Road Trips and Destinations

Camping Road Trip along the Natchez Trace Parkway

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Natchez Trace Parkway

A road trip down the Natchez Trace Parkway can be an awe-inspiring experience. It may not hit you at first, but when you drive along the Parkway, you'd be traveling down the approximation of a 10,000-year-old pathway so steeped in history that, if it could, it would tell you tales of wonder you'd never read in any book. For hundreds of years, the Natchez Trace was used by Native Americans - the Natchez, the Choctaw and the Chickasaw Indians, in particular - to track bison and to trade with other settlements. When the Europeans came to the North American continent, the French and the Spanish trudged along the Trace to conquer and establish territories. After the American Revolutionary War, the Trace served as an important commercial land route linking Natchez in Mississippi to Louisiana's New Orleans. Today, the Natchez Trace Parkway is a window to many colorful chapters in America's past, offering endless panoramic views that invite you to stop and drink them in. 2013 is also a good year to visit the Parkway as it celebrates its 75th Anniversary on May 18.

When to Go

You can visit the Natchez Trace Parkway any time of the year. However, the best time to take your road trip along the Parkway is in the Spring and Fall when the famous Natchez Pilgrimage Tours take place and when all the famous historic attractions along the Parkway are open to visitors. If you're going on the pilgrimage, you ought to plan ahead and reserve as early as possible.

How to Get There

There are two ways to approach a road trip along the Natchez Trace Parkway. One, you can start at the northern terminus of the Parkway, located some 17 miles southwest of Nashville, Tennessee. There, Tennessee Highway 100 intersects with Milepost 444 of the Parkway. The other approach is the southern terminus of the Parkway, at Liberty Road in Natchez, Mississippi. Liberty Road is the Parkway's Milepost 0.

How Long Should the Trip Be?

We recommend five leisurely days according to the itinerary set out below. This itinerary follows the Parkway from Milepost 0 to Milepost 444. If you want to begin your road trip from the northern terminus near Nashville, just follow this itinerary in reverse.

What to See and Do

There are so many places you can visit and activities you can engage in when you visit the Natchez Trace Parkway. You can go hiking or horseback riding. If you are a cycling enthusiast, the entire Parkway is a road designated for cyclists. You can camp and picnic at designated spots along the Parkway. You can go fishing or watch birds. Most of all, you can explore the landmarks and monuments that commemorate all that history that was made on the Natchez Trace.

Five Day Visit - Natchez to Nashville - About 460 miles

Day One - Natchez, Mississippi

Spend the day doing the Natchez Pilgrimage Tour and exploring the historic buildings of Natchez.

  1. Start at the Natchez Visitor Center. The Visitor Center is a one-stop shop where you can buy tickets that will grant you access to the many antebellum homes featured on the Pilgrimage Tour. Here you can also view exhibits and watch a short film on the history of Natchez and its surrounding area. Allow for 30 minutes to one hour.
  2. Spend three hours of the morning on the Pilgrimage Tour and visit three antebellum homes. Not to be missed are:
    1. Longwood - a grand, six-story octagonal house with a floor area of 30,000 square meters. Built for Haller Nutt and his wife Julia Williams Nutt, only the first floor of this house was made habitable; the Civil War dawned before the house could be completed.
    2. Stanton Hall - a mansion in Natchez famous for its Greek Revival architecture. It was built for Frederick Stanton, a noted planter and cotton broker of his time. Stanton Hall has many features, fixtures and elements imported from Europe. Most of its antique treasures are still housed in the Hall.
    3. Rosalie - formerly a headquarters of the Union Army during the Civil War. Rosalie is most noted by scholars for being the prototype of many antebellum houses found throughout the South. The mansion was originally built for Peter Little.
  3. Visit the Natchez National Historic Park. This NHP preserves three distinct edifices, namely: a) Fort Rosalie, a fortification built by the French and was the site of the Natchez Indians massacre by the French in 1729; b) Melrose, a Greek Revival mansion that served as the home of state senator John T. McMurran; and c) the William Johnson House, home of barber William Johnson, a free African-American whose diaries gave modern scholars precious insights to his life and the age in which he lived. Allow at least 1.5 hours for this visit.
  4. Stop by the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians. The Grand Village was the center of the Natchez Indian nation until 1729. Located on the banks of St. Catherine Creek, the village is home to various ceremonial mounds and other archaeological finds. Spend at least 30 minutes exploring the Grand Village.
  5. Spend the night at one of the campgrounds near Natchez.

