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, 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 gorgeous in fall, when the hardwoods 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.
Whether you drive the entire stretch and stop at cottages and B&Bs along the way, or just take a day to explore what a portion of the parkway has to offer, here are 15 stops on and off the Natchez Trace Parkway you definitely won’t want to miss.
Nashville Northern Terminus
Your Natchez Trace Parkway journey either ends or begins in Nashville — Celebrate the occasion with a meal at the Loveless Cafe, a Nashville staple with what just might be the best scratch-made biscuits anywhere. Located just 150 yards away from the Parkway’s Northern Terminus on Highway 100, the cafe’s homemade jams are scrumptious and the fried chicken is to die for.
There’s a reason Justin Timberlake recently moved here — With quaint antique stores, gift shops and art galleries, this folksy little town just a few minutes from the Parkway’s Highway 96 exit is a favorite destination for Nashville locals and tourists alike. You can’t go wrong with a meal at either the original Puckett’s Grocery or The Country Boy and you might also consider spending the night in one of the village’s rental cottages or B&Bs.
Baker Bluff/Jackson Falls
This popular stop on the Trace includes both an Instagram-worthy scenic overlook and a short (but steep) .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.
If you can handle a somewhat steep (though not dangerous) 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 (and adults) to play in beneath the falls.
Wichahpi Commemorative Stone Wall
About 10 miles beyond the Tennessee-Alabama border (just past milepost 338), 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 and many other publications.
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 (pictured below), 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.
Natchez Trace Parkway Headquarters Visitors Center
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.
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 US 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.
Afterward, check out the Tupelo Automobile Museum on nearby Franklin Street, where an impressive collection of cars tracks the history of automobile design. Finish up with a little window shopping downtown and a meal at The Neon Pig (its burger was ranked No. 1 in the nation last year), or the highly regarded Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen, where the meat and produce come from area farms.
Ghosthunters, rejoice! The Witch Dance stop on the Natchez Trace Parkway is legendary for its paranormal activity. Legend has it that the bare, scorched patches in the grasses here were caused by the dances of witches. Scary tales about this site abound. Be sure and read some of them aloud if you stop here during your travels.
French Camp Historic District
The French Camp settlement dates back to 1810, when Louis LeFleur and his Choctaw wife opened a tavern and inn on the property. LeFleur’s son would go onto become a Choctaw chief and Mississippi State Senator. Today, you can tour the historic buildings, learn about early American life at the site’s museum and even spend the night at the bed and breakfast, where guests rave about the comfortable beds and delicious breakfasts.
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.
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. And after all this activity, when your stomach starts to rumble, try the delicious seafood dishes at local favorite Walker’s Drive-In, or opt for pizza at Sal & Mookie’s New York Pizza and Ice Cream Joint.
Called one of the most significant historic sites in the South, the Mount Locust Inn & Plantation is the only historic inn left standing of the many that once lined the Old Trace. Built in the late 1700s, the inn later became the family living quarters of an 1800s cotton plantation. Today, visitors can take walking paths to view the house and grounds, which include a brick kiln, family and slave cemeteries and more.
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.
Southern Terminus: Natchez, Mississippi
The Natchez Trace Parkway ends (or begins) at the Mississippi River, just outside historic downtown 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. A third option here is The Camp, serving up delicious burgers and sandwiches as well as a nice selection of craft beers.
The more 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. If your stomach is rumbling, try Roux 61, a seafood restaurant specializing in delicious Cajun-inspired dishes and super-sized portions. The Alligator Cheesecake appetizer (yes, it does contain alligator meat!) is a favorite. 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.
For even more fun and fascinating stops along the Natchez Trace Parkway, check out Suburban Turmoil’s “Best Stops on the Natchez Trace Parkway.”
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