Natchez Trace Parkway

444 Miles of History and Scenic Beauty in Mississippi, Alabama, & Tennessee

The Natchez Trace Parkway stretches 444 miles from Natchez in Mississippi to the outskirts of Nashville in Tennessee. It is a beautiful national park and is one of America's prettiest scenic drives.

The parkway commemorates the original Natchez Trace, a frontier horse path used by "Kaintuck" flatboat and keelboat men as they made their way home from floating cargoes down the Mississippi River. Before commercial steamboats became common, it was challenging for travelers to return home by water.

The story of the trace neither begins nor ends with the frontier travelers of the late 1700s. Sections of it have been in use for thousands of years, and seven different Native American mound groups survive along the parkway today. These include the massive Emerald Mound which covers 8-acres and rises to a total height of nearly 70-feet. It is the second largest prehistoric earthwork east of the Mississippi and dates from around 1200 AD. Please click here to learn more.

Other prehistoric mound groups open to visitors along the Natchez Trace include Owl Creek Mounds, Bynum Mounds, Bear Creek Mound, the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians, and Phar Mounds. Learn more in the video at the bottom of this page.

Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto crossed reached the route of the Natchez Trace Parkway in the winter of 1540-1541. He likely camped near present-day Tupelo, which was then the territory of the Chickasaw Indians.

The Spaniards demanded 200 slaves from the Chickasaw, but they refused and instead attacked his army. The conquistadors lost 40 men in the fierce battle and were on the verge of destruction when the Chickasaw let them go. A site near Tupelo interprets the story.
The Natchez Trace Parkway winds its way past dozens of significant historic sites, among them the Mount Locust Inn. Built in 1780, it is a surviving "stand" or overnight stop along the original trace.

Traffic on the original Natchez Trace was near its height when Meriwether Lewis died in 1809. As many as 10,000 Kaintucks walked or rode the path on horseback the next year. It took 35 days to walk the entire 500-mile trace, but a man on a horse could complete it in 20-25 days.

 The connection that the Natchez Trace provided between the Gulf Coast and the states of Tennessee and Kentucky proved vital during the War of 1812. Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson responded to rumors of a British invasion by leading troops down the trace in 1813 only to reach Washington near its southern end and learn that there was no invasion. Please click here for more.

Other soldiers walked the trace in 1815 on their way home from the dramatic American victory at the Battle of New Orleans.

Travelers on the Natchez Trace witnessed a much more depressing sight in 1838-1839. Long columns of Cherokee men, women, and children crossed the road as they walked the Trail of Tears from their homeland int he east to designated lands west of the Mississippi in what is now Oklahoma.  Exhibits interpret the sad story at Mileposts 328.7, 370, and 400.2. Please click here to learn more.

 The significance of the road for long distance travel diminished dramatically with the introduction of steamboat traffic on the Mississippi River. The floating palaces made it possible for travelers to journey back home to Tennessee and Kentucky from New Orleans and Natchez in a matter of days instead of weeks. Some sections of the trace remained in use for local travel, but other parts were abandoned.

Surviving sections of the Natchez Trace again witnessed the tread of soldiers when the Civil War erupted in 1861. Important battles were fought near the parkway at Vicksburg, Port Gibson, Grand Gulf, Raymond, Tupelo, Brices Cross Roads, Corinth, Shiloh, and Franklin. The graves of long-forgotten soldiers lay along a section of the original road just north of Tupelo.

The historic roadway was reborn in the 1930s when U.S. Rep. T. Jeff Busby of Mississippi proposed the creation of a national parkway to commemorate the original path. The Daughters of the American Revolution threw their support behind his idea, beginning work almost immediately on interpretive plans. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ordered studies and then signed legislation creating the parkway on May 18, 1938. Construction began in 1939.
Sections of the original Natchez Trace are visible at spots along the modern parkway. An array of noteworthy figures walked or rode the path.
The Natchez, Choctaw, and Chickasaw Indians were living along the route of the future trace when the French reached the area in the late 1600s. French soldiers drove away the Natchez after bitter fighting around the city that bears their name, but the Chickasaw preserved their own lands by defeating a French-Choctaw alliance in two fierce battles near Pontotoc and Tupelo.

The situation eventually calmed and both the Choctaw and the Chickasaw operated ferries and "stands" (overnight stops) along the Natchez Trace as American frontiersmen called Kaintucks began using it on the return trips home.

Early European settlers owned other stands. John Blommart, for example, built the beautiful old Mount Locust Inn at milepost 15.5 in 1780. He lost his lands after leading a failed revolt against Spain, however, and the home fell into the hands of William and Paulina Ferguson in 1785. They lived in the house, but also provided a roof and meal for travelers on the trace. 

Mount Locust was the center of a large cotton plantation and more than 50 African-American slaves eventually worked in the fields or at the inn. An old cemetery on the grounds contains the graves of more than 43 of them. 

Please click here to learn more about Mount Locust.

Meriwether Lewis - of Lewis and Clark fame - died of gunshot wounds at Grinder's Stand in Tennessee on the night of October 11, 1809. Many believe that the 35-year old Lewis committed suicide, but others think he was murdered. His grave and exhibits about his life and death can be seen at the Meriwether Lewis Site. It is at milepost 385.9. Click here to learn more.
Heavy fighting took place at sites near the Natchez Trace Parkway during the Civil War. The cannon above is on the battlefield at Raymond, Mississippi.
The road does not follow the exact route of the original Natchez Trace, but serves to commemorate it. Many sections of the original road are visible along the modern parkway and can be explored at designated stops and historic sites.

The Natchez Trace Parkway is administered by the National Park Service. In addition to the main Visitor Center near Tupelo, there are visitor contact sites at several other stops including the Mount Locust Inn.

Accommodations are available in towns and cities all along the route. If you enjoy camping, this list of campgrounds will help you find spots that fit your needs

Hikers enjoy 60-miles of footpaths that combine to create the  Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail . Equestrian trails are also available for horseback riding. Click here for more information.

The entire parkway is paved and is free to drive.

Please click here to visit the official Natchez Trace Parkway website for more information. 
The Natchez Trace Parkway is a remarkable drive through American history. The famed naturalist John James Audubon once taught at the Elizabeth Female Academy near the southern end of the historic road.

Click the play button below to learn more about the Native American mounds along the Natchez Trace Parkway: