The Natchez Trace Parkway was literally made for road tripping! The parkway is 444 miles of beautiful scenery with no billboards, no stop lights, and very little traffic. As you drive or pedal or ride on the trace you will feel as if you have gone back in time. Enjoy this Natchez Trace trip planner!
What is the Natchez Trace Parkway?
The Natchez Trace Parkway is a National Scenic Trail. It is a 444 mile road through three states beginning in Natchez, Mississippi, passing through the northeast corner of Alabama, and then through Tennessee to just south of Nashville.
All along the trace are historic markers as well as many opportunities for recreational activities and a lifetime of history.
History of the Old Natchez Trace
There is SO much history on the Natchez Trace! This is a very brief overview.
The trace roughly follows a trail that has been used by both animals and people for around 10,000 years. It is believed that Bison originally created the trail by traveling from the Mississippi River to the salt licks in Tennessee.
Pre-historic American Indians as well as the more recent Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Natchez Indians traveled the trace left by the animals for hunting, trading, and just getting from place to place.
The first recorded European explorer to travel the trace in its entirety was an unnamed Frenchman in 1742. He wrote about the trail and its “miserable conditions.”
Thomas Jefferson was the first US President to order improvements on the trail. He wanted a postal route to be built from Nashville to the Mississippi River. By 1809 the trace was navigable by wagon. However, it was still such a rough ride that was often called “the Devil’s backbone.”
By this time traders, colloquially known as “Kaintucks,” were regularly traveling the trail. They would float their wares by raft or boat south on the Mississippi and then make the long trek northward home on the trace.
Due to peace treaties with the Indians and the increased traffic on the trace a series of “stands” were developed. Stands were often owned by Indians or frontiersmen with their American Indian wives. The stands were a type of inn that offered basic food and shelter to those traveling the Natchez Trace.
The invention of steam power, the removal of the Indians from their native lands, and the completion of a shorter route to the Mississippi River under President Andrew Jackson caused the decline of the trace.
By the mid 1800’s there was very little traffic and the portions of the trace that weren’t being used by locals were returning to the wilderness.
The trace was a difficult and colorful place. It was traveled by animals, Indians, frontiersmen and women looking for a new home, anonymous traders just wanting to get back to their families, presidents, the postal service, the army…and now us…history buffs, nature lovers, and road trip aficianados.
The Development of the Natchez Trace Parkway
In the 1938 President Franklin E Roosevelt signed legislation to create the Natchez Trace Parkway. The federal government began construction of the Natchez Trace Parkway in 1939.
It was designed as a limited access two-lane scenic road between the river city of Natchez, Mississippi up to just southwest of Nashville, Tennessee. The current parkway encompasses more than 45,000 acres and is managed by the National Park Service
Things to Know About Driving the Natchez Trace!
- There are no stops signs or stop lights on the trace
- There are no billboards or other forms of advertising
- There are approximately 90 marked stops on the parkway.
- You will not see any commercial vehicles including dump trucks and 18 wheelers
- The entire trace is also designated as a bike route and bicyclists may use the entire lane. You will need to pass them leaving at least 3 feet of clearance as you go by. Always keep in mind a bicycle might be around the next corner.
- The speed limit is 50 mph most of the way but lower in certain areas
- There will be areas with very little cell phone service
- You can download the Natchez Trace Parkway section of the free National Park Service app to your phone.
- There are no gas stations right on the trace although there are plenty at the towns just off the trace.
- There are restrooms at some of the marked stops on the trace (though not all)
- Although most of the trace has very little traffic although you might encounter some near the bigger cities. (Near Tupelo, Ms was the only place we encountered any traffic and it still wasn’t bad.)
- There are animals, particularly deer, that might decide to jump in front of your car. Be especially careful when driving at dawn and dusk. All the wildlife on the trace (including snakes) is protected.
Here is How we Planned Our Trip on the Natchez Trace
We were two adults without kids driving the trace in a car. We stayed 4 nights in towns near the Natchez Trace and we drove it from north to south.
- Day 1: We drove to the northern end of the trace and began our southward trek spending the night in an Airbnb in Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee
- Day 2: Spent the morning exploring Leiper’s Fork and then traveled south to a bed and breakfast just off the trace near Florence, Alabama
- Day 3: Spent the morning exploring the sound studios of Muscle Shoals, Alabama and then drove the trace to Tupelo, Mississippi. Spent the night in a chain hotel in Tupelo.
- Day 4: Spent the morning seeing the birthplace of Elvis and eating lunch in Tupelo and then drove the trace to Jackson, MS. Spent the night in a nice inn in Jackson.
- Day 5: Drove to the end of the trace in Natchez and headed straight home from there.
This felt about right for us. We didn’t get to spend much time in Jackson as we were heading home on the last day and we have already spend quite a bit of time in Natchez so we didn’t do anything there.
Planning Your Own Personal Road Trip on the Natchez Trace Parkway
So, I’ve told you how WE planned our trip but you might want yours to look completely different!
As mentioned above the Natchez Trace Parkway is 444 miles.
- The trace can be done in one long stretch like we did or you might do bits of the trace as day trips.
- You can spend a day on the trace or a week or longer depending on how much you want to explore the surrounding area.
- You might choose to stay longer in the cities off of the trace.
- You can stop at each and every one of approximately 90 historical and recreational markers along the trace or you can stop at none of them and just enjoy the scenery. Or you can pick and choose which stops to make!
- You can choose to drive from north to south or south to north. The “official” beginning of the trace is Natchez but you can go either way.
Really there are so many ways to enjoy this gorgeous and historic stretch of uniquely American and southern parkway.
Here are some more tips for planning your road trip on the Natchez Trace.
