Traveling the Natchez Trace
In the late 1980s heavy earth moving machines entered the quiet scenic valley near my home outside the village of Leipers Fork in Williamson County. The Department of the Interior was gearing up to extend the Natchez Trace Parkway north along its 450-mile trek from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville.
Initially fearful of busloads of tourists, I came to love the peaceful feel that is at the heart of the parkway.
As you travel the Trace you are likely to see the shy brown eyes of deer sampling the grasses among blooming redbud and dogwood trees, as well as tom turkeys strutting their stuff. Wildflowers sprout along the roadway instead of petting zoos, convenience stores or souvenir shops. Migratory birds, butterflies and historic markers take the place of neon signs and traffic lights.
The historic Natchez Trace grew from wild animal and Indian trails. Frontiersmen took their products to market on flatboats down the Mississippi to Natchez and New Orleans. With their wares sold and money in their pockets, they made the long overland trip home on the Trace with thieving highwaymen waiting to rob them.
That was the Old Trace. As you travel there today you can slip into those bygone times easily forgetting that Middle Tennessee communities lie just beyond the trees sheltering the parkway. Instead of traffic jams, convenience stores and fast food drive-thrus, you’ll find scenic overlooks, historic sites and shady picnic tables along creeks just right for wading.
You can take pleasure in a scenic drive, an easy stroll along a well-worn section of the Old Trace, an afternoon picnic along a shady stream, or a memorable trek through time.
The Trace is a national park – commercial traffic is prohibited and speed limits are enforced on the two-lane, limited-access parkway. Bicyclists, autos and RVs may travel the entire route.
Garrison Creek at mile marker (mm) 427.6 near Leipers Fork has a 24.5-mile combination horse and hiking trail meandering through creek beds, patches of wild plums, and blackberry thickets with lush green canopies along side the parkway.
The Duck River runs under the Trace at mm 407.7, the site of an early ferry crossing at one of the few man-made structures along the Tennessee section of the parkway, the 1800s home of ferry operator and Indian agent, John Gordon.
Jackson Falls at mm 404.7 and Fall Hollow Waterfall at mm 391.9 are short, steep hikes that give you an idea of some of the bumpy terrain the frontier travelers endured.
Meriwether Lewis Park at mm 385.9 has a 2.3-mile hiking trail and the only overnight RV and tent camping on the Tennessee portion of the parkway. Metal Ford at mm 382.2 is a convenient put-in to float or fish the Buffalo River.
Gather your camera, binoculars and a picnic basket to make your day on the old road an adventure. Whether you drive your car or your camper, ride a horse or a bike, put on your hiking boots or pack your paddle, I hope you’ll enjoy this national treasure called the Natchez Trace Parkway.
What’s your favorite feature of the Natchez Trace Parkway?