Introduction to Hattiesburg
They call Hattiesburg the Hub City because it’s centrally located between New Orleans (biking the French Quarter and Tammany Trace Trail), Natchez, Jackson, Meridian, Mobile, and Gulfport (biking coastal Mississippi). You’re just a short drive away from all of these cities if you’re looking to plan a weekend getaway to Hattiesburg or add it to a bike trip through the South.
What makes the town unique is its college feel and large Millennial population (the largest per capita population in the Gulf South!) Instead of sweet tea and rocking chairs, you’ll find craft beer, street art, and eclectic shops. Who would have expected all this in southern Mississippi?
Between the length and beauty of the Longleaf Trail, the hip energy of Hattiesburg, and the warm climate of Southern Mississippi, you’ll find a year-round biking destination. You might be biking in the morning during the hot season from June through September, with an average daily high temperature above 85°F. The cool season lasts from December through February, with highs in the mid 60’s, but as long as the skies are clear, you should be able to find a time to ride on any given week.
Longleaf Trace Trail Map and Overview
The Longleaf Trace Rails-to-Trails path opened in 2000 along an abandoned portion of the Mississippi Central Railroad. The original trail ran 41 miles from the Gateway Station across from the University of Southern Mississippi to the town of Prentiss. Its success prompted trail extensions into downtown Hattiesburg and now Chain Park. Today, it’s 45 miles from Chain Park to Prentiss, with several spur trails leading into the surrounding community. As of the spring of 2021, the trail mileage signs are marked with mile 0 at the railroad station, which is currently mile 0.85. All this growth might be a little confusing, but it’s a good problem to have.
You can see from our Longleaf Trace Trail Map below that the route is relatively flat. There is about 2000′ of climbing on rolling hills over the Trace’s length with high points near the Epley and Bassfield Stations. Since this is an old railroad bed, there are no climbs greater than a 5% grade. There are tunnels and overpasses on Hattiesburg’s major road crossings and minimal major crossings outside of town. Be careful on any road crossing, but pay extra attention as you cross the state highways near Sumrall, Bassfield, and Prentiss.
Pro-tip: check out the Longleaf Trace map pins for all the links, and hit the refresh button if the trail map isn’t rendering 😉
Towns and Stations Along the Longleaf Trail
There are nine ‘official’ stations along the Longleaf Trace, plus we included the free parking area outside of Hattiesburg’s Union Station and Chain Park. We put all eleven trail access points on our Longleaf Trace points of interest map below, plus all the other food and lodging options in this guide. There are parking and restrooms at each of these stops, except for Lott Circle, which is nothing more than a gravel lot.
The Longleaf Trace passes through five towns along its route. Hattiesburg is by far the largest and best equipped with multiple access points, numerous dining options, and several bike shops. Sumrall has a few good restaurants as well and makes a delicious stop-over. In fact, if I were only going to ride half of the Trace, I would go from the Gateway (mile 4) to the alpaca and emu farm north of Sumrall (~mile 30), stopping for a meal in Sumrall. This route hits the trail highlights without the extended riding to Prentiss or the urban streets of Hattiesburg.
Past Sumrall, you’ll find gas stations and stores in Bassfield (mile 33) and Prentiss (mile 45) that will fill your belly or wet your whistle, but nothing to write home about. Carson (mile 38) only has restrooms and primitive camping at the Carson Station.
|Chain Park||Restrooms, Parking, Trailhead, Downtown Hattiesburg|
|Hattiesburg Amtrak||1||Restrooms, Parking, Trailhead, Downtown Hattiesburg|
|New Orleans & 4th||2||Start of dedicated trail|
|Zoo Spur||3||Spur trail to the zoo. (Down Hutchinson, jump on path at Quinn to cross Gordon's Creek)|
|Gateway Station||4||Restrooms, Parking, Trailhead, Midtown Hattiesburg|
|Jackson Road Station||8||Restrooms, Parking, Trailhead|
|Clyde Depot||11||Restrooms, Parking, Trailhead|
|Epley Station||16||Restrooms, Parking, Trailhead|
|Sumrall Station||21||Restrooms, Parking, Trailhead, Sumrall|
|Bassfield Station||33||Restrooms, Parking, Trailhead, Convience stores|
|Carson Station||37||Restrooms, Parking, Trailhead, Convience stores|
|Prentiss Gateway||45||Restrooms, Parking, Trailhead, Convience stores|
Where to Stay on the Longleaf Trail
The first thing you need to decide on a destination trip to the Longleaf Trace is where to stay. We’re putting our list below contains our best recommendations and why you would choose to stay there:
- The Bay Bed and Breakfast – The Bay B&B is a charming home in downtown Hattiesburg just off the Trace (mile 1). It’s perfect for people who want to explore Hattiesburg as much as they want to ride the Trace.
