After just learning online about a month ago that the Tanglefoot Trail even existed, I made the 90 minute drive from Memphis, TN to the northern starting point of the trail in New Albany, MS about 3 weeks ago. I have a mountain bike and a commuter/fitness bike. I opted to bring the commuter/fitness bike to do the ride due to the bike's lighter weight, smaller tires, less rolling resistance, and better ability of more easily handling pavement-only riding.
I'm accustomed to riding the much-acclaimed Greenline in Memphis, and while I continue to thoroughly enjoy riding our local Greenline, I must say the Tanglefoot Trail is simply wonderful... another step up from the Greenline in all respects.
Since the trail sits where a railroad used to run, the grade (from memory) is generally no more than 1% up/down throughout the 43.6 miles of trail. Very easy riding w/that in mind if you're not into tackling a bunch of steep hills.
I found the Whistle Stops (rest areas) to be adequately-placed about every 10 miles along the trail, so I never had any great fear of running out of water (I carry 2 water bottles) or needing a restroom break and not having one fairly nearby. The Whistle Stops were all very clean, the water fountains worked, and the one restroom I visited was clean and had all needed amenities/supplies. There were other bikers at most of the Whistle Stops and everyone was very congenial. Most people I chatted with while catching my breath and refilling my water bottles seemed to live in the immediate area and were riding a portion of the trail from their nearby homes and said they could access the trail from a mere blocks from where most of them lived.
Where I began my ride in New Albany was a very quaint place... nice downtown area with numerous stores and several coffee shops and even a bike shop right at the trail entrance.
When you arrive 43.6 miles later to the southern point (Houston, MS) where the trail begins/ends, there's literally nothing there. Not an exaggeration. There's literally... nothing... there. The trail just ends at a street and there you are. No businesses/restaurants/stores were nearby that I could see, nor much of an area for many/any cars to park, etc. I'm just saying that as to prepare you if you ride to Houston and expect there to be much to see/do when you get to that spot on the trail.
In-between the Whistle Stops are several other covered wooden structures that just have either benches or in some cases, picnic tables. These were helpful as well if I had plenty of water still and didn't need to make a restroom stop, but just wanted to pull off the trail and sit in the shade for a few min. before continuing on with my ride.
The trail was overall very clear of debris/twigs/limbs, which was nice as far as not feeling like I had to constantly be avoiding things on the road. I was able to just point the bike down the road and ride. There was one spot that maybe lasted for 20 feet that had recently been worked on and just had gravel there... looked like it was being prepared for repaving very soon. No big deal.
Estimates are that about 75% of the trail is shaded, and I'd agree with that. You could definitely tell a difference in the temperature between the shaded/unshaded areas.
A word of caution to those that attempt to ride the entire trail from start to finish and back, which is just under 88 miles in length... be sure you are physically-fit enough to do this. I began my ride in New Albany at 7 a.m. and made it to the southern part of the trail in Houston 3 hours later at 10 a.m. I was averaging about 14-15 mph. On the way back, the effects of the sun being out in fuller force and the temperature/heat index rising slowed me down and I was taking much more frequent breaks and questioning whether or not I should have opted for riding the entire length of the trail from New Albany to Houston and back to New Albany. I think the round-trip would've been a breeze had it have been in the upper 60s or 70s temperature-wise, but the heat really started wearing on me on the return trip. Took me 5.5 hours on the ride back to New Albany from Houston. Just be careful and don't bite off more than you can chew.
Safety: I really never had a single moment where I felt even remotely unsafe along my ride. The trail goes through lots of farm land, goes by/near several downtown areas in the small towns you pass through along the ride, goes by residential areas along the way, and has a great mixture of scenery to enjoy. When I stopped at the covered shelters and Whistle Stops along my ride, especially on the return trip back to my car, I actually laid down on top of the picnic tables many times as to cool down and pour some of my drinking water on my head and shirt since the heat was becoming more oppressive on the return trip. Numerous people, as they were coming down the trail, always called out to me as they were approaching where I was stopped and asked to make sure I was o.k., obviously since I was laying completely on the tops of the picnic tables. Ha! I felt like any of them would've offered to assist me in any way possible if I had voiced that I felt like I needed some sort of assistance. I encountered some very nice people along my ride.
One part of the trail was especially humorous, as I had to slow-down and figure out what several cows and goats laying on the path were going to do... continue to lay there and make me have to go around them, or move aside as I continued to get nearer to them as to allow me to pass. No issues either way coming/going. Both times, as I got closer to them, the animals ambled to their feet and slowly moved off the trail and I passed without issue. They seem used to doing that. Ha!
I'd estimate I met/passed maybe 125 people either running / biking / in golf carts on the trail total. I encountered more people earlier in my ride than I did on the return trip. I think that was due to the intense heat the area was experiencing later in the day and people had the sense to not be out in the heat on the trail, unlike myself.
Parking in New Albany: I opted to park in a huge parking lot beside the library in New Albany at the beginning of my ride. I felt that my car was very safe there and I had no qualms about leaving it there.
There are several wooden bridges along the trail that offer great scenery as you're going over them. The bridges ARE a little bouncy especially if you're on a bike with thinner tires like I was and a bike also with no suspension, but the trek over the bridges isn't by any means going to rattle your teeth out of your head. If you have front (and possibly rear) suspension on your bike and/or fatter tires, the wooden bridges are going to be less of a bumpy issue to you when riding over them.
Several local people that I talked to at the Whistle Stops all mentioned what a great asset this trail has become to numerous towns that it passes through. They all echoed that some people in each of the towns initially opposed the construction of the trail and felt that it wouldn't lend anything positive to the areas or that it would just invite crime and vandalism to the areas surrounding the trail. All of the people I spoke to commented that the naysayers have been very quiet since the trail has been open, as there have been very few incidents/problems associated with the trail at all.
There are numerous roads that you have to cross when riding the trail... actually quite a few. However, my experience on the Saturday that I rode the trail is that I maybe had to yield at the various crossings for vehicles 4 times altogether. Many of the crossings are over farm access points that I would think rarely have any traffic coming over them... crossings meant to get you from one section of an individual's farm over to the other section across the trail. I would venture to guess you rarely encounter any vehicular or farm equipment traffic at these crossings at all, so they were sort of a non-issue to me.
The pavement as a whole was in extremely good condition from start to finish. Aside from the one 20-foot section of gravel I encountered, I don't recall encountering any other part of the trail that was in need of repair, bumpy, or had tree roots trying to uproot the blacktop. Very well-maintained.
I met/passed several security people riding golf carts along the trail... maybe 3-4 different times during my ride, so the trail does seem to have a few sets of eyes/ears monitoring what's going on on it.
Food Stops: You'll encounter a few convenience stores along the way that you can ride maybe a block away from the trail to if needed if you need additional snacks or assistance. Other than that, Pontotoc is about the only place I can remember along the trail where there's a restaurant or two within a few blocks if you need a full meal as opposed to just a snack.
I can't recommend this trail highly enough. It was well worth the drive from Memphis there to ride it. I'll do it again without a doubt, but maybe the next time around once the weather's a little cooler.
What a gem to that area of Mississippi this trail is! Go check it out!