Trail starts here, in a little rural hamlet named after the Texas politician and revolutionary Sam Houston. Among a smattering of shops and restaurants you will find the historic Carnegie Library, funded by the famous business magnate in 1909 at the bequest of then superintendent of schools, L.B. Reid. Houston is also home to various native Chickasaw archeological sites and the Chickasaw County Courthouse, a beautiful example of revivalist architecture. Before you head out, grab a “meat and three” at Jean’s Family Diner where authentic soul food will ensure you keep the hunger pangs away for a good many miles.
New Houlka, Mile 9.9
Next stop, New Houlka. New Houlka used to be Old Houlka (established in 1812), but moved a mile east to be closer to the newly built Gulf and Ship Island Railroad line in 1904. Buildings were literally place on rollers and moved by oxen teams to the new location. Consider taking a brief respite at Carolyn’s Café and enjoy some carb-loading with a healthy slice of Carolyn’s famous coffee cake, with or without butter.
Algoma, Mile 19.3
How much do you know about railroad cross ties? There’s more to it than you think. Make a quick pit-stop in Algoma, settled in the 1830s and once the “Cross Tie Capital of the World,” to find out. Though cross tie production came to a halt sometime after 1830 – due to the timber depletion suffered in a particularly bad tornado – the town still celebrates its heritage with the annual Cross Tie Festival held every October. While you’re at it, fuel up at the Algoma Country Store. We’re talking real Southern fare: meat with gravy, vegetables with fatback, and sweet tea or unsweet tea. When in Rome…
Pontotoc, Mile 25.8
Pontotoc loosely translates to “Land of the Hanging Grapes” in the language of the native Chickasaw tribes who inhabited the area before European colonization in the 1830s. While the grapes may be long gone, there is still a charming “Old World” downtown. The central public square includes an historic courthouse and the country’s only working historic post office, not to mention a museum showcasing historical artifacts, documents, books, and memorabilia from the community’s earliest days. Stop in the museum gift shop for a post card, T-shirt, or small collectible; or at any of the handful of antique stores in the area. Sure, you can’t bike with an antique strapped to the back, but we bet the folks in Pontotoc will be happy to mail it home for you.
Ingomar, Mile 37.1
Ingomar and its beautiful countryside have something of a literary background. The town itself is named after the fictional Chickasaw Chief in the novel “The White Rose of Memphis,” written not by famous author William C. Faulker (of “The Sound and the Fury” fame, among other works), but by his local railroad builder great-grandfather, William C. Falkner (yes, the spelling of Falkner is slightly different). This is one for the “who knew?” category for sure.
Here you will also find the Ingomar Mounds, now on the Register of Historic Places and a Mississippi Landmark. This is a Native American mound complex dating back nearly 2,200 years. While most of the objects found from the site are housed in Smithsonian collections, several are on display in the nearby Union County Heritage Museum, just down the road in New Albany.
New Albany, Mile 43.6
You’ve made it! The final stop on the Tanglefoot Trail brings you to New Albany, a vibrant and historic mill town built on the shores of the Tallahatchie River. There is a fair amount to see here, including a wide array of shops, galleries, antiques, jewelry, and gourmet foodstuffs. Plus, you’ve just finished a 44-mile bike ride, so you might want to stay a while and explore it all.
Accommodations include a handful of very reasonably chain properties, including the Best Western and Hampton Inn, but we recommend the Concord Inn – Luxury Guest House. For a little bit more (still under $100 per night), stay in the one-of-a-kind guest cottage on the secluded Concord estate that includes all sorts of upscale amenities like Bose surround sound, a marble kitchen, views, and your own private pool.
There are also several good eateries in town. Try the Tallahatchie Gourmet for a New Orleans-inspired lunch or casual dinner (the Shrimp Po-Boy Sandwich is a must). For something a bit more elegant and well-appointed, try The Rainey for dinner; they do catfish better than most.
Before you leave, stop by the Faulkner Literary Garden, a beautiful and a contemplative spot honoring the famous author and the use of plants and flowers in his writing.
Of course, we have only scratched the surface with our recommendations. For more information on the Tanglefoot Trail and Mississippi Hills in general, visit Mississippi Hills online.