The Natchez Trace Parkway
Spend even an hour driving down the Natchez Trace Parkway and you’ll instantly understand why it’s called one of the most scenic drives in the country.
Managed by the National Park Service, this two-lane road winds through nearly 450 miles of protected land, from Nashville, Tennessee, through Alabama and on to Natchez, Mississippi. Along the way, you’ll find a rich array of wildlife, gorgeous waterfalls, memorable hikes and historic sites, some dating back thousands of years. The Trace is especially stunning in fall, when the hardwood forests lining the roadway explode in color.
The Natchez Trace Parkway follows the path of the original Natchez Trace trail, first cleared by prehistoric animals making their way between prairie lands and the Mississippi River. Native Americans eventually followed in their footsteps, and by the 1500s, explorers like Hernando de Soto and his men were traveling the Old Trace in search of new discoveries. By 1809, The Trace had been widened to accommodate wagons, making it an important trade route between Nashville and the Mississippi River. It continued to flourish until the rise of the steamboat, then slowly fell into disuse until the National Park Service took over in 1938. The Parkway was finally completed in 2005.
Nashville Milepost 442.1
Your Natchez Trace Parkway journey either ends or begins in Nashville. Located just 150 yards away from the Parkway’s Northern Terminus on Highway 100, is Loveless Cafe. The cafe’s homemade jams and scratch-made biscuits are scrumptious and the fried chicken is to die for. However, to start your journey off in style, order yourself some BBQ; we promise it’s the best. nps.gov/natr
Jackson Falls Milepost 405.1
This popular stop on the Trace includes both an Instagram-worthy scenic overlook and a short (but steep) 0.2 mile paved hike into a small gorge to see Jackson Falls, named for Tennessee President Andrew Jackson. At times, the falls are only a trickle, but after a rain, they’re quite a sight to see.
Fall Hollow Milepost 391.9
If you can handle a somewhat steep descent, the payoff here is definitely worth it. Fall Hollow starts with an easy, paved walk to an observation deck that overlooks a waterfall cascading down a sheer rock face. Continue past the deck and on down the dirt trail, and you’ll soon come across even more waterfalls, including one with a crystal-clear pool of water that’s perfect for kids to play in beneath the falls - preferably when the weather is warm.
Wichahpi Commemorative Stone Wall Milepost 338
About 10 miles beyond the Tennessee-Alabama border, exit onto Lauderdale County Road 8 to see the Wichahpi Commemorative Stone Wall, just off the Trace. Tom Hendrix has spent more than 30 years building this wall in honor of his great-great-grandmother, who was part of the American Indian removal to Oklahoma. This is the largest un-mortared stone wall in the nation and has been featured in the New York Times.
Tuscumbia, Alabama Milepost 320
Exit at milepost 320 onto U.S. Highway 72 and drive 19 miles to Tuscumbia, a town that dates back to 1819 and is home to both Helen Keller’s birthplace and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. The crown jewel of this city is Spring Park, which has rides for children, elaborate fountains synchronized to lights and music, a spring-fed lake, and the world’s largest man-made natural stone waterfall. alamhof.org
Natchez Trace Parkway Headquarters Visitors Center Milepost 266
This Visitors Center is the quintessential place to stop for all things related to the Trace. Here, you’ll find everything you ever wanted to know about the Parkway, including a bookstore, nature center, informational video, knowledgeable park rangers and a hiking trail that will take you to a nearby Chickasaw Village site on the Trace.
Tupelo, Mississippi Milepost 259.7
Exit the Parkway at milepost 259.7 onto Mississippi Highway 6, and you’ll soon find yourself on Tupelo’s Main Street. Once you cross U.S. 45, turn left onto Elvis Presley Drive. This is the street where The King himself was born in 1935, and here you can tour his two-room birthplace and museum. elvispresleybirthplace.com; tupelo.net
Cypress Swamp Milepost 122
Stop here and take a self-guided half-mile tour on the raised boardwalk over a stunning water tupelo/bald cypress swamp. Keep a sharp eye out and you might even see an alligator or two while you’re there.
Jackson, Mississippi Milepost 87
If you exit the Parkway at I-20, Jackson, Mississippi is just 10 miles away. You’ll find plenty to do in Mississippi’s largest city. If you’re traveling with kids, you’ll definitely want to make time for the Mississippi Children’s Museum and Mississippi Museum of Natural Science. ESPN calls the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame one of the best baseball museums in the country. History buffs and fans of Southern fiction will enjoy touring the home where Eudora Welty lived and wrote for nearly 80 years. Don’t miss the Fondren Art District for its hip, funky vibe. mschildrensmuseum.org; mdah.ms.gov/welty; msfame.com
Emerald Mound Milepost 10.3
Built between 1300 and 1600 A.D., this Indian temple mound is the second largest in the United States. The mound is 35 feet tall, with two smaller mounds on top, and was once a ceremonial gathering place for tribes from outlying villages. To see it, exit the Natchez Trace Parkway at Mississippi Highway 553 and go west one mile.
Natchez, Mississippi Milepost 0
The Natchez Trace Parkway ends (or begins) at the Mississippi River, just outside our favorite historic town Natchez. Down by the river’s edge, you’ll find Natchez Under-the-Hill, a row of riverfront restaurants and shops on Silver Street far tamer than the brothels, taverns and gambling halls that stood here 200 years ago. At the Magnolia Grill, the food is matched only by the views of the river, while the Under-the-Hill Saloon is popular with locals and tourists alike.
The respectable citizens of Natchez set up house above the hill, and a number of those fine houses are still standing. It’s worth taking the time to tour Longwood, Rosalie Mansion and Stanton Hall, all built in the mid-1850s. The Donut Shop has particularly good donuts, as well as tamales and burgers, while Kings Tavern offers delicious hand-crafted cocktails, fresh fish and flatbreads inside the oldest standing building in the Mississippi Territory. Consider spending the night at the Monmouth Historic Inn, built in 1818, or at Dunleith, built in 1856. Both are historic homes with extensive grounds that give overnight guests an opportunity to feel like they’ve stepped nearly 200 years back in time. monmouthhistoricinn.com; stantonhall.com; visitnatchez.org
Whether you drive the entire stretch and stop at sites and B&Bs along the way, or just take a day to explore what a small portion of what the parkway has to offer, it will be a unique adventure to remember.