The Scenic Natchez Trace Parkway: our Ultimate Road Trip Guide
Most travellers would say that a really great road trip lets you explore stunning landscapes, historic places and amazing cities - and the Natchez Trace Parkway is all three in one.
The 470-mile road trip from Nashville to Natchez along the Natchez Trace Parkway takes 9 hours to drive, passing Leipers Fork, Fall Hollow Falls, the Meriwether Lewis Monument, Florence, Dogwood Valley, Tupelo, Bynum Mounds, Jackson and Sunken Trace.
One of the best things about the Natchez Trace Parkway is that for almost its entire length, it's free of development, so you can really enjoy this beautiful and unspoiled landscape, while still being able to visit some great towns and attractions on or near the route. So sit back and enjoy the ride as you travel a route that's crossed this fascinating part of the country for centuries.
Where is the Natchez Trace Parkway?
Natchez Trace Parkway, located in the southern states of Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi, is famous for being a historic cross-country trail used first by Native Americans and then by European settlers, to make the difficult journey from Nashville to the Mississippi River.
The forest trail that came to be known as the Old Natchez Trace has been used since prehistoric times, but it was President Jefferson who gave the order that turned the trail into a postal road from Nashville to the Mississippi River which, at the time, marked the United States frontier.
Back in the day when folk travelled this route in wagons and on horseback, they called the Trace the Devil's Backbone, since it was such a hard route to travel. It used to take up to 3 weeks to make the journey, and it was frequented by highwaymen.
It's a much easier route to travel now though, since the Parkway was constructed in line with the historic trail. The road is closed to commercial traffic, and speed limits are mostly 50 mph or under, so it's a relaxed drive that lets you explore some untouched scenery at your own pace.
Where does the Natchez Trace Parkway begin and end?
The Natchez Trace Parkway runs between Nashville and Natchez. It mainly runs through Tennessee and Mississippi, with a short section in the northwest of Alabama too.
The modern-day Parkway is a national park which follows the historic route of the Old Natchez Trace, taking you between towns, cities and former settlements which mainly grew up around this important trade and transportation route.
It passes through or near a number of towns and cities, including Collinwood, Florence, Tupelo, French Camp, Kosciusko, Jackson, Clinton and Port Gibson, and crosses the Tennessee and Duck Rivers.
The whole length of the route is a national park, but the road also passes near Devil's Backbone State Natural Area, Laurel Hill Wildlife Management Area, Tishomingo State Park, Tombigbee State Park and National Forest, Chickasaw Wildlife Management Area.
How long is the Natchez Trace Parkway, and how long will it take to drive its entire length?
|The Natchez Trace Parkway|
The entire length of the scenic road
|470 miles||9 hours 10 minutes|
|Nashville to Winona||330 miles||6 hours 10 minutes|
|Natchez to Jackson||110 miles||2 hours|
If you join the Natchez Trace Parkway in the early morning, you could make the 9 hour 10 minute drive all the way from Nashville to Natchez in a single day.
However, that won't leave much time to stop and enjoy all the amazing places you'll pass along the way, so we'd recommend allowing 3 to 4 days to drive the whole 470-mile length of the route.
This means that on each day you'll only have 2 or 3 hours of driving, so you can really immerse yourself in the natural and historic sights you'll see along your trip.
The shorter route option from Nashville to Winona takes around 3 hours less, so we'd suggest taking 2 or 3 days for this 330-mile journey along the Natchez Trace Parkway.
Whether you're driving the full route or exiting at Winona, the section from Jackson Falls to the Meriwether Lewis Monument is the busiest part of the whole Parkway, so don't expect to have the road to yourself until you're further into your drive.
The shortest option of all, from Jackson to Natchez, only takes 2 hours to drive. You can make this manageable 110-mile trip in a single day. However, seeing as this stretch is also a popular commuter option linking the two cities, it can get busy in the morning and evening rush.
Best way to drive the Natchez Trace Parkway
The whole length of this route is stunning, whatever time of year you travel. As well as the many beautiful Overlooks that you can stop and enjoy as you pass, you'll find numerous trailheads which let you hike out to explore the beautiful surroundings.
Some of the highlights of driving the whole route include sections of the Old Trace that you can hike and sometimes drive along (depending on your vehicle), Jackson Falls, the Meriwether Lewis Memorial and Native American Burial Mounds,
If you don't have the time to get all the way to Natchez, you can follow the route as far as Mathison and then exit towards Winona. You'll cover three quarters of the full route, so you'll still get a real feel for the Parkway, with many chances to see parts of the Old Trace, burial mounds, historic settlements and of course, hike some fantastic trailheads.
