Historically used by bisons traveling north to find salt licks, the Natchez Trace is now a scenic drive from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee. Plan enough time to immerse yourself in the Southern beauty along the way. There are plenty of places on the side of the road to take in the view and to explore the history of the trail (which includes everything from Greco-Roman ruins to Native American earthworks), and the 50 mph speed limit forces you to experience the peace of life in the slower lane.
As the second largest settlement of people north of Mexico, it's absolutely worth stopping to appreciate the Natchez mound builder Native Americans and their importance to the region. During your Natchez Trail road trip, pull over, stretch your legs and climb Emerald Mound in Natchez, Mississippi. There are some educational, interpretive panels to help you understand the significance of this fascinating tribe.
Winding back roads, shaded by Spanish moss-draped trees take you to the secluded Windsor Ruins. The 23 columns are all that remain of what was once the largest antebellum Greek revival mansion in Mississippi. It was the main building on a 2,600 acre plantation that was occupied by both Confederate and Union soldiers during the Civil War, who used it as a signaling station, observation point, and hospital. However, the opulent structure didn't survive the war by much: it was in 1890 when smoldering cigar ashes lit a pile of carpentry debris on fire and eventually burned the whole place to the ground, leaving only the columns.
Although the trace is no longer terrorized by highway bandits, you can still get your fill of danger at mile marker 122, where alligators lurk beneath the smooth surface of the Tupelo-Baldcypress Swamp. Walk the loop around the swamp and marvel at the the stately cypress trees with roots plunging into the still waters. In the summer, when the water is blanketed with algae, it seems as though you could step right onto it... but you may not want to once you look closer at that bumpy log and realize it's actually an alligator!
If the natural beauty and the rhythm of the road start lulling you to sleep, pull off at mile marker 180.7, where the log cabin village of French Camp offers four bed and breakfast cabins. Awake refreshed in the historical village, and view the cabins that were constructed in the 40s – the 1840s, that is. Experience life as it was in early America, except with the comforts of modern indoor plumbing.
No trip along the Natchez Trace is complete without nods to the Native American history imbued in the trail. Pharr Mounds is a collection of eight burial mounds where tribes buried their dead from 100-1200 C.E. It's now a major archaeological site, where firepits and artifacts have been excavated. Stop for a moment at milepost 286.7 and imagine the lives of the people who left their mark here nearly 2,000 years ago.
What better way to honor one of the original adventurers of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Meriwether Lewis, than with a road trip to his memorial statue? The Natchez Trace was his last journey – he was killed by two gunshot wounds while staying in an inn by the side of the road, and the reason for his murder remains unclear to this day. Stop at mile marker 385.9 to see the monument dedicated to the man, and even visit a reconstructed version of the inn where he was killed.
Natchez Trace State Park is a gorgeous park to walk around. Do the "Cub Creek Trail": it's a lush little walk, and if you have time, hike the four miles around the beautiful Cub Lake. It's not a particularly busy state park, but on holidays you'll have some moderate crowds.
Founded in 1951, Loveless Cafe at milepost 444 advertises hot biscuits, country ham, and air conditioning, so stop in for a filling Southern meal and to cool down after walking the trails. The family biscuit recipe is a guarded secret, so don’t even try sneaking one home for analysis. You can, however, buy a Loveless Cafe Bacon Sampler for all of your fried pork needs.
Once you reach Nashville, pull over for the night at the Hermitage Hotel. It's a historic beaux arts style building, and it's in a perfect location just across from the State Capitol and the Tennessee State Museum. There's free wifi and even fresh baked goods offered to guests. There's also free morning coffee, and afternoon apple cider and cookies. There's an onsite restaurant that specializes in Southern cuisine, too.
The Natchez Trace is a beautiful historic drive that's great really any time of year. However, it is especially gorgeous in fall with the foliage. The leaves change color in mid-October and last till about the beginning of November. Milepost 375.8 is a beautiful forested scenic point, the Swan View Overlook at milepost 392.5, Fall Hollow at milepost 391.9 and the Old Trace Trailhead at milepost 427.6 are some fantastic spots to pull over for some prime leaf-peeping.
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