Location: Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee
Webpage: National Park
General Description: The Natchez Trace Parkway is an All-American Road that travels 444 miles from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee passing through the northwest corner of Alabama on the way. It roughly follows the old Natchez Trace creating a greenway from the southern Appalachian foothills of Tennessee to the river bluffs of the lower Mississippi. The Natchez Trace dates back many centuries beginning as Indian paths between the villages of the Natchez, Choctaw, and Chickasaw Indians. As the United States expanded westward in the late 1700s and early 1800s, growing numbers of travelers created new paths that interconnected the old Indian trails and the Natchez Trace slowly became a well traveled trail. Understanding the need for a mail delivery through the “southwest wilderness” that was Mississippi, President Jefferson in 1801 designated the Trace a national post road between Nashville and Natchez. In the early 1800s through the mid -1820s, “Kaintucks” from the Ohio River Valley floated cash crops, livestock, and other goods down the Ohio and Mississippi River to New Orleans in wooden flatboats. Since it was not possible to take these boats back upstream they would be broken down and sold for lumber and the farmers would begin the long walk or ride back to their homes laden with money and good for the trip. As the road was improved, “stands” or inns provided lodging, food, and supplies to the Trace travelers. As steam power became common along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers in the 1820s, this use of the Trace dramatically declined. Much of the Trace cut through land controlled by the Natchez, Choctaw, and Chickasaw Indians which under many treaties limited the efforts to settle the land along the Trace until the Chickasaw Indians were removed to Oklahoma in the 1930s. Consequently, no major towns grew up along the Trace and it mostly fell into disuse by the Civil War. Some sections of the Trace would be used during this war for movement of supplies and troops and the Trace played a role in the Battle of Brices Crossroad and Battle of Tupelo in 1864. Establishment of the Parkway was initiated by Congressman Busby of Mississippi along with the Daughters of the American Revolution who began planting markers and monuments along the old Trace in the 1930s. In 1934, President Roosevelt ordered a survey of the proposed Parkway in 1938 with construction beginning in 1939. The last two sections of the Parkway, the bypass of Jackson, Mississippi and the southern terminus in Natchez were finally completed in 2005. The Parkway crosses four distinct ecosystems and eight major watersheds. It is the habitat for 1500 species of plants, 33 mammal species, 134 bird species, and 70 species of reptiles and amphibians.
1) There are over 100 markers and historical sites along the 444 miles of the Trace and it will take us multiple days along the Trace to visit them all. Therefore, our experiences along the Trace will be in the order that we visited them, along with the mile-marker from the southern end of the Trace. In general, the Trace is a very nice way to travel this part of the country for a number of reasons. First, there is very little traffic on the Trace for most of the year and since the speed limit is 50 mph, there is a leisurely pace. Second, there are no signposts and limited signage along the road cutting down on the clutter, Third, access is generally limited and controlled so there are no stoplights or stopsigns to interrupt the trip and no cross traffic to deal with. Fourth, the Parkway extends an average of 800 feet in width, so most of the time you are traveling through woods with limited views of buildings. Finally, the frequent stops for historic or natural landmarks are a great way to experience Mississippi and Tennessee.
2) Owl Creek Mounds – Milepost 243.1 Located 3 mile west of the Parkway on the Tombigbee National Forest, the Owl Creek Mounds is an important Indian ceremonial site. The site was originally composed of five Indian mounds, a central plaza, and village site. The mounds have been dated from 800 to 900 years ago as part of the Mississippian culture. The site was occupied for only around 100 years, which is short for this era. Today only 3 mounds remain of the original site.
3) Chickasaw Agency – Milepost 241.4 The Government Agency that oversaw Indian relations with the Chickasaw Indians from 1801-1825 was located near this location along the Trace. There is nothing to see here except for the interpretive sign.
4) Witch Dance – Milepost 233.2 This location commemorates the Indian tradition of the Witch Dance. Tradition holds that witches would gather for nighttime ceremonies in this area. During their ceremony, the grass would wither and die where they danced with nothing growing there again. You can still see these barren patches on the ground today. Today this location is the site of a bike-in campground and the trailhead for one of the horse trails.
5) Bynum Mounds – Milepost 232.4 These mounds were built between 1800 and 2050 years ago during the Woodland era. The two remaining mounds were part of a 6-mound complex used for ceremonial purposes. The mounds began as burial mounds and used for ceremonial purposes. Today there is a covered exhibit at the site and a short path to the two remaining mounds.
