For years we’ve wanted to take a leisurely trip down the Natchez Trace Parkway … and make no mistake, with a 50mph speed limit, the 444-mile National Park Service-maintained road requires a leisurely mindset.
So if you have time and a desire to escape the hustle-bustle of travel for a while, this is truly a great American drive to make.
Several years ago, we drove the first 86 miles of the Trace before, from the southern terminus in Natchez, Mississippi to Jackson, Mississippi. This trip we decided to start in Nashville and work our way south to Jackson to pick up the miles we’ve missed.
Here are some sites and stops along the way.
Mile 438 | Historic Leiper’s Fork
It’s worth a drive around this small Tennessee town just to gawk at the large country estates and speculate which home is owned by which celebrity. Seriously, only 200-something people call this town home, but it has a cute-as-pie downtown (blink and you’ll miss it). Stop and grab breakfast at the Original Puckett’s to fuel the drive to come if you didn’t think to eat in Nashville before leaving.
Hop back on the Trace and enjoy the drive. Even better, roll down the windows and listen to the breeze, birds and bugs. Keep an eye open for bikes (this is a popular route) and remember you’re here for the scenery, not for speed.
Mile 404.7 | Jackson Falls
Pull off, hit the bathroom (all of the bathrooms are maintained by the National Park Service and are in excellent condition), then head down a 900ft declining slope paved trail to Jackson Falls.
The Falls are more spectacular (we’re told) when there’s been rain. But on the plus side, we were able to scramble around and get a really good view because the rocks weren’t overly slippery. The falls are named for President Andrew Jackson.
Once again, get back on the Trace and drive-drive-drive. Take lots of deep breaths and celebrate not having cell signal. Listen to some cool road tunes.
There are lots of signs pointing you to sections of the original Trace which are open for hiking. The Trace is a historic trading route used by Native Americans, settlers and traders over the centuries.
Mile 385.9 | Meriweather Lewis Memorial
This was easily the most unexpected and interesting stop on the Trace for us. Did you know Meriweather Lewis, of Lewis and Clark fame, died on the Trace? And that he was only 35?
He’s buried in what appears to be an old cemetery. We found lots of grave markers around his memorial.
This is the tavern where Lewis was found dead under “mysterious circumstances.” Many of his friends believed he committed suicide. Later reports suggested he was murdered. we’ll never know the truth.
The other interesting aspect of the Trace, by the way, is that these taverns (also called “stands”) were all along the route. It makes sense, as the Trace was used as a commerce route. It just seems strange now, given the Trace is a park and you’ll not see any food or gas stops unless you exit the Parkway.
Mile 328.4 | John Coffee Memorial Bridge
You will, however, see water. This is the longest bridge (nearly a mile) over water on the Trace. It crosses the Tennessee River as you head into Alabama.
Mile 259.7 | Side Trip to Tupelo, Mississippi
If time allows, you should definitely exit the Trace to spend some time in Tupelo. If time doesn’t allow, rethink your trip plans so you can make time!
First, stop for a late lunch at the Neon Pig, home of Thrillest.com’s Best Burger in America.
This is the Best Burger – the Smashburger. Not going to lie. It was pretty epic.
Then head over to Elvis Presley’s birthplace.
You can pay the museum fee and tour the historic structures, as well as see documentary films inside. We opted to just walk the property and were satisfied. This is the two-room home Elvis grew up in until he was 13-years-old.
This is the little Assembly of God Church his family attended. They still offer services.
Head out of Tupelo to get back on the Trace. Pro tip: Fill up your gas tank as you leave town.
Mile 122 | Cypress Swamp
This is a fun quick tour of a swamp on boardwalk and dirt trails. It was nearing dusk when we arrived here (too much time spent with Elvis, alas) so we were cautious and fast, trying to avoid ticks and mosquitoes.
Pro tip: Grab a stick and swing it in front of you to knock down spiderwebs as you hike. This is a trick we’ve picked up doing trail runs. And judging by the size of some of the webs (and SPIDERS) we saw on this trail, we would not hike it without a large stick.
Gotta love those cypress knees!
Mile 87 | Jackson, Mississippi
We neared Jackson right as dusk fell over the Trace. We wouldn’t recommend driving the Trace after dark. It’s too easy to hit wildlife, so do yourself a favor and grab a hotel for the night. You can either hop back on the Trace in the morning to finish your trip to Natchez, the Southern Terminus. Or you can go back to traveling American-style, on a soulless interstate from Point A to Point B.