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A Few Highlights Along The Natchez Trace     

It winds nearly 450 miles through woodlands, meadows, and hills, past waterfalls, historic sites, and across rivers and streams. Indians, explorers, frontiersmen, soldiers, boatmen, bandits, adventurers and pilgrims have walked its length. It has been the scene of tragedy and triumph for centuries. It is the Natchez Trace. It is one of the greatest motorcycle road trips in the country.

Long before the first white men stepped foot in the New World, Indian people used a series of animal trails and footpaths leading from saltlicks near present-day Nashville, Tennessee to the swamps around what today is Natchez, Mississippi. By 1733 maps were recording this trail, and between 1801 and 1807 treaties President Thomas Jefferson made with the local Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw tribes allowed the building of America’s second federally built roadway, the Natchez Trace.

From the 1780s through 1811 thousands of farmers from Tennessee and Kentucky floated their goods downriver to market in Natchez aboard flatboats. In those days before powered watercraft, navigating back up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers was impossible, so once they sold their cargo, they sold their boats for lumber and began a long, dangerous trek by horseback or on foot back north along the Natchez Trace.

For more than two decades the Natchez Trace was the most important route in the region, aiding exploration, trade, settlement, and even warfare. When the Mississippi Territory was established in 1798, with Natchez as its capital, post riders began using the Trace to carry mail.

A trip on the old Natchez Trace was always an arduous and dangerous journey. Disease, quicksand, flooded rivers and streams, poisonous snakes, renegade Indians, and outlaws all awaited the careless or unfortunate traveler.

The invention of the steamboat ended traffic on the Natchez Trace virtually overnight. No longer did travelers have to face the many dangers of the overland route, instead they could travel comfortably and quickly back upriver.

The old route was almost forgotten until the Civil War, when it became an important military asset used and struggled over by soldiers from both the North and South. Once more men moved along the old roadway, and once again men suffered and died along its length. With the bloody war over, once again the Natchez Trace was almost forgotten for nearly 70 years.

In 1934 Congress appropriated funds to enable the National Park Service to conduct a survey of the historic route with a view of constructing a national roadway from Natchez to Nashville. In 1938 construction began on the Natchez Trace Parkway. Today the Natchez Trace Parkway is administered by the National Park Service and provides recreational travelers with a wonderful opportunity to get off the busier highways and experience life at a slower pace.

Except for a fifteen mile portion near Jackson, Mississippi, the Trace is now complete, a meandering two lane roadway popular with RVers, motorcyclists, and bicycle riders. No commercial traffic is allowed on the Trace, and its smooth roadway and 50 mile an hour speed limit makes it a relaxing travel experience. Frequent pullouts provided at historic or scenic points of interest provide plenty of breaks along the way.

Three campgrounds along the Trace offer free camping on a first come basis, and motels can be found just off the Parkway all along its route.

For most of its length, the Parkway follows the original route closely, and at several places travelers can park at pullouts and hike portions of the original footpaths used by the first people to journey over this route.

The best way to experience the Natchez Trace is to follow the route the old boatmen did, from south to north. Mile markers and rustic information signs identify points of interest along the Parkway. Space does not allow us to identify every point along the Parkway, but we will include some highlights to help you plan your own trip.

Starting near Natchez, Mississippi, at mile marker 8.7 a parking area provides access to a portion of the original Old Trace. This is a good opportunity to walk in the footsteps of the riverboat men and adventurers who followed this path over two centuries ago. A couple of miles north, at mile marker 10.2 lies Emerald Mound. Built by ancient Indians about 1400 A.D. and covering nearly eight acres, Emerald Mound is the second largest of its type in the nation.

Early travelers on the Natchez Trace stayed in "stands," early inns that provided food and shelter. One of these inns, Mount Locust, has been restored and can be seen at mile marker 15.5. The stand includes a Ranger station, restrooms, and interpretive programs are provided from February through November.

Grindstone Ford and Magnum Mound are located at mile marker 45.7. Back in the wild and woolly days of the Natchez Trace, northbound travelers used to consider themselves in wild territory beyond this point. Artifacts displayed here tell of the prehistoric people who inhabited this area long ago.

If you arrive early enough to find an open site, the free campground at Rocky Springs (mile marker 54.8) makes a good place to spend the night.

Back in the 1800s Rocky Springs was a busy settlement of 2600 people, and a short trail leads to the old town site.

At mile marker 73.5, Deans Stand was an inn serving travelers in the 1820s and 1830s. Union generals Grant and Sherman used nearby Dillon Plantation as their headquarters during the Civil War’s Vicksburg Campaign. Five miles north, at mile marker 78.3 the Battle of Raymond was fought during the Civil War.

The Mississippi Crafts Center at mile marker 102.4 offers demonstrations of traditional crafts and makes a good place to shop for souvenirs of your trip. At mile marker 104.5 Brasher’s Stand once advertised itself as "a house of entertainment in the wilderness." Nearby is a portion of the original Trace. At 106.9, Boyd Site marks the location of earthen burial mounds dating back 1,200 years.

