Natchez Trace Parkway - 2015
Our route began in Nashville, TN
and ended in Natchez, MS

             Updated: 07/29/16


The Parkway is beautiful. Commercial vehicles are not permitted. Gas stations (maybe, diesel) are in nearby towns. The Parkway includes many points of interest. Informational panels discussing 10,000 years of North American history are plentiful. We have linked the thumbnail photographs for the informational panels to image files large enough for you to read the words. To enlarge the thumbnail with a beveled edge for a photograph or an informational panel, just left click on it.



THREE WAYS TO VIEW THIS PAGE: (Because this is a large page, we give you options.)

>>> You can enjoy our ten day trip reading our comments and looking at or enlarging our photographs.

>>> If you are a history buff, you will find the exhibit panels full of very interesting information.

>>> Or, you can just follow these links to view Our favorite points of interest:





The Natchez Trace began as ancient animal trails. The passage and its parts were called the Chickasaw Trail, Path to the Choctaw Nations, Boatman's Trail, Natchez Road, Nashville Road, Mail Road.  It acquired the name "Natchez Trace" sometime after its heavy use dwindled in the 1820's.  The most famous period for this trail was from 1790 to 1820.

When the port of Natchez opened more widely to the Mississippi River Trade, the influx of boatman who needed a way home did much to publicize the route.  In the early 1800's through the mid-1820's, "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 home via the Old Trace. As the road was improved, stands (inns) provided lodging, food and drink to the Trace travelers. When steamboats were developed in the 1820s that travel northward on the Mississippi River could be accomplished by boat.    

 In 1800,  the U.S. Government  established the postal route between Nashville and Natchez. The postal riders continued their travels along the old road, by 1816 there were three mail deliveries a week. The government began to rely more on the steamboats to carry mail in the 1820's.



The Parkway was established as a unit of the National Park System in 1938 and officially completed in 2005, the Parkway commemorates the most significant highway of the Old Southwest. The Parkway passes through three states - Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi.



The Parkway is a beautiful 444 mile scenic ride. The National Park Service (NPS) owns a swathe of land approximately 800 feet wide along the entire length of the parkway. Not knowing this limited park ownership, we initially found it interesting that the land near the parkway was being farmed.




The following photographs are organized as we viewed the "Points of Interest" - not necessarily the order they appeared on the map. We often parked our Hitchhiker for the night(s) and used the truck to explore the nearby area.










This is the nation's first arch bridge constructed with segments of concrete, it spans 1,648 feet. The bridge's arches are designed to support the deck without evenly spaced spandrel columns, resulting in an unencumbered appearance. The bridge won the Presidential Award for Design Excellence from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1995.


The Double Arch Bridge was worth getting off the parkway to see it better.




Most of the bridges over the parkway were not very long and made of concrete.

Many were emblazoned with "Natchez Trace Parkway".






We saw very few bicycles and a few cars on the parkway.
Traveling in the Fall (September) was a good time.




We could count the number of RVs
we saw on the parkway on one hand.





Our first campsite on the parkway was used as a base camp for four days. Because the trees provided a lot of shade, the solar panels were mostly 'protected' from the sun. It was a challenge to manage our 12-volt power. (We made a decision when packing for the trip NOT to load the generator . . . OOPS. Maybe we should have the generator on the 'must have' section of the TAKE WITH list.)


The view out our rear window was beautiful.



These large acorns sounded like bombs hitting the fifth wheel roof.  








Watching our two batteries' condition meter, after four days of partial sun, battery condition was low. The afternoon of the last day in camp, we decided to run our slides in and use what little sunlight we had remaining for a little recharge. So, we entered conservation mode for our last night in the (this) woods 

Since we bought our truck camper in 1969, we have used a candle in a large glass jar when dry camping - most of the time as a nightlight. It is amazing how much light a single candle produces. The last night, we played cards by candlelight ... how romantic.




We left our campsite to visit the attractions in the area.