- Hotel Indigo – If you’re looking for a modern boutique hotel with a great location and amenities, you found it. Hotel Indigo sits in the heart of the Midtown District with dining options for every taste and budget and terrific trail access across the Southern Miss campus. (mile 4)
- Longleaf Piney Resort – If you’re more into glamping than camping, you have to check out the Longleaf Piney Resort (mile 11), a tiny house resort along the Longleaf Trace.
- Denbury Beaver Pond – For the adventurous at heart, you can find Longleaf Trace camping at Denbury Beaver Pond (mile 14) or Carson Station (mile 38). It’s primitive camping, but that’s part of the adventure.
- Lake Jeff Davis – A 100-acre lake with 13 waterfront spaces with water and electrical hookups for the (not so) ruffing it campers. (mile 42)
Exploring Downtown Hattiesburg
The Longleaf Trace isn’t the only trail in Hattiesburg. Officially, there is the Hattiesburg Art Trail with around 50 statues and murals. The 1964 Freedom Summer Trail with 16 stops commemorating universal suffrage. They’ve also recently opened the Hatties[burger] trail, with 33 of the Berg’s best burgers. Unofficially, we’ve added the Bike and Brew Trail and the Breakfast Run Route, which we’ll detail later in this article. We even created a list of the 30-dishes you need to try in Hattiesburg. We’re talking with Visit Hattiesburg to make these last two official trails, so fingers crossed. Until then, here’s a quick rundown of the downtown essential eats.
- Coney Island Cafe – Just across from Union Station sits Hattiesburg’s oldest restaurant It dates back to 1923 and is still a great place for a kickin coney.
- Fika Swedish Cafe – Lox sandwich? Ja. House-made cheese pierogi? Ja Tak. But nothing says Swedish like a lingonberry sandwich with Irish cream cheddar and deliciously sweet lingonberry jam.
- Fairley’s Wings and More – Their reviews (and website) stake proclaim Fairley’s has the best wings in Hattiesburg and who am I to argue? I am going to try a batch with Cajun honey the next time.
- GrateFull Soul – William Faulkner once said, “To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi.” And to understand a place like Mississippi, you must first understand its food. GrateFull Soul’s Super Delicious Crispy Fried Chicken has been nominated for “Best Fried Chicken in MS” by Mississippi Magazine, so that’s an excellent place to start.
Stopping and Shopping in Midtown Hattiesburg
The District at Midtown (proper noun) is the shopping center across from Southern Mississippi with Hotel Indigo and The Midtowner. Colloquially, midtown Hattiesburg runs from the Zoo to the Interstate and has some of the city’s best restaurants. Here are our highlights.
- Nannie Mac’s Snowballs – Snowballs are so much more than shaved ice and sugar. With flavors like strawberry cheesecake, margarita, and peaches and cream, they can satisfy the grownup palate. However, I can only imagine how a strategic stop at Nannie Mac’s saved many family bike trips on hot summer days. Best of all, it connects directly to the Longleaf Trace Trail.
- Strick’s Barbeque – J.S. Strickland started his restaurant back in 1980 when he was in 10th grade. Since then, the recipe hasn’t changed, but the ribs are known as the best in the Burg. Keep reminding your kids about this story when you can’t get them even to pick up their laundry and put their dishes into the dishwasher.
- Patio 44 – We first tried Patio 44 in Biloxi and fell in love with their Creole-style dishes, which utilize only the finest ingredients available from the Delta and Gulf Coast regions.
