Native Americans forged the route of the Natchez Trace through the forests and marshes of the South, largely following the well-worn paths that buffalo and other animals began making more than 8,000 years ago.
Toward the end of the 1700s, the Natchez Trace became a prime route for pioneers and, especially, for traders: After delivering lumber or other goods to Natchez or New Orleans by floating down the Mississippi and other rivers, they would return overland to Nashville and other more northerly cities. (Strong currents made it impossible to row back up the rivers.) With the introduction of steamboats in the early 1810s, however, the trace became less traveled.
Today, the route of the original trace is roughly followed by the parkway, a 424-mi/677-km route that begins in Natchez, Mississippi, and runs northeast all the way to Nashville, Tennessee. This scenic highway was developed by the National Park Service (headquartered in Tupelo, Mississippi).
Along the way, the Natchez Trace Parkway passes parks full of moss-draped oaks, Native American ceremonial mounds (including Emerald Mound, one of the largest in the U.S.), interpretive displays about the history of the trace and the surrounding area, historic buildings and actual sections of the original trail.
At Tishomingo State Park, on the parkway near the border with Alabama, you can take float trips down Bear Creek (April through mid-October) and enjoy an extensive network of hiking trails. Horseback riding, camping and fishing are also available in the park.
Perhaps the most enjoyable aspects of the Natchez Trace Parkway are its scenic countryside and peaceful atmosphere: There are no billboards, no trucks (commercial vehicles are banned) and few exits teeming with fast-food restaurants (the road skirts most towns, though there are opportunities to gas up and find other services along the way). This isn't a good route for high-speed travel—it's a two-lane road, and the speed limit is 50 mph (unless posted otherwise)—but we highly recommend driving or bicycling at least part of the trace: The chance to venture through such pristine countryside is rare indeed.
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