johnny February 10th, 2009
Leaving Tennessee, we hopped on the Natchez Trace Parkway a bit south of Nashville and took it to the end in Natchez, Mississippi. Now, it wasn’t leaf peeper or flower sniffer season, but it was still a beautiful drive. The entire parkway is around four hundred and fifty miles long, two lane blacktop through the countryside. It closely follows the original Natchez Trace, which was a footpath through the forest used by Indians and traders up until the late nineteenth century. The speed limit is fifty miles an hour and only non-commercial use is allowed. In short, you couldn’t hope for a more leisurely drive. I was surprised how light traffic was. We often went fifteen minutes or more without seeing another vehicle.
If you get tired of driving, the park system has you covered. There is some kind of pull off every few miles. These range from historic areas and exhibits to nature areas and hiking trails. In addition, there are three free, primitive campgrounds on the parkway, spaced roughly every hundred and fifty miles. You may also overnight at the visitor center in Natchez. We’ve heard that these campgrounds fill up quickly during the snowbird migration, but in mid-January, the campgrounds were pretty empty.
Unfortunately, many of the historic stops along the parkway are simply places where things used to be. You can stop, read the sign and get moving again in a few minutes. There are some nice stops, though, such as the Locust Inn, where travelers would have stopped for the night. The house is still standing and has been decorated with many examples of items that would have been found in a rural, nineteenth century home.
One recurring theme along the Trace is Indian mounds. There are quite a few stops where you can see a small Indian mound and read a bit of history regarding the site. Even if you skip most of these, I recommend stopping at Emerald mound, roughly ten miles north of Natchez. This is the second largest Indian mound in the US and is gorgeous as well. An eight acre hill has been landscaped into a steep-sided mound and flattened on top. On top of this mound, there is another high mound where a temple would have been located and a smaller mound on the opposite end of the large mound. The entire area is covered in grass that was still brightly green even in the middle of the winter.