By following the Parkway from Nashville to Winona, you'll find yourself back on the Interstate, so you can continue your journey to other destinations if that's what you have planned. Or you can be back in Nashville in around 5 hours, if you're taking a round trip.
For travellers with only a little time to spare, the drive from Jackson to Natchez is the perfect way to enjoy a part of the Natchez Trace Parkway. This route can be driven in a day. You'll still get a flavor for the area's beautiful landscape and fascinating history, and you can take some time to explore Sunken Trace.
Joining the Parkway at Jackson means you're right on the Interstate too, so it can easily be combined with a longer road trip – an East-West trip from Savannah or Montgomery towards Dallas would link up especially well, or join the Parkway as part of a longer trip south via St Louis or Memphis.
So, whether you have the time to drive the whole route or just a part of it, it will be a truly unforgettable trip. Keep reading to find out what's in store.
Driving the entire length of the Natchez Trace Parkway
This is a route that has been used to travel from Natchez to Nashville for centuries, so driving the whole length of the modern-day Parkway lets you revisit that long and challenging history journey in full.
You'll see everything that the Natchez Trace Parkway has to offer, and follow in the footsteps and wagon tracks of countless travellers in the past.
To join the Parkway, take the highway out of Nashville to Pasquo, where you'll have the chance to grab a coffee or refuel before joining the northern end of the Natchez Trace Parkway.
Soon, you'll cross the impressive Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge, and you'll really feel like your road trip is underway!
Seeing as this is a dedicated scenic parkway, it's pretty easy to navigate your way along the length of the route. Simply follow the road until you reach the final exit point at Natchez! However, there are a number of places to look out for as you pass them along the way.
Stop for food in Leipers Fork, or enjoy some time outdoors at Garrison Creek Park or up at Water Valley Overlook. Next, you'll pass Gordon House Historic Site, right by the Duck River, then continue on to beautiful Jackson Falls.
You can really get the feel for the history of this route when you stop at places like Old Tobacco Farm, then continue on past Devil's Backbone State Natural Area, Swan View Overlook and Fall Hollow Falls.
One of the most visited parts of the Natchez Trace Parkway, the Meriwether Lewis Monument, is you next waypoint. Then think about a short detour off the Parkway to visit Florence, Alabama, before crossing the Tennessee River just by Rock Springs Nature Trail.
As you carry on south, you should definitely stop off at Bear Creek Mound, the first of several Native American ceremonial mounds that you'll pass on this drive.
If you have time, take a short detour off the Parkway to visit Bay Springs Lake, then head back to the main route to walk through the beautiful Dogwood Valley and then stop in Tupelo, which as well as being the birthplace of Elvis Presley, is also where you'll find the Natchez Trace Parkway Visitor Center.
From here, carry on past Bynum Mounds and then the towns of French Camp and Kosciusko which are right by the Parkway. Then continue further south past Pearl River State Wildlife Management Area until you get to Mississippi's state capital, Jackson.
If you're visiting the city, it's a simple run in and out of Jackson along the highway. From here, the last stretch of your drive will take you through Sunken Trace - one of the most visited parts of the Old Trace - and Brandon Hall Plantation. Then you'll pass Natchez State Park just before reaching the end of the Natchez Trace Parkway in the city of Natchez.
Driving the Natchez Trace Parkway from Natchez to Jackson
To reach the southern entrance to the Natchez Trace Parkway, pick up Liberty Road as you travel South West out of the city and it will take you straight there.
After visiting Natchez State Park, you can visit Emerald Mound, then continue north until you reach the lovely small town of Port Gibson. From here it's only a short drive until you reach Sunken Trace, which many say is the most atmospheric and special part of the Natchez Trace Parkway.
After around an hour, you'll exit the Natchez Trace Parkway onto Interstate 20, then follow the interstate into the center of Jackson to complete your short road trip in Mississippi's stunning state capital.
Driving the Natchez Trace Parkway from Nashville to Winona
If you're only following the Natchez Trace Parkway as far as Winona, you can save a little time by joining the Parkway a few miles after its starting point. Simply take I-65 south out of Nashville, then continue west past Burwood. From here, pick up Leipers Creek Road which will take you onto the Parkway just after the small town of Fly.
From here, simply follow the route south - it's impossible to get lost!
Along the way you'll pass many of the same waypoints as the full route, including Gordon House Historic Site, Jackson Falls, the Meriwether Lewis Monument and Bear Creek Mound.
You can also stop and spend some time in Tupelo as you make your way along the southern part of this route, then you'll pass the impressive Bynum Mounds.
After a few more miles it will be time to leave the Natchez Trace Parkway. Follow signs onto Route 82, which you'll follow west through Stewart and Hendrix into Winona, at the end of your amazing road trip.
Best places to stay along the Natchez Trace Parkway
To enjoy the Natchez Trace Parkway to the full, we'd recommend making a couple of overnight stops, so keep on reading for our top picks along the route.
If you'd like to see more options for an overnight stop along the beautiful Natchez Trace Parkway, check out our ultimate guide to the best stops on the route here.
Overnight stop in Tupelo
Whether you're driving the whole of the Natchez Trace Parkway or just going as far as Winona, Tupelo is one of the larger cities along the route. With plenty to see and do, and some great restaurant and hotel choices, it's the ideal place for an overnight stop.
Tupelo, which is around 4 hours out of Nashville, is best known as the birthplace of Elvis Presley, and most visitors to Tupelo head straight to see his childhood home. It's only small, as the legendary musician came from humble beginnings, so tag on a visit to the Elvis Presley Museum too.
There's more to the town than just its musical heritage though. Natchez Trace HQ is located right here in Tupelo, and can fill you in with more details on the Parkway and its history.
The Oren Dunn City Museum is dedicated to telling the story of the area around Tupelo, you can find out more about some of the places you'll have driven through on the Parkway.
History fans might also like to pay a visit to Tupelo National Battlefield Site, where a significant Civil War battle is commemorated, or the Tupelo Veterans Museum. The city is also a great place to go hunting for antiques - check out Relics Antique Marketplace to see what you can find.
Back on the road and not far from Tupelo you can explore the Dogwood Valley, a beautiful, wooded section of the Old Trace. A little further afield is Tombigbee State Park, a beautiful habitat full of wetlands and waterways where you can fish and hike.
One of the best hotel choices in town is Hotel Tupelo, which is more central than most Tupelo hotels. The hotel has spacious rooms which feature simple but elegant design with a nod to Tupelo native Elvis Presley and the 1950s and 60s.
There are all the facilities you'd expect here, including a fitness center and in-house restaurant and bar, plus a terrace with views across the town. You can also walk to Elvis Presley's birthplace from here.
Parking is easily available nearby, and as it's just off the highway which takes you back to the Parkway when you're ready to carry on your drive.
Overnight stop in Jackson
Mississippi's state capital prides itself on its southern hospitality, and as one of the biggest cities on the whole of the Natchez Trace Parkway, it's a great place to spend a night if you're driving the whole route or the shortest section which ends in the city itself.
There's plenty to see in the City With Soul, including the Old Capitol Museum. The Old Capitol was the state's seat of government during the 19th century, and at this informative museum you can learn about this period, when wagons still followed the Natchez Trace.
Rolling forward in time, the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum tells the important story of some of the people who helped shape the modern United States
You can also follow the self-guided Freedom Trail, which illustrates the African-American history of the city, and includes parts of the Farish Street Historic District. Or for a different view of Jackson, take a guided kayak tour through the center of the city.
With welcoming staff, spacious rooms and smart, modern design throughout, The Westin Jackson is an amazing place to stay in the city. It also offers a great breakfast, and with a pool and on-site spa you can treat yourself to some relaxation time.
The hotel is really centrally located. It's just a short walk to the state capitol and also near to Mississippi Museum of Art and Mississippi Civil Rights Museum
On-site parking will take away some of the stress of arriving in a new place, and seeing as the hotel in only a couple of blocks to the main interstate and highway, you can get on and off the Natchez Trace Parkway really easily too.
Things to see on a road trip along the Natchez Trace Parkway
From stunning hikes and historic sites to charming small towns, there's plenty to see and do when you take a road trip along the Natchez Trace Parkway.
What you can see depends on the route you take. If you drive the whole Parkway, you'll pass all the attractions listed for the shorter routes, plus some extra gems that sit outside of the other sections.
The Natchez to Jackson section:
- Natchez State Park - Centered around Natchez Lake, you can enjoy fishing and other outdoor activities here, or take a tour of one of the 19th century mansions which have been preserved here.
- Brandon Hall Plantation - A former cotton plantation, the historic buildings here have been preserved and now operate as a bed and breakfast.
- Emerald Mound - This man-made mound is thought to have been used for hundreds of years, as a ceremonial meeting point for local populations.
- Mount Locust - At this house dating back to the 1780s, you can now admire the historic building and also take a moment of reflection in the cemetery for the slaves who worked for the house's owners.
- Sunken Trace - This atmospheric part of the Old Trace Trail was trodden down by travelers over many years so that the path now makes a hollow through the forest.
- Owens Creek Waterfall - The spring which feeds this waterfall often dries up, but after heavy rain, this atmospheric small cascade can still be seen at times.
- Jackson - Mississippi's state capital is a rare urban break as you travel along the Parkway. Visit the Old Capitol Museum, or follow the Blues Trail and Freedom Trail around the city.
