The Natchez Trace
Take a long, slow drive through the Old South
Stretching from Natchez on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River to the green hills surrounding Tennessee’s state capital of Nashville, the Natchez Trace Parkway is one of America’s best driving and biking destinations. ‘The Trace’ commemorates a former buffalo trail used by the Natchez, Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes and early explorers from Spain, France and England. Today, it unwinds through 444 miles of kudzu-draped lowlands, seasonal wildflowers, cypress and pine groves, and gently rolling woods.
A National Scenic Byway maintained by the National Park Service, the two-lane parkway offers campsites, leafy picnic spots, plantation ruins, charming small towns and off-the-beaten-path discoveries. Refreshingly free of advertising hoardings and commercial development, the Trace is a pleasant and unhurried way to catch a glimpse of the Old South, from Mississippi (travelling southwest to northeast), then heading north through a snippet of northwestern Alabama into southern Tennessee.
The Trace Visitor Center is located near the byway’s midway point in Tupelo, best known as the birthplace of Elvis Aaron Presley. Tupelo’s most-visited tourist attraction is the two-room house where ‘The King’ entered this earthly realm on January 8, 1935. Each year, Elvis fans travel from all parts of the world to tour the wooden shotgun shack built by his dad, Vernon (the hammer he used is on display), and to wander the grounds of the 15-acre Elvis Presley Park. The first weekend in June marks the Elvis Presley Festival: a home town tribute to the King of Rock ’n’ Roll.
An easy and interesting detour from the Trace, north of Tupelo, is the town of Corinth. By virtue of its strategic location at the junction of the Memphis & Charleston and the Mobile & Ohio railroads, more than 300,000 Union and Confederate soldiers occupied the town between 1861 and 1865. When Confederate troops made a pre-emptive strike north of Corinth on April 6-7, 1862, the result was the bloody Battle of Shiloh. Shiloh National Military Park in south-central Tennessee commemorates this battle, but stop here first, at the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center, to understand the town’s significant role in the war.
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Trip idea text ©Patricia Schultz. For contact information about the places mentioned and many more USA trip ideas, see Patricia Schultz's blockbuster book.