Day Two - Natchez to Rocky Springs - 60 miles

  1. Drive onto Natchez Trace Parkway. At MP 10, visit Emerald Mound. Emerald Mound is the second largest ceremonial mound found in the US, rising 35 feet high and covering eight acres. Built by the Mississippians in around 1200 AD, Emerald Mound served as a site for burials as well as for civic and religious rituals. Emerald Mound can be found 10 miles northeast of Natchez. Spend at least 30 minutes here.
  2. Continue on to Mount Locust at MP 15.5. To understand the significance of Mount Locust, one must understand the story of the Kaintucks. The Kaintucks were boatmen from the Ohio River Valley who floated on flatboats on the Mississippi River all the way to New Orleans to trade their goods. Rather than fight against the strong currents of the Mississippi River on their way back home, the Kaintucks sold the salvageable lumber on their flatboats and trudged back home on the Natchez Trace. By 1785, there were so many of these Kaintucks traveling along the Old Trace that a couple named William and Paulina Ferguson decided to offer their home - Mount Locust - as a "stand" or inn. For 25 cents, a weary Kaintuck traveler can sleep under the Ferguson roof and enjoy a dinner of cornmeal. Mount Locust, however, was more than just a stand. It was a working farm that housed slaves until after the Civil War. It was the home of five generations of Chamberlains, descended from Paulina and her second husband, James Chamberlain. Allow at least one hour to visit Mount Locust.
  3. Continue to MP 30 and then take the 552 to see the Windsor Ruins near Port Gibson. Did you know that Port Gibson was deemed too beautiful to burn by Major General Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War? And so Windsor was spared from being reduced to ashes. Unfortunately, some 30 years after the war, a careless guest left a lighted cigar on a balcony and caused the mansion to be destroyed by fire, leaving only 23 Corinthian columns behind. During the Civil War, Windsor was a Confederate outpost and then a Union hospital. It was built for Smith Daniell as the crown jewel of his 2,600-acre plantation. Allow 30 minutes.
  4. Near the Windsor Ruins is the Port Gibson Battlefield. The Battlefield was one of the sites of Grant's campaign against Vicksburg, Mississippi. Here, Grant engaged the Army of Tennessee led by Brigadier General John S. Bowen. The Confederate defeat on this site enabled the Union to secure their Mississippi River beachhead and open the way to Vicksburg. Allow 30 minutes minimum.
  5. Drive on to Port Gibson, the town Grant said was too beautiful to burn down. Port Gibson is the third-oldest European settlement in Mississippi. Points of interest here include the First Presbyterian Church, famous for the golden sculpture of a hand on its steeple; the Gemiluth Chessed Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in Mississippi and the only example of Moorish Revival architecture in the state; and the Allen Collection Exhibit at the City Hall, which features photographs of Port Gibson during the early 1900s. Allow 1 hour minimum.
  6. Stop at MP 41.5 and hike a portion of the Old Natchez Trace at Sunken Trace. Sunken Trace is a deeply eroded part of the Old Trace. It reflects the harsh conditions travelers had to face when trekking the Old Trace, including deadly insect bites, snakes, swamps, lack of proper food and shelter, bandits and unfriendly Indians. It only takes five to ten minutes to hike the Sunken Trace.
  7. Continue to Rocky Springs at MP 54.8. Once a prosperous community that grew from the rocky springs which provided an important source of water in the area, Rocky Springs is now a ghost town. The Civil War and a number of natural calamities drove the town's residents away. Take a quick walking tour of the town before spending the night here at the Rocky Springs campground.

