The Mississippi River Trail runs 3,000 miles through 10 states from its source up north all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico, and its Tennessee section—which runs right through Memphis—is one of the finest.
At a whopping 3,000 miles, the Mississippi River Trail (MRT) is among the longest designated bike routes in the United States. This series of trails, paths, and bicycle-friendly roads passes through 10 states on its journey alongside the Mississippi River. Beginning at its headwaters at Lake Itasca in Minnesota all the way to the its mouth on the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana, many sections of the trail prohibit motorized vehicles, making for a safe trip for a cyclist. The Tennessee section of the MRT enters the state in Obion County and passes right through Memphis, with plans to expand a few parts of the route in the works.
What Makes It Great
The Mississippi River Trail runs through a number of Tennessee’s most scenic and historic areas, beginning with Reelfoot Lake State Park, near the northern end of the Tennessee section. Reelfoot’s shallow waters are more bayou than lake, and this otherworldly landscape owes its makeup to a series of major earthquakes in 1811 and 1812. The Mississippi River was so disrupted that it actually flowed backwards for several days, eventually filling in the crater the quake left behind.
From Reelfoot Lake, the MRT heads south through or adjacent to a number of Tennessee’s other green spaces, including Moss Island Wildlife Management Area, Chickasaw National Wildlife Refuge, and Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park, and eventually runs directly through Memphis (where locals say is where the Delta really begins). Part of the appeal of the MRT is the opportunity to experience the local culture, and MRT organizers emphasize that you can’t miss the lobby of Memphis’ Peabody Hotel, where the “Peabody Ducks” make a daily trip from the roof where they live to the fountain in the lobby. Much of the Memphis section is along designated bike paths, but the sections on Riverside Drive have a generous bike lane.
Who is Going to Love It
The beauty of the Mississippi River Trail is that cyclists can make it through as much or as little of Tennessee’s gorgeous scenery as they’ve got the time and fitness for. Families can take a pleasant outing in a section through one of Memphis’ municipal parks, cyclists looking for a morning or lunchtime workout can put some miles down on a crunched timeframe, and those looking for an extended adventure can ride the whole Tennessee section—or the whole MRT.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
In Memphis, cyclists can access the MRT via (north to south) Mud Island River Park, Mississippi River Park (or along Riverside Drive anywhere south of Mississippi River Park), or Ashburn-Coppock Park.