OLD TRACE . . . These 'Old Trace' signs usually only indicated a view of the old trace.


Points of interest along the parkway were all marked with a sign shaped like an arrow head. A pull-off and parking area was provided that varied in size depending on the expected number of visitors. Many of the pull-offs were small and would have been unavailable to us when towing our 35' fifth wheel.

The road was narrow with no shoulder. Fortunately, the drop-off was small and RV traffic was light.




This was our first opportunity to walk on the "Old Trace". Use of this section of the "Natchez Road", as it was known in 1802 - 1803, required permission from the Chickasaw Nation.









Legend is a full-blooded Chickasaw man, who spoke very little English, married a white women. Together, they operated this rest stop. When travelers arrived and began to converse and ask questions, the Chickasaw man would point to his wife and say "Sheboss".











At this location, an old tobacco barn still has some leaves suspended from the rafters. Other exhibits explain tobacco growing. Mary Lou stood by a small planting of tobacco plants. It was interesting to look in the barn.










This section of road following the Old Trace originated behind the Tobacco Farm and rejoined the parkway about two miles north. At first fairly rough and rutted, the road finally becomes a version of old pavement as it slopes gently down the ridge to join the parkway.





The current parkway could be seen through the trees.







Because to fully see this waterfall required a 900 foot decent, we chose to skip it. We understand the hike to Jackson Falls is paved, includes bridges and steps down to the falls. The water from the falls feeds the Duck River.







There were many bridges like this over small but deep valleys, creeks and etc.









This brick home, built in the early 1800's, is one of the two surviving structures from the Old Trace. This home and plantation once encompassed more than 1,500 acres. The couple ran the ferry across the Duck River. Although the house is closed now, the NPS acquired the house in 1977, they have plans to make it an interpretive station.





As we pulled into the parking lot for The Gordon House, this guy was getting equipped for a bicycle ride on the parkway. He was a gentleman in his 60s ... but ... in terrific condition. During our ten minutes conversation, he told us his ride that day would be about 23 miles. And, off he went.












Beyond the house, a narrow path will take you to a level spot by the water that was the waiting grounds for the ferry. The ferry operated until a bridge was built in 1896.

The Duck River . . .




Mile marker posts helped you follow
the Natchez Trace Parkway guide map.
The numbering started from the
southern end of the Trace.






It takes less then five minutes to follow the short, paved trail to a viewing platform. The waterfall has a twenty foot drop. You can continue along the less developed path to view more waterfalls.



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A short trail along the river takes you to an old millrace, a river channel, whose current fed Steele's Iron works. It produced primitive pig iron in the early 1800's.


In front of the parking area is a lovely park setting. There are picnic tables, an old-fashioned swimming hole, and an open grassy field.  Perfect place for a picnic, rest or swim. Mary Lou checked out the water, it was clear and cool.











The original Trace was always a work in progress. The three sections of the original road here, show how the route was relocated to avoid mud holes.










The drive was beautiful.



This 2.5 mile road follows the original Trace route and was one-way traffic heading north.





    Sometimes you have to park and walk back for
    the photographs you want to make.







A flowing creek attracted families.






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The primary attraction here is the grave of Meriwether Lewis, whose death remains a mystery. He was either shot to death or committed suicide on the night of October 19, 1809 at Grinder's Stand. It was the first inn north of the Chickasaw nation, operated by whites. In 1848, the State of Tennessee erected this monument over his gravesite - a broken shaft symbolizing his untimely death.










The Pioneer Cemetery was an interesting place. It included the monument and remains of Meriwether and many small (8" X 8") headstones.




Grinder house foundation . . .



A log cabin suggesting the "Inn" housed historical information about the life of Meriwether Lewis.  We had an interesting conversation with the rangers on duty. They discussed the use of the parkway, visitor volume and traffic patterns near cities.










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NOTE: Collinwood, TN is a great exit for fuel and lunch - very close to the Trace and the price was good.



Motorcycles on the parkway . . .





A self-guided trail along Colbert Creek - we didn't walk it.