- El Rayo – You’ll find El Rayo about a mile away from the trail. It’s the latest of Celebrity Chef Robert St John’s restaurants serving a Tex Mex with a Cajun twist. St. John has been named the state’s top chef for three consecutive years and was honored as Mississippi Restaurateur of the Year. His other Hattiesburg restaurants are Purple Parrot, Crescent City Grill, Mahogany Bar, Tabella, Ed’s Burger Joint, The Midtowner, and Midtown Donut. You can stay for the week and try them all, but you might have to ride the Trace every day to make room for the next meal.
- Birdhouse Cafe – The Birdhouse is 3.5 miles off the Trace (exit Lake Thoreau at mile 9) and not even in my loose definition of Midtown. However, it’s home to Hattiesburg’s other celebrity chef Katie Dixon. She was a finalist on MasterChef Season 7 & Food Network Star Season 14 and makes healthy food taste good. The Birdhouse serves the healthiest food in all Hattiesburg. She’s opening a new restaurant downtown soon, which will be much closer to the Trace and a must-stop for all health-conscious riders.
Last Call in Sumrall
North of Sumrall (mile 19) is a rider’s paradise with 26 miles of open trail. You’ll only have to stop for the occasional road crossing or alpaca and emu sightings. Other than that, you just have miles and miles of riding and the occasional convenience store in a pinch. That’s a nice way to say make sure you stop for a bite in Sumrall if you’re hungry. There’s a handful of options available.
- Lau-Tori’s Fine Food – It’s Down-home Southern cooking served in a little pink house just off the Trace. It might not be a fancy as the Midtown fair, but they have some seriously good Southern specialties like dumplings and fried green tomatoes.
- Fajitas – With 4.5 stars and 169 reviews on Google, it’s the highest rating / most reviewed restaurant in Sumrall. They not only serve fajitas but all of your mainstay Mexican favorites.
- Hot Fins – Only in the Gulf South can you pull into a whistle-stop town and get a shrimp po’boy. They also have burgers, boiled shrimp, and fried shrimp, oysters, and catfish.
Longleaf Trace Breakfast Run Route
Do you know what makes Mississippi a year-round biking destination? It means getting an early start in the summer! That’s where our Longleaf Trace Breakfast Run Route comes in. Initially, I was going to call this the donut challenge and encourage you to try the trifecta of Shipley’s, Midtown, and Sumrall in a single ride, but the breakfast options were too good for such a short list.
- Depot Kitchen and Market – When famous food blogger Melody Pittman said that the Bru’s Breakfast Bowl is her “breakfast of the Year” and a “Southern’s dream plate,” I knew that I had to try it. It’s a cheddar biscuit topped with sausage gravy, bacon, scrambled egg, and cheddar cheese. That’s double the cheddar with sausage and bacon. So good.
- Shipley Do-Nuts – Shipley’s is a regional chain originating from Texas with 190 stores in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas. In many ways, they are the Krispy Kreme of Texas, with their super-popular plain glazed donut. However, unlike that chain from North Carolina, they have 59 other flavors to choose from.
- T-Bones Records and Cafe – Records and cafe… Why not? Just like vinyl, a solid breakfast sandwich and a delicious cup of coffee never go out of style. On the subject of old-time rock and roll, did you know that Hattiesburg was the birthplace of rock music? This Mississippi Jook Band record a track in 1936 that Rolling Stone describes as “fully formed rock and roll guitar riffs and a stomping rock and roll beat.” T-Bones has the commemorative mural.
- Midtown Donuts – A much newer craze that’s sweeping the nation is gourmet donuts. Midtown Donuts is Chef St John’s answer to Vodoo Donuts or the Donut Bar. His small-batch donuts are made to impress your eyes and your taste buds with over-the-top flavors like Mexican hot chocolate and maple bacon. I hope they’ve reopened by the next time I am in town so I can indulge.
- The Midtowner – We couldn’t go to Midtown Donuts, so we stopped into Midtowner instead for their sweet potato pancakes. With a generous helping of cinnamon cream syrup, it was like eating pumpkin pie for breakfast in all the best ways.
- Sumrall Doughnuts and Breakfast – It’s just a small town doughnut shop where everything is cooked fresh daily without frills or pretense. I could see picking up a savory doughnut for the road and eating it at Prentiss when I flip around.
Longleaf Trace Bike and Brew
Another strategy to beat the heat is to bike a little and drink a little. Responsibly, of course. Rides like this are about friends and flavors and not getting hammered. You can do that off a bike and call an Uber to get home. Hattiesburg is a step away from having a brew trail, but so this is our Coleman Concierge take.