6) Old Trace – Milepost 221.4 Along here is a good section of the Old Trace in a sunken road bed as the trace approaches a small creek. There are steps leading down into the sunken roadbed and you can take a short hike in both directions along the trace.
7) Line Creek – Milepost 213.3 Although the Indians did not “own” land in the same sense as the European settlers, they did recognize and honor traditional boundaries between the tribes. Line Creek was traditionally the boundary between the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indian tribes. There is nothing other than an interpretive sign at this location where you can view Line Creek. where it crosses under the Pathway.
8) Pigeon Roost – Milepost 203.5 This is a former roosting area for millions of passenger pigeons, that would darken the sky in their day, but are now extinct. There is nothing other than an interpretive sign at this location.
9) Ballard Creek – Milepost 201.3 A picnic area set aside for motorists along the Pathway.
10) Old Trace – Milepost 198.6 Another location where the original Trace crosses the modern Pathway. Along with the interpretive sign, you can take a short walk along the original trace back to a dirt road.
11) Jeff Busby – Milepost 193.1 There is a short drive up a surprising hill to one of Mississippi’s highest points at 603 feet. It is amazing you can see no evidence of this hill from the Pathway, however the views from the top are nice. Along with a picnic area, there is also a camping area for RVs with some nice pull-through sites, although there are no water or electrical hookups, so it is strictly dry camping.
12) French Camp – Milepost 180.7 Site of present day town of French Camp and also near the location of Louis LeFleur’s stand or inn along the trace. Along with the interpretive sign along the Pathway, there is also the small town of French Camp with cafes and Visitor Center.
13) Hernando de Soto – Milepost 243.3 The Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto spent the winter of 1540-1541 nearby, although the exact location is not known. Today there is nothing more than an interpretive sign (which was missing when we were there) at this location.
14) Monroe Mission – Milepost 245.6 Northeast of this location was the Monroe Mission built in 1822 to provide an education and Christianity to the Chickasaw Indians. By 1827, 100 acres were under cultivation and 81 children were attending the School. Although many of the leaders of the Chickasaw tribe were educated at one of the three missions along the trace, they were short lived as the Indians were removed from the area in the 1830s. Today there is nothing but the interpretive sign at this location.
15) Tockshish – Milepost 249.6 Site of the stand (inn) and midway point on the 1800s Post Road, where post riders would transfer mailbags and horses. Today there is nothing except the interpretive sign at this location.
16) Chickasaw Council House – Milepost 251.1 Near this location was the site of Pontatok, the Chickasaw Nation capital in the 1820s. This was the location where the Pontatok treaty was signed in 1832 where the Chickasaw agreed to sell their remaining lands to the US Government and relocate to land in Oklahoma. Today there is nothing except the interpretive sign at this location on the Pathway.
17) Black Belt Overlook – Milepost 251.9 This marks the northwestern extent of the Black Belt, which is a vast prairie that extends east and south through Alabama. The area is known for its rich, black soil and used extensively for the production of cotton before the Civil War. As this area was under the control of the Chickasaw Indians until the 1830s, it was never extensively farmed. The overlook provides a nice view of the surrounding landscape to the west.
18) Chickasaw Village Site – Milepost 261.8 With a small parking lot situated just off the Parkway, this area provides information about a typical Chickasaw Village. There are covered exhibits about the Indian culture and living conditions. On the ground they have laid out paving stones to show the outline of winter and summer quarters, as well as, a wooden stockade that would be used for defensive purposes when attacked. There is a short nature trail at this site with interpretive signs giving information about the uses the Indians made of the various trees and shrubs from the viewpoint of a young Indian child. This also the terminus of a hiking trail that runs north 4 miles to the Visitor Center running close to the Pathway.
19) Old Town Overlook – Milepost 263.9 From this location you can see Old Town Creek and its floodplain alongside of which was located the Chickasaw village known as Old Town. This was one of the main villages of the Chickasaw Nation. Today there are a couple of interpretive signs and views of the creek.
20) Parkway Visitor Center and Headquarters – Milepost 266.0 This an excellent location to gather information about the Parkway including its history, culture, and natural features that can be seen all along the Parkway. There is a very good 20 minute video about the Parkway as well. The exhibits are very well done providing a lot of information about everything that can be seen along the Pathway.
21) Confederate Gravesites and Old Trace – Milepost 269.4 Up a short path from the pull-out is the location of 13 unidentified Confederate soldiers that died along the trace. It is not known if they were survivors of the Battle of Shiloh or died from the Brices Crossroads or Tupelo battles. In fact, they may have died due to illnesses at any time during the Civil War as the Confederate soldiers moved along the Trace.
22) Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and Jamie L. Whitten Bridge – Milepost 293.2 The Trace crosses over the Tenn-Tom Waterway at this point using the bridge named for the Congressman that acquired funding for both the waterway and the trace. The pullout goes down to the edge of the waterway where you get a good view of the canal just below a dam and lock system.
23) Pharr Mounds – Milepost 286.7 There is a series of 7 burial mounds from 1800-2000 years ago stretched out over 200 yards. There is a nice interpretive center, restrooms, and picnic tables as well at this location. Unfortunately, there is not a path to the mounds, so you can only view them from a distance. They do keep the area going back to the mounds mowed, so they are easily seen.
24) Donivan Slough – Milepost 283.3 Along with an interpretive sign about the importance of wetland sloughs, there is a short walk in between the two channels of the slough. Along the path are numerous interpretive signs about the trees and slough ecosystem.
25) Twentymile Bottom Overlook – Milepost 278.4 From this vantage point you get a view of the Old Trace where it enters the lowlands to the north known as Twentymile Bottom.
26) Dogwood Valley – Milepost 275.2 Along the Old Trace this small valley was known as Dogwood Valley due to its many large dogwood trees. Part of the short trail through one end of the valley is along the Old Trace. While there are a lot of large, old dogwood trees, I was disappointed that the dogwood trees had bloomed early this year. We visited in early April, but there were few of the trees still in bloom.
27) Cave Spring – Milepost 308.4 This is a natural cave that was probably used by American Indians for water and stone. It is difficult to tell how deep the caves might be, but since they are primarily sinkholes in the limestone formations, they are likely very shallow.
28) Bear Creek Mound – Milepost 308.8 A single flat top mound from the Mississippian Culture built 1400-1600 years ago along Bear Creek.
29) Freedom Hills Overlook – Milepost 317 A moderately steep quarter-mile, paved trail leads up to an overlook at the highest point on the Trace in Alabama at 800 feet. Unfortunately, they don’t want the remove the pine trees bordering the trace down below the overlook, so the view is very limited from the overlook.
30) Buzzard Roost Spring – Milepost 320.3 This is the site of an historic stand (inn) along the Trace operated by Levi Colbert, a renown Chickasaw Chief of mixed blood. In addition to the site of the stand there is a short trail down to the spring used for water.
31) Colbert Ferry – Milepost 327.3 This is the site of another historic stand along the Trace and was operated by George Colbert, another renowned Chickasaw Chief and businessman. Down the bluff to the Tennessee River was the location of the ferry that was essential for the Kaintucks traveling the Trace every year, as well as, US troops under the command of General Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812.
32) John Coffee Memorial Bridge – Milepost 328.6 The pullout area is on the north side of the Tennessee River with an interpretive sign about the forced removal of the Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians in the 1830s. If you are lucky, as we were, you might see a barge traveling the River.
33) Rock Spring – Milepost 330.2 A half mile loop trail takes visitors around the edge of an old beaver pond formed from the water flowing out of rock spring. There are multiple interpretive signs along the trail about the wetland ecosystem created by the pond.
34) Cypress Creek picnic area – Milepost 343.5 A very nice picnic area along the Trace with picnic tables along the edge of Cypress Creek. Cypress Creek is a clear water creek flowing over rocks that make a nice environment for lunch.
35) Meriwether Lewis Milepost 385.9 – This is the gravesite of Meriwether Lewis who died here in 1809, just a few years after returning from the Lewis and Clark Expedition. At the time he was the new Territorial Governor of Louisiana and traveling the Trace on his way to Washington, D.C. It is not clear whether he was murdered for some unknown reason or committed suicide. This is one of the main locations along the Parkway and such has a large campground area, picnic area, and hiking trails. For example, there is a mile long foot trail along the Old Trace as it travels along the ridge before descending to cross Little Swan Creek.
36) Metal Ford Milepost 382.8 – A short drive from where the Parkway crosses the Buffalo River, is the ford where the Old Trace crosses. It was called the Metal Ford because the river flows over a smooth rock shelf which was like crossing on a metal bridge. This also the location of an old iron furnace where you can walk along the sunken mill race dug for the furnace.
37) Napier Mine Milepost 381.8 – This is the site of a large pit iron mine that was in operation until the 1930s. While natural vegetation is beginning to cover the old pit, it is still an extensive and impressive hole in the ground.
