When it comes to mountain biking, the U.S. state of Mississippi, located in the American South, is truly a hidden gem. A small to mid-size state in terms of area and population, Mississippi is heavily forested outside of the Mississippi Delta, and within these forests one will find an abundance of entertaining and challenging mountain biking courses that are just waiting to be ridden.
The state of Mississippi is bordered to the north by Tennessee, to the east by Alabama, to the south by Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico; and to the west, across the Mississippi River, by Louisiana and Arkansas. As such, it has, over time, adopted many of the features of its neighboring states, while also maintaining a grand reputation as a utopia for outdoor enthusiasts — a claim reflected by the sheer number of mtb riders who regularly tackle the state’s courses.
Below we will profile five of the most popular mountain biking tracks in Mississippi, and discuss the various characteristics that make these trails so admired by local and out-of-state riders.
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Mt. Zion Bike Trails
Located in the city of Brookhaven, Mississippi, the Mt. Zion Bike Trails are an intermediate-rated collection of courses—a trail system that promises hours of fun, exercise, and relaxation. Nicknamed the “The Biggest Little Trails in Mississippi,” the collective tracks at Mt. Zion—tracks that form a complete loop when ridden consecutively—comprise roughly 9 miles of flowing single track over a wide assortment of terrain.
Local riders of the Mt. Zion Bike Trails are quick to recommend these courses to outsiders, largely due to the technical challenges along the trail and the great clubhouse area where riders can relax and share stories of their riding exploits. Adjectives one is likely to hear with regard to Mt. Zion include tight, technical, open, flowing and fun, a course that also features a great series of climbs and descents and a nice mix of natural and manmade obstacles. With plenty of berms, jumps, tabletops, bridges, rocks and roots, the main course is not recommended for novice or first-time riders, and the neat “bone yard” section demands the utmost attention and focus.
In addition to the main intermediate-rated course, the Mt. Zion Bike Trails also include a beginner-friendly loop for the less experienced riders. This track is a wide meandering course with only a fraction of the obstacles (and 100 percent of the fun) found on the main course. There is also a “Black Diamond” course intended for advanced and expert riders. This trail is jam-packed with crazy technical tests and it often plays host to competitive races in the region, attracting riders from across the state and the nation.
Outdoor cyclists looking to tackle some of the biggest riding tests the proud American South has to offer, will be pleasantly surprised by the technical challenges and sheer tests of endurance that are found upon the trails at Bayou Point. Situated in the small town of Arkabutla, Mississippi, the 6-mile course is rated intermediate to advanced, meaning only experienced riders should attempt to traverse it and only with the proper safety equipment, including helmets, which are now required.
Known as a tight, twisty single track course, Bayou Point is the ideal spot for those looking to improve their cornering skills. On a trail that can be ridden in either direction, the course features a fairly substantial elevation change, with a series of switchbacks guiding riders to the apex of the mountain. It also includes multiple obstacles that have been expertly placed to challenge the advanced rider, such as log rides, rock skinnies, berms, jumps and drops.
Thigh-burning hills, thrilling descents and a collection of unique impediments are just a few of the attributes that attract riders to Bayou Point. In addition to the challenges it presents, the course is also set against a backdrop of gorgeous local scenery, and there are plenty of natural stopping points where riders can snap photos or just take in all the beauty while they rest and recharge. The Bayou Point trail is located in a somewhat remote area so there is plenty of wildlife to be seen as well as several scenic views of Arkabutla Lake.
The trailhead at Bayou Point includes a kiosk with a trail map and course information, ample parking, full restrooms with running water and heat in the winter, playground and picnic tables. While Bayou Point does not offer camping, there are several primitive tent and RV campsites located just a half mile away at the South Abutment.
Petal River Park
If slower speeds, rolling hills and flowing descents define your ideal ride, the trail at Petal River Park might be just your speed. Situated in the town of Petal, Mississippi, Petal River is a fairly new, 80-acre park built along the flowing waters of the Leaf River. The 4-mile mountain biking trail located here is rated for beginner to novice riders and, because it is set up as a loop, riders will get a great view of the entire park.
The Petal River Park Trail meanders through a gum lagoon and around three cool ponds before transforming into a fun and technical series of rollers, with a nice collection of bridges and other wooden obstacles. Consisting mainly of wide double track, the trail is the perfect getaway for fitness enthusiasts who wish to exercise while communing with nature in a beautiful portion of the state—a state with more than its fair share of organic flora and fauna, in addition to gorgeous scenic waterways. With only a very modest gain in elevation, the Petal River Park Trail is far from demanding, but riders will still feel a spike in heart-rate as they negotiate the course’s many obstacles.
Petal River Park features full restrooms with running water, bike wash stations, covered picnic areas and playground equipment for the kids. Future plans for the park include an advanced skills area, pump track, and an additional 15 miles of trail on an adjacent 80 acres.
Clear Creek Trail
Situated in the university town of Oxford, Mississippi, the Clear Creek Trail is an 8-mile, intermediate-rated track with a 100-foot elevation gain as measured from its lowest to highest points. An undulating trail, Clear Creek features plenty of short climbs and heart-pounding descents, all set upon a single track terrain of hard-packed dirt and sand.
Perhaps the best feature of the Clear Creek Trail is its effortless flow and the thrilling speeds associated with the downhill portions of the course. These are, of course, preceded by some moderately difficult ascents and a series of tight switchbacks that bring riders arduously to the top of the course.
Although the challenges and obstacles this course offers are reward enough for the riders that tackle it, perhaps even more admirable is the scenery that surrounds this technical track. From the hardwood forests to the soft sands of the Mississippi Delta, the trail’s terrain is always varied, making each and every ride on this gem of a trail just as exciting as the one before.
The Clear Creek Trail, which is just a two-hour drive from the large city of Memphis, Tennessee, is rapidly gaining in popularity, and its proximity to other local trails is quickly making this particular region a hotbed for outdoor cycling enthusiasts.
The Ridgeland Trails
The six miles of courses that make up the Ridgeland Trails are located in the small town of the same name, very near the larger city of Jackson, Mississippi. The trail system is a work in progress by the Tri-County Mountain Bike Association, a Jackson-based local group that promotes mountain biking in the region, and acts as an advocate for mountain biking in the community. All of these intermediate-rated trails are built within an 80-acre membership-only park; however 2-day memberships can be purchased for a small fee at the kiosk located very near the main trailhead.
Steep, grinding hills are one of the hallmarks of this popular, well-ridden trail. However, the fitness-testing climbs do not go unrewarded; once riders reach the apex of these hard-packed peaks, not only are they treated to some of the most majestic vistas and rock formations the region has to offer, but the descents are literally something of legend, taking riders down a carnival-like hill that allows them to reach top speeds while dodging a wide assortment of impediments, ranging from rocks and roots to berms and moguls, as well as some perfectly placed jumps.
image credit: Anna