Chickasaw George Colbert operated a stand and ferry across the Tennessee River in the early 1800's. The ferry station is submerged, the ranger station is closed, but here are amenities of restrooms, picnic area, fishing, boat launches and a bike-only campground.











FREEDOM HILLS  . . . Alabama's highest point.


A paved trail that takes ten minutes to walk at a moderate pace heads up to Alabama's highest point on the Parkway, 800 feet above sea level. We chose not to walk it.








The Bear Creek Mound is the oldest prehistoric site on the Trace. Migratory hunters used it as a temporary station, as early as BCE (Before Common Era) 7000, or roughly 9,000 years ago. The earthwork was built in several stages for ceremonies or leader residents. When acquired by the National Park Service, the mound had been greatly reduced in height. Following excavation in 1965, the mound was restored to its original estimated dimensions of about 8 feet high by 85 feet across the base.





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Hunters who used the Bear Creek Mound site probably used this water source. A collapsed underground limestone cave formed this cave. There was no water during the time we visited. The NPS warns against drinking the water or entering the cave for safety reasons.














Along the road into the state park . . .




The site was easy to back into. The rear stabilizing jacks did not reach the ground as the rear of the HitchHiker was at least three feet off the ground,






Mary Lou sat on the bench watching
the lake level go lower.


Well, not really watch the level go down ... but ... the water was draining out of the lake. Haynes Lake, a 45 acre lake, did have a 'hole' in it permitting water to drain out. The state tried to fill the hole twice. Being unsuccessful twice, they decided to let the water drain out of the limestone bottom.





Not the best photo 'stitch' job . . . but, you get an idea of what the lake looked like.




Orange barrels were seen even on the parkway.






This waterway is a 234 mile long, 300 foot wide by 9 feet deep transportation artery. It provides 459 miles of navigable water between the Gulf of Mexico and Tennessee River. The most popular commodities shipped by barge are forest products, petroleum by-products, crushed rock and grains.

Jamie L. Witten Bridge . . . the center panel was in a park across the road.






This was a pleasant stop. We didn't see any waterway traffic, unfortunately.



 Fire ants were abundant on the trail from the parking lot to the waterway.








From the bridge, we could see one of the locks.







PHARR MOUNDS . . . It was at this location that the cooperation of the Federal government and the local farmers was clearly demonstrated.



The eight mounds visible from across a field were build between CE (Common Era) 1 and 200. These mounds range in height from 2 feet to 18 feet. The mounds are distributed over an area of about 90 acres. The NPS allows the fields to be harvested for hay. 

The NPS excavated four of the mounds in 1966. The mounds hold various internal features, including fire pits and low, clay platforms. Cremated and unburned human remains were found in and near these feature, as were various ceremonial artifacts.





It was here that us 'city folk' were entertained by the baling process.






A five-minute walk on this section of the Old Trace takes you to the graves of 13 unknown Confederate soldiers, whose faintly etched tombstones line a ridge beside the once busy route. It is unclear how the men died, but their graves speak to a chapter of Trace's history.











Here is a brief summary of the tradition of leaving coins on a soldier's headstone and the meanings of different denominations of coins.  "A friend, or an acquaintance that visits may only leave a penny.  A nickel would be left by someone that may have been through boot camp, or trained with them. Someone that served in another platoon in the same company may leave a dime.  A quarter would be left by someone that served in the same outfit, or was with the soldier when they died."


These pink flowers were plentiful along this section of the Trace. When we showed the photograph to the employees in a near-by visitor's center, they could not identify them. They said they would send a ranger out to look at them.






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The "Old Town" refers to a Chickasaw village that was here near the "Old Town Creek". From this parking lot you can  hike two miles to the Chickasaw Village or the near-by Parkway Visitor Center.


 We pulled in here hoping to find a spot for lunch. We did.
Even with the green water, it was an attractive place.









This state park is located nine miles from Tupelo, Mississippi. The park offers a lot of amenities for campers and day visitors. We enjoyed the views of Natchez Lake.