- Southern Prohibition – It wasn’t until 1966 that statewide prohibition ceased, and July of 2020 saw the end of the last dry county. July 1, 2017, was another important date for Mississippi. That’s when breweries could sell their own beer on-premises, and Southern Prohibition led that charge. Their beers range from pucker-up IPAs to smooth and accessible brews that sound like you’re in a dessert shop (we’re looking at you Coconut Macchiato 3 Pumps Banana Stout and Pink Fluff). Not only do they carry crisp and refreshing drafts, they have on-site food trucks and are known to serve the best pizza in Hattiesburg.
- The Porter – The website says they offer three things: the finest regional craft beer, true American pub fare, and genuine local life experience. We say yes, yes, and yes. They offer traditional microbrews, and their burgers are Hatties[burger] favorites. With daily happy hours from 3-6, the Porter is a perfect pub pitstop.
- Keg and Barrel – They claim the title of Mississippi’s premier beer emporium with over 120 different kinds of beer with 60 beers on tap and 50 varieties of whiskey. Their menu combines unique pub food with traditional southern favorites. You can get a burger with 100% grass-fed Mississippi beef while your riding buddies try their famous chicken and waffle.
- Colludium – The name is Latin for playing together in secret. It’s the perfect moniker for a brewpub with over 100 board games. They have their own brews (like Carbs Against Humanity) and a selection of guest brews, including a solid selection of cider.
Longleaf Trace Bike Rentals and Bike Shops
Hattiesburg has a selection of bike shops that offer short-term and long-term rental options of trail bikes, comfort bikes, trikes, recumbents, and almost anything you can peddle.
- James Lynn Cartlidge Gateway – The Gateway is located across from the university at mile 4 (counting from Chain Park). They offer comfort and specialty bike rentals in two-hour, four-hour, and all-day blocks. Their hours are Monday – Saturday 8:00 am until 3:30 pm and Sunday 1:00 pm until 5:00 pm. make sure you plan your ride accordingly to make it back to the station.
- Infinity Bicycles – Infinity offers longer-term rentals and higher performance bikes than the Gateway if you want to ride longer, farther, and faster. They also put on four different group rides weekly around Hattiesburg and the Longleaf Trace.
- Moore’s Bicycles – James Moore, the shop owner, says, ” I have chosen bicycle and pedestrian advocacy as a means of creating lasting improvements to the Hattiesburg area.” He means it. We heard stories about how he petitioned for bike shops to be essential business during the pandemic and kept his doors open. Technically, they worked from the parking lot, but they still helped people refresh, refurbish, and repurpose bikes that were abandoned in their garages for years in a time when no new bikes were available. They even offer a buy-back option for used bikes, which is an excellent choice for an extended biking vacation to Hattiesburg or if you continue to explore cycling in the area. You can use the bike for up to 6-months, and they’ll repurchase it at 1/2 price, minus any required maintenance.
- Jed’s Perfect Endurance Bikes – Jed’s is the perfect place to go if you’re looking to level up your biking game. They offer nutrition and coaching to get you ready for race day, along with the perfectly fitted Specialized bicycle.
Wrapping Up Our Longleaf Trace Guide
We didn’t get in as many miles in on the Longleaf Trace as we wanted, but we put in the research for a fantastic return visit. We can’t wait to come back to ride it all and continue to eat our way around Hattiesburg. Hattiesburg is a wonderful place to visit for romantic getaways or outdoor adventures. It’s also a hub for Mississippi cycling or riding all along the Gulf Coast. There’s destination cycling in Ocean Springs, Jackson, Tupelo, and even New Orleans, especially for northern riders who are looking to get a jump on the spring season or just aren’t ready to put their bike in the garage for winter.
If you want to learn more about the Longleaf Trace, you should check out Longleaf Trace.org. It’s a well done site with great information like up to date trail conditions and upcoming trail events. If you already love the Longleaf Trace, consider showing your support by becoming a Friend of the Trace. If you want to start training on the Trace, the Pine Belt Pacers running and walking club is a great place to start. Ride safe. Ride strong, and we’ll catch you on the flip side.
Remember to ride safely and read our bike disclaimer before you go
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