About this Itinerary
In the heart of Mississippi’s Pine Belt is the Longleaf Trace Trail, stretching nearly 41 miles from the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg to small-town Prentiss. A designated National Recreation Trail, the Trace runs atop a stretch of Mississippi Central Railroad line to traverse communities and landscapes shaped by the region’s once booming lumber and rail industries.
After the rail industry’s decline, a group of local individuals and businesses came together to preserve the corridor, and in 2000 opened it as a trail. The result is a well-maintained route providing recreationalists with an exceptional way to leave the bustling heart of Mississippi's third largest city and enter the rural farmland that predominates in this area. The 10-foot-wide paved trail has eight small covered rest areas to provide travelers with shade, restrooms and vending machines, while three small shelters offer places to wait out brief summer rain showers.
The Trace is popular, and you may encounter plenty of other recreationalists, including skaters, bicyclists, equestrian riders, golf cart riders and pedestrians; pay close attention to the well-marked equestrian and road crossings. The Longleaf Trace website provides ample detail on Trace rules and etiquette, mileage charts and information on the communities along the route (note: there are special regulations for equestrian riders and golf cart operators).
For a round-trip ride, plan on two days beginning in Hattiesburg with an overnight stay in Prentiss. You will start your trip at the Trace Gateway on the Southern Miss campus where, conveniently, there is parking, bike rentals and a welcome center to help answer questions you may have about the route. Rentals are also available in downtown Hattiesburg at Moore’s Bicycle Shop. If you are interested in a one-way ride only, contact DJ Shuttle & Tours to arrange a pick-up or drop-off.
Fly into the nearby Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional Airport (PIB), 14 miles north of the trailhead check into your choice of lodging. Conveniently less than a mile west of the University of Southern Mississippi campus is Days Inn, just one of several other hotels in the vicinity. Two miles from the trail at Clyde Depot is the Sunny Grove B&B, situated on 25 acres and with its own fishing pond, hammock and porch—it may be so relaxing you won’t want to leave. Also, there are two parks in the region that provide tent and RV campsites, plus plenty of other recreational activities: check out Paul B Johnson State Park and Little Black Creek Water Campground and Park.
Hop on your bike at the Trace’s visitor center at Gateway Southern Miss. The first rest stop is in 2 miles, and you can expect these to be mostly urban miles. Watch for tunnels, road crossings and underpasses. Just beyond the tunnel at W. 7th St. is Strick’s BBQ (closed Sundays), popular for its legendary sauce and BBQ lunch buffet. If you can’t stop on your way out of town, keep it in mind for tomorrow’s return when you will have earned all the ribs you can eat!
A little more than 1 mile later, an overpass takes you across Interstate 59, after which the Trace becomes enveloped by a wooded corridor. You have entered the realm of the trail’s namesake, the longleaf pine. Today, Longleaf Pine forests cover less than 97% of their former range. With the region’s timber boom, from 1830–1940, the longleaf became a prime source for lumber. Eventually, over 50 sawmills operated within a 20-mile radius of Hattiesburg, and the Pine Belt region became a leading center for lumber production. The railroads, including the Mississippi Central (previously the Pearl and Leaf Rivers Railroad), promptly laid down lines to expedite the flow of commercial lumbering. On the Trace today, note that the mile marker signs show mileage from Hattiesburg’s downtown train station as per the old rail markers, not the distance on the trail.
A dirt equestrian path meets the trail in Epley, mile 11, and zigzags across the Trace some 25 miles to Carson. Four miles northwest of Epley is Sumrall (mile 15.2), one of several towns incorporated along the Mississippi Central Railroad line that flourished and peaked in growth alongside the timber industry. The Trace passes through the center of town, and with a slight off-trail detour you will quickly find two tempting eateries. 2 Cups Coffee Shop offers coffee drinks, soups, salads and baked goods; head north on Main St. for two blocks. From here, you can also take a left on Center Ave. to the intersection with State Hwy. 42, for quintessential southern soul cuisine at Lau-Tori’s Fine Foods. The lunch and dinner menu includes fried green tomatoes, catfish, Po-Boys and Cajun fries.
Beyond Sumrall, the Trace cuts through rural farm land and parallels Hwy. 42 for a stretch, as it continues its northwesterly tack. In Bassfield (mile 29.5), there is a picnic pavilion, A.F. Carraway Store for water and snacks and Ward’s Restaurant, a fast food option one block south of the trail at Highways 35 and 42. Just past Bassfield is a horse stable with camper hookups and bath facilities. The rolling hills that define this section may pose a challenge to less experienced cyclists. While the grades aren't particularly steep, factor them in if you're on a day trip or traveling with small children.
The final miles of the trip between Carson (mile 34) and Prentiss are predominately wooded and offer another chance to look for wildlife and enjoy the beauty of the Pine Belt ecosystem. The Trace weaves through an abundant variety of flora and fauna, and, in addition to several types of pines, you may encounter oak, dogwood and magnolia trees, flowering wisteria and honeysuckle and lush ferny undergrowth. Two miles south of Prentiss is a side trail that takes you to Lake Jefferson Davis. Follow Mayor Blounts Contrail for 1.3 miles to the lake, where there are camping, boating and picnic facilities. Bass fishing is a popular pastime here, so anglers will want to come prepared.
At trail's end in downtown Prentiss (mile 40.2), an attractive trailhead provides restrooms, parking and vending machines. For lodging, you’ll find the Western Motel, 0.5 mile from the trailhead southwest on Columbia Ave., and the Jeffersonian Motor Inn, another 0.5 mile farther. There are several small eateries on Columbia Ave., including Country Fisherman, which serves up a seafood buffet, but the options are fairly limited in this small community. Have a meal and rest up for your return ride tomorrow.
Hattiesburg is a diverse city rich with an artistic, cultural and historical flair. It is home to two universities, numerous galleries, museums and a historic downtown district. There is a lot to take in and you may wonder where to start. Why not begin with an understanding of some of the historic events that made Hattiesburg what it is today? A 15-mile marked driving tour, beginning at the Hattiesburg Visitor Center, will take you on the Freedom Summer Trail, a compilation of historical sites related to the Civil Rights Movement. The Hattiesburg Area Historical Society Museum is a good place to explore old photos and collections revealing the area’s past, as is the African American Military History Museum. If you are anywhere near the Hattiesburg Library (329 Hardy St.), duck in to see the beautiful 167-foot circular mural depicting Hattiesburg’s history, by internationally-renowned local artist William Baggett. The historic Hattiesburg Depot, constructed in 1910 by the Southern Railway Company, is also downtown on Newman St.
The Hattiesburg Visitors Center website is the best place to peruse all your options. While you are at it, look at the local dining opportunities, of which there are over two hundred. The New Yokel Market on Main St. is a great place to purchase snacks and drinks. Another option is to find out what the local famers and producers have been up to by visiting their stands at the Hattiesburg Farmers Market (each Thursday March through October). Your inclination for evening’s entertainment could match up perfectly with the current event hosted at the Saenger Theater. If you appreciate musical productions, plan your trip around the Hattiesburg Civic Light Opera’s performance schedule.