I a pleased to introduce my son-in-law, Ken McCarron, who is an enviromental consultant, and the author of this post. He lives in Denver, Colorado with my daughter, Becca. They have two dogs, Konza and Lexie.
For anyone that dreams of the open road, a place to explore and escape from traffic, powerlines, and road signs, to drive at a pace that allows you to feel that you belong, then head to Mississippi, and follow the Natchez Trace. When one thinks of Mississippi, they may often envision the culture of the South, magnolia trees, or the War Between the States, and everyone remembers the river, but only a few know the “Trace”. Established in 1938 and maintained by the National Park Service, the Natchez Trace Parkway commemorates the historic Old Natchez Trace between Nashville, Tennessee and Natchez, Mississippi. Originally a trail that followed the pre-historical migratory path (or “traces”) of the bison, it was used as an important trade route for centuries by the early Native Americans and later became the main path for European exploration into the south central region of North America. Less used after river traffic and railroads replaced its purpose, it remained a seldom used route until the Civilian Conservation Corps began building the park in the 1930s.
Today, the Natchez Trace is a 444 mile two lane road, which is void of commercial vehicles and welcomes those that wish to experience a relaxing, steady, and uninterrupted drive through the history of the region. The park encompasses more than 51,740 acres of protected lands and in many areas parallels the original Trace and includes 65 miles of hiking trails that take you along the original route, to early Native American archaeology sites, and beautiful natural landmarks. Traffic along the Natchez Trace is generally light, especially on weekdays, and has become a popular route for many cyclists.
Traveling the Natchez Trace is a relaxing experience and a unique park that is not to miss. Below I have outlined a few highlights of things to see along the way. My first experience with this beautiful parkways was from the book “Blue Highways: A Journey into America” by William Least Heat-Moon, and I leave you with his description of Natchez Trace:
“Now new road, opening the woods again, went in among redbuds and white blossoms of dogwood, curving about under a cool evergreen cover. For miles, no power lines or billboards. Just tree, rock, water, bush, and road. The new Trace, like a river, followed natural contours and gave focus to the land, it so brought out the beauty that every road commissioner in the nation should drive the trace to see that highway does not have to outrage landscape.” – William Least Heat-Moon
Some highlights along the Natchez Trace include:
Emerald Mound Site (Milepost 10.3): An eight acre archaeological site with the second-largest Mississippian Period ceremonial mound in North America and one of the seven mound groups found along the Natchez Trace Parkway. There is an established trail that allows visitors to climb the mound and information signs describing how the mound was built and how it may have been used.
The ghost town of Rocky Springs. One of the original European settlements along the route, Rocky Springs was settled in the late 1700s, but began to decline after the Civil War and was abandoned by 1930. Today, the only surviving building is the Methodist church (established in 1837) along with the graveyard, although many remnants of the town can still be seen along the interpretive National Park Service trail.
Cypress Swamp (Milepost 122.0): One of my favorite stopping points along the Natchez Trace, the Cypress Swamp trail and boardwalk, gives visitors a chance to walk among the tupelos and cypress trees of a Mississippi swamp. The full trail system takes about 30 minutes but is an easy hike and a nice place to stretch.
Bynum Mounds (Milepost 232.4): A 15 acre archaeological site along the Houlka Creek with a complex of six burial mounds from the Middle Woodland period built between 100 B.C. and 100 A.D. (LINK:
Pharr Mounds (Milepost 286.7): A Middle Woodland period archaeological site with eight burial mounds built between 1 and 200 A.D.
Rock Spring Nature Trail (Milepost 330.2): A nature trail that runs along a series of wetlands across Colbert Creek past Rock Spring and through a woodland setting. The trail takes about 20 minutes to complete at an easy pace and is a favorite for birding enthusiasts
Jackson Falls and Baker Bluff Overlook (Milepost 385.9): From the Jackson Falls overlook there is a 900 foot long paved walkway (steep) that takes you to the base of the beautiful Jackson Falls. Also at this stop there is a 1/3 miles (gentle) trail that takes you to the Baker Bluff Overlook above the Duck River.
Tobacco Farm and Old Trace Drive (Milepost 401.4): One of two places within the park where you can drive on the actual Old Trace road. As part of the more recent history of the area, a restored Tobacco Farm provides information of the growing and drying of tobacco.