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Exploring the Natchez Trace

July 13, 2010 | Permalink

Now that you’re up to speed on road tripping tips, you’re probably psyched to hit the road. But, where to go? Here’s a fantastic suggestion that won’t break the bank. Beginning at the bottom of Mississippi, the Natchez Trace Parkway stretches an amazing 440 miles through the Mississippi River valley to Nashville, Tennessee. Countless attractions, camping and historic points of interest dot the route, and you’ll never be short of opportunities to get out and stretch your legs. The trace has always had an important place in American history. From prehistoric travelers to farmers and boatmen, the Natchez Trace has served as a traveler’s route for thousands of years. It is now one of the crown jewels of the National Park Service, and we think you should put this on your list of top road trip travel destinations.

Now, some disclosure up front: this drive is in an entirely rural setting, so forget about a grandiose tour of modern civilization. Second, the maximum speed on the parkway is 50 miles per hour (strictly enforced), which is, well, slow. But, if a nice, idyllic drive through breathtaking countryside sounds like your cup of tea, this is the ultimate trip for you. And don’t worry: there are over 55 entrances/exits to the parkway, which runs adjacent to countless urban centers, both large and small. So, if you tire of the slow pace, you can always abort the mission at your convenience.

The parkway officially starts in Natchez, which is itself a worthwhile point of interest with the Melrose Estate and William “The Barber” Johnson’s house, among others. Before heading out, though, pick up this handy and highly recommended guidebook to the parkway. This book is extensive and will be an invaluable resource to any potential “tracer.”

Feel more adventurous (and have more stamina)? Travel by bicycle. The trace’s flat topography and easy traffic make this the ideal road for an extended biking trip. Be sure to pick up this guidebook to the trace, written specifically with the cyclist in mind.

Because it is so long, and there are numerous stops along the way, everyone will give you a different list of “must see” stopovers for the trace, but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to mention a few of our favorites

  • Merriweather Lewis’ gravesite. Of Lewis & Clark fame, the Natchez Trace holds the remains of one of America’s greatest explorers, who died under mysterious circumstances (foul play expected) in 1809.
  • The King’s Birthplace. We mean Elvis, of course, and his birthplace is less crowded than Graceland.
  • Pharr Mounds. There’s just something eerie about this place, in a good way.
  • Natchez Trace Visitor Center at milepost 266, where you can get all the information you need, and then some.

If you make it all the way to Nashville, you can look forward to starting a whole new adventure in Music City, USA. If you’ve been taking your time on this trip, you may find that you’re a bit tired of camping or sleeping in an RV, so check yourself into one of the three Nashville Extended Stay hotels; kick off your shoes, and relax as you recount your journey along one of America’s great travel routes.

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