Hikers can take a 20 minute walk through Cypress Swamp at mile marker 122. Further north, at mile marker 145.1, a 10 minute self-guided walk will teach visitors about the beavers who live in the Myrick Creek area.

Talk show host Oprah Winfrey was born at Kosciusko, Mississippi on January 29, 1954, and the Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce operates an information center at mile marker 160.

Frenchman Louis LeFleur established a stand at French Camp (mile marker 180.7) in 1812. It became a school in 1822, and remains one today. If you travel the Natchez Trace in the Fall, stop and see sorghum molasses being made here.

At mile marker 193.1, the free Jeff Busby campground has 18 sites, but get here early as they fill up fast. A service station and small camp store can be found here.

Mile marker 203.5 will put you at Pigeon Roost. Nathanial and David Folsom operated a stand and trading post here during the busiest times on the Trace. The location takes its name from the millions of passenger pigeons that once roosted here.

Bynum Mounds, at mile marker 232.4 were built 2,000 years ago by prehistoric people who once inhabited this area. Exhibits describe their life and culture. Tockshish, at mile marker 249.6, was settled in 1770 by John McIntosh. After the Natchez Trace was declared a National Post Road in 1800, the stand became the halfway point where post riders from Natchez and Nashville met and exchanged mailbags for their return trip.

Mile marker 259.7 is the exit to Tupelo for travelers who want to visit the Elvis Presley Birthplace, Tupelo National Battlefield, and other attractions in the city. At Chickasaw Village Site, mile marker 261.8, exhibits describe the daily life of these Native Americans at the former site of one of their villages. A self-guided trail has signs identifying plants used by the Chickasaw.

The Tupelo Visitor Center at mile marker 266 is the Parkway headquarters, with exhibits, a 20 minute hike along a self-guided trail, information on the Parkway, and an orientation program. From here, you can take a side trip to Brices Crossroads National Battlefield.

From Tupelo north, the terrain changes – more hills and curves, and many consider this the prettiest half of the trip. A short walk from the parking area at mile marker 269.4 will take you to the graves of thirteen Confederate soldiers whose identity and the circumstances of their deaths remain a mystery.

At Twentymile Bottom Overlook, mile marker 278.8, you can enjoy a nice view of the surrounding countryside. Pharr Mounds, mile marker 286.7, is a 90 acre complex of eight burial mounds dating back 2,000 years.

Tishomingo State Park, at mile marker 304.5, offers camping, picnic areas, swimming, canoeing, and fishing. The park and nearby waterway take their name from a Chickasaw medicine man and warrior.

At mile marker 308.9 the Natchez Trace crosses the state line into Alabama for a short run. Freedom Hills Overlook, at mile marker 317, can be reached by way of a steep 1/4 mile trail, and offers nice views. This is Alabama’s highest point on the Trace.

James Colbert operated a ferry across the Tennessee River at mile marker 327.3. Legend has it that Colbert once charged Andrew Jackson $75,000 to ferry his army across the river. This is a good spot to pull off, take a break, and watch the river traffic.

At mile marker 341.8 the Trace enters Tennessee, and the old McGlamerys Stand once stood at mile marker 352.9. The 2 and 1/2 mile Old Trace Drive at mile marker 375.8 follows the original Trace route. Several overlooks provide stunning views of the countryside.

Mile marker 385.9 is the Meriwether Lewis campground, and a Ranger station can also be found here. Be sure to visit the monument marking the grave of Lewis, the explorer who, with partner William Clark, led the Voyage of Discovery to the Pacific Ocean. Lewis died here under mysterious circumstances. The official story is that he committed suicide, though many believe foul play was involved.

A typical early tobacco farm at mile marker 401.4 includes a ten minute loop walk that takes you through tobacco fields and the barn where tobacco leaves hang to dry. Take the time to drive the two mile long stretch of original Trace. It is a narrow and fun stretch of roadway.

If you like waterfalls, Jackson Falls at mile marker 404.7 is worth the short walk, and Baker Bluff Overlook at mile marker 404.1 will give you a very nice view of the valley below.

One of the few remaining buildings associated with the Old Natchez Trace is the home of ferry operator John Gordon at the Duck River, mile marker 407.7. Gordon operated a trading post and ferry service here in the early 1800s. Gordon served with Andrew Jackson and was away while much of the construction was going on in 1817-1818, leaving his wife Dorathea to oversee the project. Gordon died shortly after the home was completed, but his wife lived here until her death in 1859.

Garrison Creek, at mile marker 427.6, was named for a nearby Army post that was established during 1801-1802. The double arch bridge at mile marker 438 was completed in 1994 and received the Presidential Award for Design Excellence for its innovative design. The bridge rises 155 feet above the valley below.

Mile marker 444 is the northern terminus of the Natchez Trace, and from here it is a short drive to Interstate 40 and into Nashville. If you are like us, the trip up the Natchez Trace may be over here, but the memories of your trip up this historic route will last a lifetime.

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