Natchez Trace Trip Planner: Important Tips!
There are none. The Natchez Trace Parkway is free to drive
Speed Limit and Traffic
As mentioned above the speed limit is 50 miles per hour and sometimes less. Watch the speed limit signs as you drive.
Usually there is no traffic at all! In fact, you might drive for long stretches without seeing another vehicle.
There can be a little traffic around some of the bigger cities as the locals might use the road to commute.
We found the trace to be blissfully traffic free, well-maintained and just wonderful driving.
Although not everything on the trace is accessible for varying abilities many things are. Here is a list from the park service of accessible facilities and features.
Where to stay on the Natchez Trace
There is only one place to stay that is right on the trace and that is at the French Camp Historic Village Bed and Breakfast.
However, there are numerous cities and small towns along the trace with chain hotels. You can also find plenty of nice bed and breakfast places just off the trace.
Here is a list from the park service of some of the towns with places to stay along the trace.
Eating on the Natchez Trace
As with places to stay there are very few places to eat right on the trace. The Council House Restaurant is one and it is also located at the French Camp stop. The Loveless Cafe is a fun place just a few yards off the trace at it’s northern end. The Dragonfly Emporium is a great little shop and cafe just off the trace near Collinwood, Tn.
In addition to those mentioned there are some great places to eat a little farther off of the trace. Tupelo in particular has some delicious restaurants. We loved Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen and highly recommend a detour to eat there!
However, if you don’t want to get too far off of the trace to eat then I suggest bringing a picnic lunch, plenty of waters, and snacks.
Here is a list from the park service of some of the towns with places to eat along the trace.
Facilities on the Trace
There are bathrooms on the trace at some, but definitely not all, of the stops. We found them generally to be clean and stocked with soap and toilet paper.
A couple of times we noticed that the bathrooms weren’t open.
There were drinking fountains at some of the stops that typically weren’t in service. Definitely bring your own cooler of water.
Historic and Recreational Stops Along the Natchez Trace
These marked stops range from simple informative signs, to monuments, to walkable portions of the old trace, to hikes, to historic buildings, to Indian mounds, to waterfalls and springs.
Some provide tables for picnicking. Some have bathrooms and additional information.
Although the historical and recreational stops are all along the parkway they do tend to be somewhat more concentrated in the north. You may find yourself be making more stops with fewer distance between them. Take this into consideration when planning.
The stops will be marked with signs located approximately 1/2 mile before the actual pull-off. This will give you time to prepare to turn.
Check out this post about what are, in my opinion, the best stops on the Natchez Trace.
Mile Markers are Your Friend on the Natchez Trace
These milepost markers stand about three feet tall and are found along the eastern side of the road. They begin with zero on the south end of the parkway. You will find them to be very helpful as you drive between the various stops.
Camping on the Trace and traveling in an RV
There are three campgrounds along the trace. Those campgrounds are Meriwether Lewis at Milepost 385.9, Jeff Busby at Milepost 193.1 and Rocky Springs at Milepost 54.
The three Parkway campgrounds are free, primitive, and available on a first come, first serve basis. They do not offer electricity, showers, or dump stations.
The Natchez Trace Parkway does not allow dispersed camping so you will not be able to just pull over and set up your tent.
We spoke with several people who were traveling in RV’s and they did tell us that there are some nice campgrounds with more facilities in some of the towns along the trace.
The length restriction for RVs is 55 feet, including a tow vehicle, and the height restriction is 14 feet.
There are only a few of the marked stops that are not accessible for RV’s because they don’t have a circular drive.
Biking on the Natchez Trace
Check out this information by the park service about bicycling on the Natchez Trace Parkway. We saw a lot of bikers while we were traveling.
There are even some bicycle only campgrounds on the trace if you are riding long distances.
I can’t claim to know anything about long distance biking. My only piece of advice is that the road is winding and hilly at times and drivers can be somewhat distracted by the scenery so I would suggest that bikers make themselves as visible as possible.
For drivers please watch out for bicyclists especially as you come around corners. Also stop completely at one of the many pull-overs if there is something you want to see or if you need to look at your map.
Horseback Riding on the Natchez Trace
Horseback riding has become a popular recreational activity along the trace.
Please note that horseback riding is not allowed on the parkway itself but only in designated areas. Also horses are not allowed in the camping or scenic area.
There aren’t horse concessions available on the parkway but you can bring your own horse to the specifically established trails. You can also check out Natchez Trace Stables.
Traveling the Natchez Trace with Children
First, I have to be honest and tell you that we did not travel the parkway with children.
However, as a former homeschool mom of three who still finds herself always noticing educational opportunities – I think this could be a great trip for families.
If you are traveling with children then my suggestion would be to travel shorter sections. I personally would start with a day trip to see how it goes. That said, you know the interest level of your children.
I would definitely alternate the history with some fun recreational activities.
You will find plenty of places to get out and run around and have a picnic.
There are some short hikes that would be good for all ages and, best of all, there are plenty of creeks and water features. If you are traveling in the summer I would definitely bring water shoes, bathing suits, and towels in order to allow the kids to play in some of the creeks along the trace.
Unless you plan to get off the trace often then I would bring plenty of drinks and snacks.
Closing Thoughts About Driving the Natchez Trace
One word to use to describe the drive on the parkway was restful. It was amazing to be able to cruise along past gorgeous scenery with no 18 wheelers or gaudy billboards blocking the view.
We found our drive on the Natchez trace to be both peaceful and educational. I hope that you do, too!
I also hope that you will find my Natchez Trace Trip Planner to be helpful!
Let me know in the comments if you do and also please let me know if you think of anything that I have forgotten to include.
Thanks so much for stopping by!