Scenic Natchez Trace
If you are planing on exploring The Natchez Trace Parkway leads you across over 444 miles through three states and 10,000 years of North American history. This scenic parkway links Natchez with Nashville and crosses some of the most beautiful terrain in the states of Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee. The Parkway has been declared a National Scenic Byway and an All-American Road, and has been chosen as one of America’s 10 best biking roads. Open year-round for motorists, hikers and bikers, it provides visitors the opportunity for an unhurried trip through time.
Established as a unit of the National Park System in 1938 and officially completed in 2005, the Parkway is currently headquartered in Tupelo, Mississippi and continues to be maintained and administered by NPS. The Natchez Trace commemorates the most significant highway of the Old Southwest.
Today the Natchez Trace provides a near-continuous greenway from the southern Appalachian foothills of Tennessee to the bluffs of the lower Mississippi River. Along the way are sites like Emerald Mound, a national historic landmark and one of the largest American Indian mounds in the United States; and Mount Locust, one of only two surviving stands. The Natchez Trace also crosses four ecosystems and eight major watersheds, and provides habitat for nearly 1,500 species of plants, 33 mammal species, 134 bird species, and 70 species of reptiles and amphibians. Also designated as a National Scenic Byway and All-American Road, the parkway encourages modern travelers to experience historic and scenic landscapes at a leisurely pace.
Most travelers were anonymous working folks. In the early 1800s through the mid-1820s, “Kaintucks” from the Ohio River Valley floated cash crops, livestock, and other materials down the Mississippi River on wooden flatboats. At Natchez or New Orleans, they sold their goods, sold their boats for lumber, and walked or rode horseback toward home via the Old Trace. As the road was improved, stands (inns) provided lodging, food, and drink to Trace travelers.
Natchez Trace naturally follows a geologic ridge line, prehistoric animals followed the dry ground of the Trace to distant grazing lands, the salt licks of today’s central Tennessee, and to the Mississippi River. Native Americans used many early footpaths created by the foraging of bison, deer, and other large game that could break paths through the dense undergrowth. In the case of the Trace, bison traveled north to find salt licks in the Nashville area. After Native Americans began to settle the land, they blazed the trail further, until it became a relatively well-established path. Numerous prehistoric indigenous settlements in Mississippi were established along the Natchez Trace. Among them were the 2000-year-old Pharr Mounds of the Middle Woodland period, located near present-day Tupelo, Mississippi.
The first recorded European explorer to travel the Trace in its entirety was an unnamed Frenchman in 1742, who wrote of the trail and its “miserable conditions”. Early European explorers depended on the assistance of Native American guides—specifically, the Choctaw and Chickasaw. These tribes and earlier peoples, collectively known as the Mississippian culture, had long used the Trace for trade.
The Old Natchez Trace dates back to the early 1700s when sections were Indian footpaths and animal trails. In the late 1700s through the early 1820s traders from the Middle Tennessee and Kentucky areas (“Kaintuck Boatmen”) floated their goods down the Cumberland, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to Natchez and then walked or rode horses up the Trace to return home.