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An ancient Indian trail, the Natchez Trace Parkway winds slowly across Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee. The path was shown on French maps as early as 1733. By 1800 as many as 10,000 "Kaintuck," boatmen a year made the hard trek up the Trace after selling their wares in New Orleans or Natchez.
During the period from 1800-1820 the Trace was the busiest road on the southwest frontier. The advent of the steamboat and easier travel brought a quick end to this traffic. By the mid 1800s the roadway was fast fading back into the forest from which it had emerged.
Today a beautiful, tree shaded drive follows the approximate route of the old roadway from Natchez to Nashville. Take the drive slowly, not just because of the 50 mph speed limit or the scenery. There are deer on the Parkway. A LOT of deer who love to pause by the roadside then dart in front of vehicles, so use caution. There are also wild turkeys, squirrels, foxes and armadillos.
Starting in Natchez, here are some of the "donít miss" sights on the Parkway during your holiday. (All mileages are approximate.)
At mile 15 stop by Mount Locust, the only remaining frontier inn on the Trace. Here a traveler could find a nights lodging and a meal with the family which operated the inn. From spring through fall rangers are on hand to guide you through the nicely restored structure.
Looking for a side trip? Near Port Gibson, mile 39, youll find the Ruins of Windsor, the Ghost Town of Rodney, and Grand Gulf Military Monument Park. Grand Gulf is a Mississippi state park which has a museum, historic structures, and an observation tower all on a crucial battlefield of Grants Vicksburg campaign. Admission is charged.
At Rocky Springs, mile 54, is one of three camping areas on the Trace. (The others are Jeff Busby and Meriwether Lewis. ) Believe it or not there was once a town of over 2600 people here. Poor harvests, depleted soil and disease made the place a ghost town by the 1920s. Today only a Methodist Church and its cemetery testify to what was.
Not far from Rocky Springs you can take a side trip to Vicksburg which offers an excellent Military Park, shopping, dining, riverboat casinos and other entertainment.
Continuing up the Trace, is Jackson, the Capital of Mississippi. Jackson has many dining and shopping opportunities as well as overnight accommodations. The Jackson Zoo, Old Courthouse Museum, and Agriculture and Forestry Museum are worthwhile stops. The Natural Science Museum in LeFleurs Bluff State Park is always interesting to tour.
Just past Jackson the Parkway skirts the shores of the Ross Barnett Reservoir for one of the most scenic sections in Mississippi. Be on the lookout for great blue herons, Canadian geese, and alligators!
At mile 122 pause at Cypress Swamp. An excellent boardwalk and trail leads you through the swamp which is an great place to sight a few of the alligators which abound in the nearby Pearl River.
French Camp, mile 180, displays a number of historic structures. Sorghum molasses making demonstrations are held here in the fall.
Park Headquarters are located at Tupelo, mile 266. Theres a gift shop and small museum located here. Also catch the 12 minute film in the visitors center. The birthplace of Elvis Presley and a civil war battlefield monument are also located in Tupelo.
At mile 303, Tishomingo State Park, a Mississippi State Park, adjoins the parkway. The park offers camping, fishing, hiking, and cabin rentals all in a rustic landscape reminiscent of Appalachia. Its a very worthwhile stop if you have the time. (admission charged)
Just past Tishomingo youll enter the Alabama section of the park.
At mile 327 youll find Colbert Ferry on the shores of the Tennessee River. Legend has it that George Colbert, who operated a ferry here, charged General Andrew Jackson $75,000 to transport his army across the river on their way to the Battle of New Orleans. Today its a great spot for a picnic. A breeze off the water keeps you cool while tugboats pass by on the river which is part of the Army Corps of Engineers Tenn-Tom Waterway. There are boat launches, a swimming area, and restrooms located here.
A few miles further on be sure to pause at Rock Spring where a crystal clear stream emerges from underground. A short trail winds through the forest and alongside the stream. Be on the lookout for muskrats in the creek and turtles sunning themselves. Also watch for snakes in warm weather.
After entering the Tennessee section of the park stop at Sweetwater Branch, mile 363, where a cool stream passes under high rock cliffs. The water is ice cold, a good place for wading but be careful, the rocks are very slick!
Fall Hollow Waterfall, at about mile 392, is actually two falls. This fall, like all of the others on the Trace, is intermittent and may not flow during extremely dry periods. When it does flow however its a truly lovely sight. The trail is steep but well worth the hike.
Meriwether Lewis, mile 385, commemorates the burial place of the explorer of Lewis & Clark fame. Camping is offered here.
If you only see one waterfall on the Parkway make it Jackson
Falls, mile 404. The parking area offers one of the nicest overlooks on the Trace. An
old barn crests a distant hill and if youre lucky the farmer may be plowing his
fields. A steep, paved trail leads to Jackson Falls which is actually two cascades. On the
uppermost and largest falls tumbles down a steep cliff in an unusual fashion while
the lower falls is a more traditional tumble.
These are only a few of the highlights on this historic roadway. Many other sites offer brief hikes, short drives, or spots for leisurely picnics. Where should you stop? Pick up a Park Map at any visitors center and decide for yourself, but whatever you do take your time and enjoy this historic and natural treasure.