Day Three - Rocky Springs to Jeff Busby - 150 miles

  1. Come off Natchez Trace Parkway and head to Vicksburg National Military Park. Vicksburg NMP was the site of the Battle of Vicksburg, a 47-day siege that gave the Union the key to the Mississippi River and served as one of the major turning points of the Civil War. You can get orientated at the Visitor Center and then join either a guided or self-guided tour of the park. Don't miss the USS Cairo Museum on your visit here. Allow 3 hours minimum.
  2. Head back to Natchez Trace Parkway and continue on to the Mississippi Crafts Center at MP 102.4. Mississippi Crafts Center is the home of the Craftsmen's Guild of Mississippi, whose mission is to preserve and promote regional craftsmanship. At the Center, you will find exhibits and demonstrations of both traditional and contemporary crafts. Take 30 minutes or so for your visit here.
  3. Head on to Cypress Swamp near MP 122. Cypress Swamp is a half-mile trail through a swamp filled with bald cypresses and water tupelo. This trail is self-guided and features a boardwalk. Allows 20 minutes to complete the trail.
  4. Continue on to French Camp at MP 180.7. Just like Mount Locust, French Camp was a stand that served travelers along the Natchez Trace as well as the village that adopted the name. The stand was first built by a Frenchman named Louie LeFleur, who married a Chocktaw woman. Their son, Greenwood Leflore, became a chief of the Chocktaw as well as a state senator for Mississippi. Today, the French Camp is a Historic Districtwith quaint log cabins, an exhibit of French and Indian artifacts and a sorghum mill. Allow 30 minutes to visit.
  5. Head on to Little Mountain Overlook at Jeff Busby at MP 193.1. The Little Mountain Overlook is one of the highest points not just of Natchez Trace Parkway but also of the whole of Mississippi. When the day is clear, you can see some 20 miles out. Aside from a 30-minute nature trail, Jeff Busby is also a great place for picnicking. Spend the night at the Jeff Busby Campground.

Day Four - Jeff Busby to Tishomingo State Park - 111 miles

  1. Stop at Bynum Mounds at MP 232.4. The Bynum Mounds are made up of six conical burial mounds and an associated village. The mounds were built approximately 2,100 years to 1,800 years ago, during the Middle Woodland period when the Mississippians were moving to settlements further inland and establishing wider trade routes with their neighbors. Two of the burial mounds are open to the public: a) Mound A, the resting place of a woman with ornamental copper spools around her wrists as well as cremated remains of a child and two adults; and b) Mound B, a log-lined crematorium.
  2. Make a short stop at Tombigbee National Forest, one of the six NFs in Mississippi and notable for its lovely rolling hills covered with pine and hardwood. Take a short stroll along the Lakeside Trail. Allow 30 minutes minimum.
  3. Head on to Tupelo, the birthplace of Elvis Presley. Even if you're not an Elvis fan, it would be easy for you to appreciate the legend and influence of the King while you're in Tupelo. Here you can visit the house where Elvis was born, the schools he went to and the store where he bought his first guitar.
  4. Returning to the parkway, check out the Tupelo Visitor Center at MP 266. The Tupelo Visitor Center serves as the National Parks Service headquarters for the Natchez Trace Parkway. Aside from the Information Center, the Visitor Center has its own nature walks and exhibits that show people all they need to know about the Parkway.
  5. Visit the Confederate Grave Sites at MP 269.4. The Old Trace saw a lot of use for both the Union and Confederate troops during the Civil War. These gravesites commemorate 13 unknown Confederate soldiers, silent testimonies to the struggle the country went through to become the nation it is today.
  6. Explore the Pharr Mounds at MP 286.7. Covering nearly 85 acres, the Pharr Mounds are some of the largest Middle Woodland mounds in the Southeast. You can find eight towering burial mounds here, all containing ancient crematoriums with burned and unburned remains. You can learn more about the Middle Woodland mound building process here.
  7. Spend the night at the Tishomingo State Park at MP 304.5. Sign up at the park office for the 10 AM Bear Creek Canoe Trip on the next day.