Wow. A traffic jam on the Parkway.





"Black Belt" refers to a stretch of earth that reaches eastward across nearly all of Alabama, a region know for its rich, black soil excellent for growing crops, especially cotton.



Once at the bottom of the sea, limestone deposits over millions of years transformed into very fertile soil. At one time, this was a grassland prairie, now it is pasture land for livestock.





Another RV . . .





There are six burial mounds and an associated area build between BCE 100 and CE 100.




The mounds range in heights from 5 to 14 feet. The NPS excavated five of them in the later 1940's. Exhibits at the mounds describe the lifestyles of the people.









More of the 'black belt' fields.





Tornadoes and violent storms struck the Natchez Trace Parkway on April 27, 2011 destroying trees for over 20 miles along the Trace -  starting at milepost 200.





This looks much better . . .







French Camp Academy, a school catering to the needs of young people who came from broken homes, traces its origins to the school founded here in 1822. It is still operating today but we were hesitant to take the HitchHiker into the small town. It supports about 200 borders and 85 students from the surrounding area. We were told to be sure to stop here for lunch.





Gift Shop




The food was excellent, a bit pricey, but very good. Mary Lou had sweet potato soup, home made bread and broccoli salad. The thick soup was very rich, tasted like the sweet potato casserole you have at Thanksgiving complete with pecans. Fred enjoyed a sliced beef sandwich on the homemade bread. Our server was a student at the school.


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Crossing the wooden bridge, we entered this swamp with it's water tupelo and bald cypress trees. A flat, walking pathway lead through the area. This was one of our favorite stops along the Parkway.  We really enjoyed the walk through the "swamp".














We included a board (one of several) with nails sticking out of it to show the lack of dedication of some of our Federal employees or contractors.  There were several leftover scraps of construction wood left behind by workers in this otherwise beautiful and unusual area.







Information panels along the walkway provided interesting information.





Our home away from home - or mobile cottage, as Mary Lou calls it.


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More traffic . . .




TIMBER LAKE CAMPGROUND . . . Jackson, Mississippi




Getting there . . . around Ross R Barnett Reservoir.







NOTE: Returning to the Trace, we purchased fuel in town. Fuel was $0.20 less per gallon lower at the station next to the Trace entrance but we missed noticing that on the way to the campground. (Okay, we didn't use Gas Buddy.)



The customized car on the left needed some mechanical help.












Back on the Trace . . .



The aroma from several truckloads of natural fertilizer was in the air. 












We decided that this must be the area along the Trace that was the designated work zone for the week.










This section of the Trace is featured on the front of the NPS guide map. Animals first wore down this path, then people. The trail is very short. As you walk it, you are looking at the effects of time, hooves and feet.

The most photographed section of the Trace.



Rustic path down to the sunken trace ...











Left          Right



Mary Lou strolls in the sunken trace. 










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We knew we could not avoid it forever . . . serious road construction, that is.






Mowing 444 miles of grass - a mile at a time.





NATCHEZ STATE PARK . . . Located ten miles north the historic City of Natchez.


We drove straight to Natchez State Park because it was close to the City of Natchez. We thought it might be busy. It was. We had our choice of TWO sites for ONE night only. We used it as our base camp for the rest of the day. Our side trips included Mount Locust, Loess Bluff, Emerald Mound, the Old Trace Exhibit Shelter and the Elizabeth Female Academy Site discussed below.





The ride to the state park went past what was probably, at one time,
a busy grocery store and proprietor's homestead.








The road had slopped edges and
tall dirt 'walls'.


Inside the state park, Natchez Lake is stocked for fishing.

                                                                 Lake                                                                                         Lagoon                              


Spillway water breakers . . .


When we drove across the dam, we saw a guy mowing this HUGE plot of grass with a 20" gasoline push mower.









