Great Rivers South

Great Rivers South
Muscatine, IA to Baton Rouge, LA
3 Map Set (1276.0 mi.)
GPS | Overview | Buy
1. Muscatine, IA to Cape Girardeau, MO (452.5 mi.) Detail |Addenda
2. Cape Girardeau, MO to Tupelo, MS (453.5 mi.) Detail |Addenda
3. Tupelo, MS to Baton Rouge, LA (370 mi.) Detail |Addenda

Experience history of Mormons, Mark Twain, Mississippi, and much more.

The Great Rivers South Bicycle Route route boasts a subtle beauty, replete with farmland, woods, caverns, rivers, and waterfalls. There's quite a bit of history along the route as you'll see in Nauvoo, Illinois, the town from which the Mormons were driven out in the 1800s, and Hannibal, Missouri, Mark Twain's hometown. You'll also pass a pirate's cave on the Ohio River, an old Civil War fort, and antebellum homes in Natchez, Mississippi.

Although titled the Great Rivers South Bicycle Route, you'll hardly ride any long stretches along rivers. Instead, you'll cross many of the great rivers that feed into the Mississippi.

Starting in Muscatine, Iowa, you ride on the west side of the river, beside the Mark Twain National Wildlife Refuge. You'll particularly enjoy the 11-mile stretch between Nauvoo and Hamilton, where you'll be alongside the Mississippi River. After crossing the bridge into Hannibal, Missouri, you will see a town most famous as the boyhood home of Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain). This town has tourist sites based on characters and places from his books, e.g., Tom Sawyer's fence, Becky Thatcher's home, Grant's Drug Store, and Mark Twain's Cave. Heading southward, you'll encounter hilly farm country. If you want, you can take a side trip into St. Louis to see the famous Gateway Arch. Be prepared to use your granny gears off and on until Cape Girardeau, where you cross back into Illinois. This means more farm country, and then you'll cross the Ohio River by ferry into Kentucky. You'll be using your granny gears again, and then you'll enjoy a very pleasant ride along The Trace Road in the Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area, an expanse of woods where buffalo roam. No commercial vehicles are allowed on this road, and a 45 mph speed limit is strictly enforced. The route on the Natchez Trace follows a two-lane road in a national park that continues through Alabama and Mississippi, with no commercial traffic or services permitted. All services, except for occasional campgrounds, are off the route in nearby towns. You'll encounter fellow bicyclists and enjoy many hiking trails, boardwalks, waterfalls, and historical sites along the Trace. At the end of the Trace, you can visit the antebellum homes in Natchez, Mississipi. The route goes through the rural countryside and ends in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Photo by Adam Coppola

From Muscatine, Iowa to Hannibal, Missouri, you'll be riding in the relatively flat floodplain of the Mississippi River. South of Hannibal the route follows river bluffs with steep, roller coaster hills. After leaving the river, you'll be in Missouri hill country with many farms in the valleys. There is a 3.5 mile distance on the crushed limestone KATY Trail before entering the Ozark Mountains which give way to the alluvial plains returning to the Mississippi River. Across Kentucky and Tennessee moderate to challenging rolling hills are the norm until you reach the more gently graded Natchez Trace. From Natchez, Mississippi to the end of the route in Baton Rouge, Louisiana the route returns to gently rolling hills through rural farmlands.

The Great Rivers South Bicycle Route can be ridden from mid-spring to late fall, and even into the winter on the southern portion. Due to changing local conditions, it is difficult to predict any major wind patterns. High summer temperatures and humidity can cause discomfort if you're not used to either. Tornadoes are common in Illinois and Missouri. They occur mostly in May and June. Facilities and services are limited along the Natchez Trace and camping usually primitive when available.

Some campgrounds will charge a cyclist traveling by himself less if they have hiker/biker sites, but often they will charge the price of a regular tent or RV site, and that can easily be $10-$40/night. The maps list churches that have opened their doors to cyclists, but they aren't all that closely spaced. If you're friendly and ask around, you can often get yourself invited to camp in a yard. Our routes goes through national forests (moreso in the west) and you are allowed to camp anywhere on national forest land as long as you "pack it in, pack it out." Many city parks are free to camp in.

You may also wish to sign up with Warmshowers, a reciprocal hospitality site for bicycle travelers, for other overnight options.

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