Day Five - Tishomingo State Park to the end of the Parkway - 140 miles

  1. Wake up early so you can have an early start exploring Tishomingo State Park. Named after one of the last great leaders of the Chickasaw, Chief Tishu Miko, the State Park is known for its beautiful hiking trails marked by rock walls and outcrops, waterfalls, natural springs and lovely sceneries. Don't miss the Bear Creek Outcroppings Trail, where you can find the park's largest rock shelter - the 62 foot high Jean's Overhang. Also check out Haynes Lake, where you will find a restored log cabin built in the 1840s. If you haven't already make sure before 10AM, you're at the park office to sign up for the Bear Creek canoe trip (3 hours).
    Allow four hours for Tishomingo State Park.
  2. Head on to the Freedom Hills Overlook at MP 317 in Alabama. This steep trail measures a quarter of a mile and leads to the highest point on the Parkway in Alabama. The Overlook offers magnificent views of the highlands covered with trees.
  3. At MP 385.9, stop by the Meriwether Lewis Monument in Tennessee to pay your respects to the grave of Meriwether Lewis, one of the leaders of the famed Lewis and Clark Expeditions. Lewis died of gunshot wounds in the inn preserved in this park. The official story was that Lewis had killed himself, but according to conspiracy theorists, it was a murder instead of a suicide. Lewis was only 35 when he died; his life short-lived is commemorated with a broken pillar monument over his gravesite. Allow 30 minutes minimum.
  4. Hike the Fall Hallow Trail at Tennessee, MP 391.9. The trail is only a five-minute walk to a viewing platform where you can view a small but pretty Fall Hallow Waterfall. If you want to hike a bit more along this path, you will find yourself rewarded with views of numerous small cascades.
  5. Visit the Tobacco Farm and Old Trace Drive at MP 401.4. Stopping at the Tobacco Farm and Old Trace Drive is like a mini-stop in time. The Tobacco Farm is a prime example of what Southern tobacco farms looked like in the 1900s. It will take you 10 minutes to loop through the Tobacco Farm and its barn where the tobacco leaves were hung out to dry. From the Tobacco Farm, you make the turn to the Old Trace Drive. The Old Trace Drive is a portion of the original Natchez Trace that you can take without walking, although it is not suitable for RVs. This spot offers marvelous views of the valley below it.
  6. Hike the trail to Jackson Falls at MP 404.7. The Jackson Falls trail is one of the most popular spots on the Natchez Trace Parkway. The trail is short, but rather steep and takes you 900 feet down in elevation to a small gorge. You'll find on this trail Jackson Falls, a waterfall named for Andrew Jackson. From this trail, you can also take a short hike to the Baker Bluff Overlook, with its views of a beautiful pastoral valley, at MP 405.1.
  7. Travel to Birdsong Hollowat MP 438. At Birdsong Hollow, you'll find a magnificent double-arched bridge that received the Presidential Award for Design Excellence in 1995. The bridge rises 155 feet above the valley below it and spans 1,648 feet across.
  8. The Parkway ends at MP 444.

Tips for Driving the Natchez Trace Parkway

Here are a few tips that will help ensure you'll have a great time driving along the Natchez Trace Parkway:

  • The speed limit on the Parkway is set at 50mph. This is enforced strictly.
  • The Parkway is a designated bike route and many animals, especially deer, cross the roadway as well. So, be careful when driving and watch out for cyclists and animals.
  • ATVs are prohibited on the Parkway. There are also portions of the Parkway where RVs are not allowed.
  • Hunting is absolutely prohibited on the Parkway. Moreover, all objects of natural, historical and archaeological significance on the Parkway are protected by federal law.

Helpful Links

A road trip down the Natchez Trace Parkway is a trip you should take at least once in your life. Not only is the Parkway teeming with views of splendid natural beauty, but it is also a portal back in time. So pack your bags and load your RV for an unforgettable trip down the Natchez Trace Parkway.

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Photos

Exterior of Melrose, a Greek revival mansion at Natchez National Historic Park
Grand Melrose, a Greek revival mansion, home of Senator John T. McMurran
Inside the historic Mount Locust Inn on the Natchez Trace Parkway
* Inside the historic Mount Locust Inn used by travelers on the Natchez Trace
Columns at Windsor Ruins
All that remains of the Windsor mansion once deemed too beautiful to burn
Abandoned Church at Rocky Springs
Abandoned church in the ghost town of Rocky Springs
Cannon and memorial at Vicksburg National Military Park
Vicksburg National Military Park
Alligators resting on a log at Cypress Swamp
* Alligators resting at Cypress Swamp
French Camp an old log cabin that use to be a place to stop for travelers, Natchez Trace Parkway
French Camp a stand that served travelers along the Natchez Trace
Small white house - the birthplace of Elvis Presley, Tupelo MS
Birthplace of the King of Rock and Roll
Pharr Mounds, Natchez Trace Parkway
* Pharr burial mounds
Canoeing Bear Creek, Tishomingo State Park, MS
Canoeing Bear Creek, Tishomingo State Park
Meriwether Lewis Monument, Natchez Trace Parkway
Grave of Meriwether Lewis at Meriwether Lewis Monument
Hiking the Old Trace
Hiking the Old Trace
Jackson Falls, Natchez Trace Parkway
Jackson Falls
Double Arched Bridge over Highway 96 Natchez Trace Parkway
Double Arched Bridge
* Photo courtesy of NPS.gov
 

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