Of the fifty or so primitive hostelries established before 1820 along the Trace, only Mount Locust remains. It is one of the oldest building in Mississippi, dating to 1780. In 1956, it was restored as a frontier home of the 1820's, which was the peak era of the Trace's foot and horse travel. (Note: It closes at 4:00pm - we just made it with 30 minutes to spare.)





















As we were leaving the grounds, they were closing for the day. We happened to see the Ranger walk up to the flag pole, salute the flag and lower the American flag. Impressive.









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On this site was the first institution of higher learning for women chartered by the State of Mississippi. It operated from 1818 to 1845. Noted naturalist John James Audubon taught at the Academy from 1822 to 1823 while he recorded the birds of the Lower Mississippi region.







                          Well                                                       Post Cap




LOESS BLUFF . . . (Loess, pronounced like the woman's name, Lois)


Deposits of silt were blown here from the north during the Ice Age. An interesting fact for people who have a background in the geologic processes.









The nation's second-largest Mississippian structure, Emerald Mound covers nearly eight acres. The mound measures 770 feet by 435 feet at its base (roughly 2.5 by 1.5 football fields), and is approximately 35 feet high. This ceremonial mound was build about CE 1250 to 1600. The mound was built by depositing earth along the sides of a natural hill.











Taking the trail to the top you find two more mounds at either end. The larger one measures 190 by 160 feet at the base and 30 feet in height.


Emerald Mound was the location of elaborate civic processions, ceremonial dances and intricate and solemn religious rituals.




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OLD TRACE EXHIBIT . . . The beginning of the Natchez Trace Parkway according to the sign posts - but - the end of our journey.



Exhibit area at the south end of the Natchez Trace Parkway. Because we traveled from the north to south it talked about what we had already seen. This exhibit would have been somewhat beneficial to those traveling north if they did not prepare in advance. Mary Lou researched a lot about the Natchez Trace Parkway and its history in preparation for our trip. Her main resources were the Natchez Trace Parkway map obtained from the National Park Service and the book "Guide to the Natchez Trace Parkway" (Author: F. Lynn Bachleda) purchased through Amazon.












 Guide books and travel pamphlets highlight locations on the Trace Parkway from south to north. As you will remember, we traveled from north to the south - as the postal riders did. We don't feel it makes much difference which direction your travel.



Signage was not very effective when we exited the Natchez Trace Parkway. So, we guessed and headed under the viaduct. That was a good guess.






Natchez was a welcoming older southern town.



Fall decorations were displayed ...... We have a Grand Hotel in Michigan.


We did not know there was a hot air balloon competition in town until we arrived. We had not planned to spend time looking around the town and it was a good thing. Very busy. There are things to see and do, we just chose to move on with the trip.







We found a parking spot so we could gather some information from the Visitors Center. Interestingly, the city provides overnight parking (including some electric outlets free of charge) in the parking lot. On this weekend, you would have to contend with the crowds and maybe be trapped in the parking lot until Monday. We choose to cross the Mississippi River into Louisiana.



The visitors center provided a large tourist counter and various displays and exhibits.




And, free Coke products . . .




Do you see something inconsistent with these two photographs?     



Looking across the Mississippi River into Louisiana from the visitors center.



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The next leg of our trip was in Louisiana. We headed more or less diagonally across the state to the shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico.






Vidalia, LA had a very active picnic,
walking and bicycle park
along the waterfront.




We left Vidalia and headed west to avoid the congestion caused by the balloon race activities. We found a Wal*Mart about seven miles away. Mary Lou went in the store for chicken wings and permission to spend the night in their parking lot.

Just after dark, we watched the fireworks over the distant Mississippi River with another RV overnighter.


These photographs were made using Fred's Smartphone and his elbows on the truck's hood as a tripod.



This page is long . . . by the time we reached the end of the Natchez Trace Parkway, it seemed long as well. The various state parks provided good overnight stays. The points of interest that provided more than just a sign were enjoyed. The points of interest that consisted only of a sign at the edge of the parking area discussing what was at this location hundreds of years ago were disappointing. 



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