The Nashville to Winona section:
- Water Valley Overlook - As the name suggests, this hilltop overlook will reward you with beautiful river views, which are spectacular when decked out in fall foliage.
- Gordon House Historic Site - This brick-built house has been a landmark on the Old Trace for over 200 years. Even after Trace become less used as a trading route, locals continued to use the Duck River ferry which operated from the house.
- Jackson Falls - Hike up to this beautiful woodland waterfall – be prepared for a fairly steep climb though.
- Old Tobacco Farm - Tobacco was big business along the Natchez Trace, and this farm is set up as it would have been around 1900.
- Devil's Backbone State Natural Area - This is a great hiking opportunity, which follows a creek through the forest.
- Fall Hollow Falls - This impressive cascade is only a few meters off the route, so it's easily accessible even if you don't have time for a long hike.
- Meriwether Lewis Monument - One of the great pioneers of the United States, who famously traveled to the Pacific Ocean in 1805, was found dead as he made his way along the Trace just 4 years later.
- Rock Springs Nature Trail - Seek out beaver dams and watch the flourishing birdlife in this beautiful wetland area.
- Bear Creek Mound - This ceremonial mound, thought to be almost 1000 years old, has been restored after being damaged by farming.
- Bay Springs Lake - Take a short detour off the Natchez Trace Parkway to enjoy boating and fishing.
- Dogwood Valley - Lined with the dogwood trees that this section of the Old Trace is named after, you can take a relaxing and peaceful walk along the old trail here.
- Tupelo - The birthplace of Elvis Presley is a great place to pause and refuel, rest your legs or grab a meal. Take a detour to Tombigbee State Park to fish and hike if you have extra time.
- Bynum Mounds The oldest mounds here date from around 100 years BC, and formed a cultural meeting point for the Chickasaw people who built them.
Things you can only see if you drive the whole Parkway:
- Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge - Take a moment to appreciate the views from this stunning man-made feature, which marks your entry onto the parkway.
- Leipers Fork - This small Tennessee town is a hidden gem, full of great restaurants and boutique shops, and with a buzzing live music scene. Get a taste of bourbon at the distillery while you're in town too!
- French Camp - Visit the reconstructed historic village here to get a real feel for what life would have been like in the heyday of the Natchez Trace.
- Kosciusko - This much-visited small town was named after a Polish general who fought in the American Revolution, but one of its more well known modern inhabitants is Oprah Winfrey, who was born here. Take a stroll around the town's historic buildings and visit the Cultural Center while you're in town.
- Pearl River State Wildlife Management Area - Take a short detour off the route to enjoy hiking or bird watching in this peaceful wetland habitat.
Best time to visit the Natchez Trace Parkway
The Natchez Trace Parkway is open 365 days a year, but seasonal variation means you'll have a very different experience depending on when you travel.
The region enjoys a sub-tropical climate, so conditions can be quite hot or humid from April through to October, with temperatures into the 90s Fahrenheit during the peak summer months. There's frequent rainfall, so come prepared!
Winters here tend to stay mild, but temperatures can drop below freezing and there's a chance of snow right the way from December to March, which will occasionally close sections of the Parkway. Keep an eye on updates on closures and local conditions from the National Parks Service if you're planning on taking the trip in winter.
Also, be sure to drive safely, as there are no street lights on the road, and make sure your vehicle is ready for the drive – GPS coverage is limited on parts of the route. With cooler weather, most travellers prefer not to drive this scenic route in winter, as the hikes and the views are better from spring to fall.
Spring and fall are probably the most popular times to travel along the Parkway, with average temperatures ranging from 60 to 80 degrees as the seasons change. Popular Spring and Fall Pilgrimage Tours run for a month in each season, so popular attractions will be busier at these times – check ahead for dates to avoid if you prefer to have a quieter view of these historic sites.
In spring, you'll see wildflowers bursting into life. In May, the Natchez Trace Century Ride sees cyclists coming from miles around to ride up to 100 miles of the Parkway, so you might like to load up your bike and make this a part of your trip. Cyclists share the road with cars, so your drive is likely to be a little slower if you visit the same weekend.
Along the Natchez Trace Parkway, the fall foliage is some of the best in the US. It will be busy at times, especially in the areas closest to the cities.
During Fall, several of the towns along the Trace hold Harvest Festivals, where you can enjoy food and drink, traditional crafts, live music and horse and carriage rides. Natchez also holds an impressive Hot Air Balloon Festival each year in October.
Travellers should also be aware that, although this is technically a scenic drive, it's also used by local commuters. This means peak times can see heavy traffic on the sections nearest bigger towns - the perfect excuse to linger over breakfast before setting out!