Monday, May 14, 2012

Top of the Trace - A Two-Day Tour

When we lived in Brentwood -- a suburb just outside of Nashville, TN -- RandoGirl and I took this two-day tour a couple of times. It's very simple, since most of it is on the Natchez Trace. The Trace is a federal road closed to commercial traffic and carefully maintained by the Park Service, making it a truly superb bicycle route along this stretch.

You can do this route purely as an out-and-back, or change your return to use more of the Trace (as described below). 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. You can stay in a room at the Ridgetop Bed and Breakfast or Fall Hallow Village, or camp at Fall Hallow Village. Note that the bed and breakfast is very small, and Fall Hallow Village only has two rooms, so if you don't want to bring camping gear you should book early!

Day One

Picking a place to start is actually one of the trickiest parts of the ride, since there is no overnight parking on the Natchez Trace itself. The Loveless Cafe is at the northern terminus, but you should get permission from them first. Another option is to bike to the Trace from Gran Fondo Cycles (, which will also give you a chance to get some local recommendations and a quick tune on your ride before you head out. Gran Fondo is about seven miles east of the Trace on Hwy 100. Note that if you go this route, there is a Publix and a Kroger on your route, just over one mile from the on-ramp to the Trace.

Once on the Trace, you have a long climb to warm your legs up, and then cross 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, getting off at Hwy 7. Turn left at the bottom of the ramp and go 1.5 miles to the Fly General Store.

This place is 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 moon pies. During winter months, the pot-belly stove is fired up in the back, and a number of locals are usually sitting around it and talking.

Off the Trace

You could retrace your route back to the Trace from here, but part of that is a long climb on Hwy 7. I recommend you instead continue the rest of the day off the Trace and 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 store, retrace Hwy 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 stay on Leiper's Creek Road. Go another 3.5 miles to where this road ends at Snow Creek Road (TN-247).

Turn right on Snow Creek and go west 1.4 miles to Williamsport Pike. If you need a store, you can turn left on Williamsport Pike and go about a mile south to the Williamsport Store (details below). If you don't need a store, turn right, and then take an almost immediate left onto Greenfield Bend Road.

Greenfield Bend goes along for 4.5 miles. There aren't many signs, but it's hard to get off the route here if you stick to paved roads. Just before the Duck River, the roads changes its name to Kettle Mills Road.

Kettle Mills goes on for another two miles, with a long climb near the end. At the top of that hill, there are roads going right and left, but you'll take the one in the center -- Love Branch Road. None of these roads are marked, by the way, so choose carefully.

Love Branch Road gently descends for 2.4 miles, where you bear right on Stephenson Schoolhouse Road. This road climbs through a forest, runs down a field, and crosses a one-lane bridge to end at Cathey's Creek Road, where you turn right. In one mile, turn right back over the bridge to stay on Cathey's Creek Road.

Go 1.5 miles on Cathey's Creek Road from here to another optional stop at Keg Springs Winery. This is a great place to take a break, taste some wine, eat some cheese, and maybe listen to some local music. To get here, just turn right on Keg Springs Road and ride on 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 and continue west. This road is one of the highlights of the trip, as it 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 for Tennessee and still nicely shaded. Cathey's Creek Road ends at Ridgetop Road.

Ridgetop Bed and Breakfast

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 serve dinner, but does have an incredible breakfast for tomorrow. The owners have been known to loan an old pick-up truck if you want to go to Hohenwald for dinner (about half an hour's drive), or take you to Fall Hallow Village for dinner. We usually bring sandwiches, and enjoy these with a bottle of wine bought at Keg Springs.

Fall Hallow Village

If you're staying at Fall Hallow Village, turn right on Ridgetop Road and go 2.2 miles to Columbia Hwy (US-412/TN-99). Be careful with the last half mile of this, since the road descends steeply near the end.

Columbia Hwy is busier than the roads you've enjoyed so far, but has a good shoulder. Turn right at the end of Ridgetop Road and go another 2.2 miles. On your right is Fall Hallow Village; on your left is the entrance back onto the Natchez Trace.

Fall Hallow Village has two hotel-style rooms, but plenty of camping. They also have a restaurant.

