Heading south and west from Nashville it only made sense to travel the Natchez Trace National Parkway. No trucks? Check! No obnoxious billboards or other signs screaming about fast food joints and gas stations? Check! No stop lights, stop signs, or slowing for small towns? Check, check, check! Instead what we got was 444 miles of scenic highway from the rolling hills outside of Nashville all the way to the low country of Natchez, MS.
There are two ways to drive the Trace. Either you bomb through the whole thing at once taking advantage of the lack of traffic and watching the scenic countryside go by, or you take your time and stop to enjoy the numerous historical markers and hiking opportunities. We chose a hybrid approach that included two days on the Trace with a few selective stops. It rained on and off both days which squashed any plans of hiking, but we did manage to make a few stops.
The first day was the worst weather wise so we only made a single lunch time stop at the grave site of Meriwether Lewis. He died here in 1809, and today this intrepid explorer is remembered with a monument and small exhibit. We also looked around the pioneer cemetery where we learned that there are indeed people named Cletus, and walked a tiny part of the Old Trace (otherwise known as the original route) before it started raining again and we had to run back to the Airstream.
Back on the road we pushed on to the Jeff Busby Campground, which is one of the free campgrounds on the Trace. It’s located a bit past the halfway point if you’re going south (MM 193 to be exact) and consists of 20 or so campsites in a wooded setting not too far off the road. We arrived around dinner time and found ourselves a spot in the dark. It was slightly difficult to figure out where the actual sites were in the dark, and a huge pain to get level, but we managed. Then we went for a walk and looked at the campground map next to the bathroom. Hmmm…it turns out that where we parked is part of the road and not an actual campsite. Whoops! Oh well, there was plenty of room to get around us and we planned to leave first thing in the morning so we stayed.
The next day we got an early start with the intention of making more stops then the previous day. First up was the French Camp. There is a museum and gift shop here, but they’re not open on Sunday so we just looked around and then moved on.
The Cypress Swamp was next. We haven’t seen one of these since last winter at Highland Hammocks SP in Florida. I love a good cypress swamp!
Then we toured the house and property at Mount Locust. This former plantation and Inn was constructed in 1780 making it one of the oldest structures in Mississippi. There was a ranger stationed at the house who gave us some background information and invited us to look around.
And finally we stopped at the Emerald Mound. This eight acre burial mound was built between 1250 and 1600 by ancestors of the Natchez Indians.
We could have spent many more days on the Natchez Trace. There are over 100 historical markers, hiking trail heads, overlooks, old structures, and so much more. Not to mention all the small towns and campgrounds located only a few miles off the Trace. For us it was a pleasant way to put on some miles without resorting to the interstate, but I could see us driving it again someday at a slower pace.