While you’re on the quiet, slow-paced Natchez Trace Parkway drive, try to imagine that walking was how people traveled this route until just a few decades ago.
In 1810 alone, 10,000 Americans trudged north from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee, and then home to the Midwest. Whether from Kentucky, Ohio or Pennsylvania, they were called “Kaintucks.” They had floated commodity-laden riverboats down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to Natchez or New Orleans, sold their goods, dismantled their boats for lumber and headed home by foot. Their more-than-500-mile trek on the Natchez Trace took about 35 days – that’s 14 miles a day, and they probably weren’t admiring the scenery along the way.
The Natchez Trace Parkway, all 444 miles of it today, is one of America’s most scenic and history-laden drives. It is a unit of the National Park Service and a true treasure. Milepost 0 is at Natchez, and parkway maps point out numerous reasons to stop, stretch your legs and soak in your surroundings.
At Milepost 41.5 is a stretch of the actual footpath used by Native Americans, explorers, Kaintucks and soldiers. It is called the Sunken Trace, and as you walk along it, think of how many footsteps it took to carve this path into the Mississippi soil. The two-lane parkway touches four ecosystems and eight major watersheds. It goes through swamps, across rivers and beside prehistoric Indian mounds.
It’s a pristine drive – lodging, food and fuel are just through the trees in nearby towns – and you can enjoy the drive as one big adventure, or just sample parts. The parkway visitor center is at Milepost 266 at Tupelo, and fried chicken, country ham, homemade preserves and some of the best biscuits ever baked await you at the Loveless Motel, strategically located just past Milepost 444 near Nashville.