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If you ask motorcycle enthusiasts what rides are on their Bucket Lists, you’ll get some favorites that probably appeal to most everyone, and others that are less well known. This blog is about a route that’s been named one of the ten best in the United States, but which you might not know too much about.
Migrating buffalo marked the trail first; then Native Americans followed. In the 1930s the Natchez Trace was made a parkway by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It’s a National Scenic Byway that runs 444 miles from Nashville, Tennessee to Natchez. Not only will you see a variety of gorgeous scenery, but you’ll find neither trucks nor stop signs.
After doing the sites of Nashville, country music capital of the world, head out on the Natchez Trace Parkway. You’ll be able to camp or take advantage of motorcycle-friendly bed and breakfasts just off the Trace. There are no amenities on the Trace itself, so you might want to bring a picnic lunch and be sure you have plenty of water.
About ten miles from Nashville is Emerald Mound. Covering eight acres, it’s the second largest mound in the United States and was built as a ceremonial center by people of the Mississippian culture between 1200 A.D and 1730 A.D. You can hike to the top of the main mound where you’ll see two smaller mounds, one at each end. Imagine the colorful ceremonies, processions, and rituals in which the sophisticated inhabitants participated. Please do not play on the mound, but treat it with respect as the sacred site it is.
Five miles farther along is the Mount Locust Inn and Plantation. It’s the last standing inn that once housed Kaintucks traversing the Trace. It’s open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Kaintucks sailed flatboats down the Mississippi to sell their goods in Natchez and New Orleans. They walked to Trace to get back home. A day’s walk brought them to Mount Locust, where the Fergusons and then the Chamberlains operated a “stand.” For a quarter, a weary traveler got a meal of corn meal mush and milk and could sleep on the grounds. Soon the family put up a building just for the travelers—a true luxury then. The park ranger will tell you fascinating stories about the matriarch Grandma Polly, who kept the inn going.
At milepost 41.5, take time for a walk on the Sunken Trace. The trail is actually worn deep into the ground by generation upon generation of travelers. It’s incredibly beautiful and a chance to be truly immersed in our nation’s history.
At milepost 54.8, you can take a short trail to the abandoned town of Rocky Springs. You can stroll through the town, visit the cemetery, and take advantage of the picnic grounds. There are restrooms and a primitive campground—first come, first served.
After you’ve passed through Jackson, Mississippi you’ll find the Ross Barnett Reservoir and can enjoy the view from the overlook at milepost 105.6. Down the road a piece, at milestone 122.2 take the self-guided tour through Cypress Swamp. It’s a short half-mile with boardwalks through water tupelo and bald cypress—you might see an alligator!
The Little Mountain Overlook is one of the highest points in Mississippi. It has a picnic ground and campground.
At milepost 232.4 you’ll find Bynum Mounds, six Middle Woodland period burial mounds from 2000 years ago. Two of them have been restored. You can learn about the early Native Americans who lived here through interpretive exhibits. Another archeological site is the Chickasaw Village Site at milepost 261.8. You can see the outlines of a Chickasaw winter home, a summer home, and a fort. Take time for the short nature trail that explores Native American uses of local plants. You can also access the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail for longer hikes.
Before leaving Tupelo, Mississippi, visit the Tupelo National Battlefield where twenty thousand men from North and South fought to a standstill on July `14 and 15, 1864. At Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield Site, the South fought under the command of Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest. Though Forrest’s troops won a victory, the long-term effect was costly.
From Tupelo, you’ll head north. Do stop at the Natchez Trace Parkway Visitor Center at milepost 266 to see the film and displays about the Natchez Trace. A park ranger is there from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Christmas to answer questions. If you like, you can get your passport stamps for the Natchez Trace Parkway, the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trial, the Tupelo National Battlefield, and Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield. At milepost 269.4, take a short walk on the Old Trace and find the gravesites of thirteen Confederate soldiers. Who they were and how they died are a mystery to this day.
Another Middle Woodland mounds site is at milepost 286.7. There are six visible mounds and interpretive waysides.
Colbert Ferry operated in the early 1800s. Now there’s a bridge over the Tennessee River, but you can enjoy a picnic where George Colbert once docked. Just about three miles away, at milepost 330.2, Rock Spring Nature Trail is half-mile loop past Colbert Creek.
The Merriwether Lewis (yes, that’s the Lewis and Clark guy) Monument is at milepost 385.9. You’ll find a log cabin typical of the period and displays about Lewis’s life. What’s more, there a campground, a picnic area, and hiking trails. Like all the campsites on the Trace, they are available first-come, first-served.
At milepost 401.4, get off the main road and ride two miles down the Old Trace to The Tobacco Farm. There are only two places you can ride on the Old Trace, and this is one. At the farm, you can learn all about growing and drying tobacco.
Take the short hike that starts at milepost 404.7 to Jackson Falls. The paved trail takes you down nine hundred feet into the gorge. You’ll find picnic tables at the trailhead.