Miles to Next
Cumulative Miles
Get on Natchez Trace Parkway
Turn right at off-ramp towards TN-7 S / New Highway 7
At bottom of ramp, turn left on TN-7 S / New Highway 7
Fly General Store on left
Retrace route west
Turn left on Leiper’s Creek Road
At stop sign, turn right to stay on Leiper’s Creek Road
At top of hill, turn left to stay on Leiper’s Creek Road
Turn right on Snow Creek Road / TN-247
At stop sign, turn right on Williamsport Pike / TN-50
Turn left on Greenfield Bend Road
Greenfield Bend becomes Kettle Mills Road (unmarked)
At top of hill, bear straight on to Love Branch Road
Turn right on Stephenson Schoolhouse Road
At stop sign, over one-lane bridge, turn right on Cathey’s Creek Road
Turn right to stay on Cathey’s Creek Road
Turn right on Keg Springs Road
Keg Springs Winery on left
Retrace route south
Turn right on Cathey’s Creek Road
If you’re staying at the Ridgetop Bed and Breakfast …
Turn left on Ridgetop Road
Ridgetop Bed and Breakfast on right
If you’re staying at Fall Hallow Village …
Turn right on Ridgetop Road
Turn right on Columbia Hwy / US-412 / TN-99
Fall Hallow Village on right

Day Two

The return trip back to the Northern Terminus is pretty simple: Get on the Trace. The only tricky parts are in knowing where to find food and drink.

Getting to the Trace

If you stayed at Fall Hallow Village, you almost slept in the shadow of the Trace.

If you stayed at Ridgetop, you just have to retrace Ridgetop Road west back towards Cathey's Creek, then continue on Ridgetop Road down to Columbia Hwy. Again, the last half mile is a steep descent. Turn right on Columbia Hwy and go 2.2 miles to the Trace.

When you climb back onto the Trace, there will be a sign pointing left saying "Tupelo" and a sign pointing right that says "Nashville." Head towards Nashville.

Almost immediately, you'll cross Big Swan Creek and begin to climb. Take a break about half-way up this climb and view the water falls just off the Trace on your right.

There are a number of rest areas as you head back towards Nashville, and most offer bathroom facilities and fresh well water. After 25 miles on the Trace, you'll come back to Hwy 7, where you turned off of the Trace on Day One. If you need food or something else to drink, you can go back to the Fly store here.

Another option is to stop in Leiper's Fork. To do this, continue on the Trace another 12 miles to the Pinewood Road / TN-46N exit. Turn left onto the exit, and right on Pinewood Road at the bottom. Go 0.7 miles to Leiper's Creek Road, and turn left.

You'll come to a convenience store in 0.2 miles, or you can continue another mile to downtown Leiper's Fork. There are a number of good places to eat here, including Puckett's Grocery and Joe Natural's Bakery. Afterwards, just retrace your route back to the Trace.

The last 13 miles on the Trace include some tough climbs. You'll cross back over the bridge over Hwy 96, climb a little more, and then enjoy a long downhill that lets you coast all the way to the end.

Miles to Next
Cumulative Miles
If you stayed at the Ridgetop Bed and Breakfast …
Leaving bed and breakfast, turn left on Ridgetop Road
Turn right on Columbia Hwy / US-412 / TN-99
Bear left on to ramp towards Natchez Trace Parkway
Turn right (towards Nashville) on Natchez Trace Parkway
Natchez Trace Parkway northern terminus
If you stayed at Fall Hallow Village …
Turn right on Columbia Hwy / US-412 / TN-99, then immediately left on to ramp towards Natchez Trace Parkway
Turn right (towards Nashville) on Natchez Trace Parkway
Natchez Trace Parkway northern terminus

Contact Information and Notes

  • Ridgetop Bed and Breakfast:
  • Fall Hallow Village:
  • Fly General Store is open every day except major holidays from 7 am to 7 pm. Some groceries are available.
  • Williamsport Store hours are Mon-Fri 5a-6p, Sat 6a-6p, Sun 5a-5p. More groceries than at Fly.
  • If you wait until you get to the bottom and need a store, there is a small general store in Hampshire, about four miles away. To get there from Ridgetop B&B, go east on Ridgetop Road for 2.8 miles (bear left at the fork where Ridgetop somehow splits and goes to the right and left). The road will end at US-412 / TN-99; turn left and go 1.2 miles. The hours for this store are usually similar to the Williamsport Store's hours. The ride along Ridgetop Road is very pleasant, however.
  • Most stores in Leiper's Fork are open seven days a week, following standard business hours.

Other RandoBoy Articles

For more information about touring other parts of the Natchez Trace, see these blog posts:

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