38) Old Trace Drive Milepost 375.8 – This is a one-way (north bound only) 2.5 mile paved drive along the Old Trace with multiple pull-outs for scenic views of the surrounding valley. Beware that although it is paved, there are some sharp turns with trees on both sides that can be tricky for large vehicles.
39) Dogwood Mudhole Milepost 367.3 – This location serves as an example of the surrounding terrain, which although being located along a ridge, would become extremely muddy and impassable at times to wagons after heavy rains. The Old Trace is actually located about a mile to the south of this location.
40) Sweetwater Branch Milepost 363 – A nice short nature trail along the Sweetwater Branch with spring wildflowers in full bloom.
41) McGlamery Stand Milepost 352.9 – Site of the one of the old stands or inns along the Trace in the mid-1800s.
42) Sunken Trace Milepost 350.5 – At this location you can see 3 separate slightly sunken roadbeds next to each other. Serves as an example how they would bypass mudholes.
43) Phosphate Mine Milepost 390.7 – A short walk by a historic phosphate mining site. With the road construction while we were there, this site was not accessible.
44) Fall Hollow Milepost 391.9 – A short walk to the top of the falls that gives the location its name. After viewing the falls from above there is a steep trail that leads to the base of the falls.
45) Swan View Overlook Milepost 392.5 – Potentially a nice scenic view overlooking Little Swan Creek. However, the growth of the trees have severely limited the view.
46) Old Trace Milepost 397.4 – This was the boundary with the Chickasaw Nation after they had ceded land to the US in 1805 and 1816 before finally being forced to relocate to Oklahoma in the 1830s. At this location the Old Trace was actually the boundary.
47) Sheboss Place Milepost 400.2 – The location of one of the stands used by travelers in the 1800s. The name of the place came from the owners, the wife being Scottish and the husband a Chickasaw Indian. Not speaking English, the husband would refer all inquiries to his wife by saying “She boss”.
48) Tobacco Farm/Old Trace Drive Milepost 401.4 – Exhibits including an old tobacco barn, providing information about the use of the area before the federal government bought the land for the Parkway. This is also the beginning of a two mile drive along the Old Trace. It is a narrow, one-way (north bound only) dirt road that gives a good feel of traveling on the Trace.
49) Old Trace Milepost 403.7 – A 2,000 foot preserved section of the Trace that is perfect for a short hike.
50) Jackson Falls Milepost 404.7 – A short hike to the falls. Although the path is cement, but warned that it is a steep hike. However, it is the only way to see the falls which cannot be seen from the parking lot. This fall is interesting since it is a recent addition, geologically speaking, as Jackson Creek no longer follows its original valley, but wore a hole through the limestone creating this “new” path to the Duck River.
51) Baker Bluff Overlook Milepost 405.1 – A nice view of the Duck River and farmland along the river.
52) Gorden House Historic Site Milepost 407.7 – Site of the early 1800s trading post, inn, and ferry across the Duck River along the Trace. At the time this was the fanciest home in the area and signaled those traveling north on the Trace that they would soon be in Nashville. The house dates from 1818, but is no longer open to the public. A hike leads down to the location of the ferry across the Duck River.
53) Water Valley Overlook Milepost 411.8 – Another nice scenic view of the surrounding valleys.
54) Tennessee Valley Divide Milepost 423.9 – This is known as the Tennessee Valley Divide since this ridge separates the watersheds of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. In 1796 it was the original boundary between the new state of Tennessee and the Chickasaw Nation, before they began ceding their lands beginning in 1805.
55) War of 1812 Memorial Milepost 426.3 – This memorial was placed along the Old Trace to commemorate its importance to General Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812. Multiple times he used the Trace to move his soldiers to and from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.
56) Garrison Creek Milepost 427.6 – This picnic area was named for a nearby 1801-02 US Army Post.
57) Birdsong Hollow Milepost 438 – There is an overlook of the Double Arch Bridge over TN 96 that won the 1995 Presidential Award for Design Excellence. Spanning the Parkway across the valley hundreds of feet above the valley floor. Obviously, this and the remainder of the Parkway heading north is one of the latest additions to the Parkway. Truly an impressive bridge.
58) Norther Terminus Milepost 444 – While the end of the Parkway at TN 100, this was not the true end of the trace which is miles east of this location and still over 20 miles from entering the town of Nashville at that time. There is really nothing to see at the terminus, except as a nice location to turn around.