It’s not hard to see why Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park is the most popular parks in the state. Its 13,476 acres are mostly bottomland forest containing giant oak trees, cypress, and tupelo, all bordering the mighty Mississippi River. The park features two lakes, Poplar Tree Lake and Lake Piersol, and maintains a boat ramp for access to the Mississippi. Meeman-Shelby Forest is also home to the Meeman Museum and Nature Center, and both the park and the museum are named in honor of Edward J. Meeman: a journalist and conservationist who also helped to establish Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
What Makes It Great
Just 15 miles north of Memphis, Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park is an excellent getaway for a quick mountain bike ride if you’re short on time. In addition to more than 20 miles of easy to moderate-rated hiking trails available at the park, Meeman-Shelby Forest also has a five-mile, lollipop-shaped bike trail. The trail begins along a closed access road, then narrows considerably and drops off the Chickasaw Bluffs. You can expect pleasant riding and flowy turns through Mississippi River bottomland.
The park’s bike trail has a little of everything. Much of the trail is flat, and, in fact, many sections are paved. Make no mistake, though: this isn’t a road ride. Despite the pavement, cross bikes and mountain bikes are better suited for this ride than road bikes, thanks to several rough patches and tight switchbacks.
Meeman-Shelby Forest is best experienced in the fall, winter, and early spring, when temperatures are pleasantly cool for working up a sweat. (Spring is also great for wildflower viewing here.) Head to the park much later than that, and the area’s bottomland terrain means you’ll be encountering swarms of giant mosquitoes, so come armed with bug spray. Whenever you visit, keep an eye out for the many species of birds who make their homes here (particularly wild turkeys, who have a penchant for gobbling across the trail).
Though the park’s trails (including the bike trail) are open year-round, be sure to check at the visitors’ center in the fall, when hunting season is in full swing and parts of the bottomland may be closed for managed hunting.
Who is Going to Love It
The trail is widely considered to be intermediate, but it’s more a matter of confidence than technical riding ability. There are some decent climbs and the route gains some elevation at the top of the bluffs, but it’s never very steep. This is a great ride for advanced beginner to intermediate mountain bikers, who can negotiate some technical elements but are primarily looking to get a quick ride in.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park is located at 910 Riddick Road in Millington. From the entrance, take Piersol Road for about 0.7 miles.Turn right (also on Piersol Road) and park at the end of the loop.
The hiking trails here are not open to mountain bikers, so be sure to stay only on the bike-friendly trail. (The bike trail at Meeman-Shelby Forest is very well marked, so there’s virtually no risk of finding yourself on the wrong trail.)