Whether you’ve already taken your fair share of Southern road trips and you’re ready to embark on another, or you’re looking for a great way to explore the South for the first time, this road trip gem is one of the best ways to see the South. The 444-mile Natchez Trace Parkway traces a Native American trading route and explores the most beautiful sections of Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. It’s a popular multi-day getaway for motorcyclists and road trippers, with plentiful places to stay along the way.
Most travelers navigating the parkway will start the journey outside of Nashville. It officially begins at the Highway 100 turnoff near Loveless Cafe. Once you’ve had your fill of honky-tonks and neon lights, head south to the quieter community of Franklin.
Franklin, Tennessee, USA
Franklin was an important site during the Civil War, as a devastating loss for the Confederacy, and is now home to a community of musicians that live outside of the “Music City.” Many still perform at small venues around town like Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant and Kimbro’s Pickin’ Parlor.
Stop at milepost 438, which has incredible views of the Natchez Trace Parkway Arches bridge which soars 155 feet over the valley. The bridge’s design won a Presidential Award for Design Excellence after it’s completion in 1955.
Leiper's Fork, TN, USA
Tennessee may be the land of Jack Daniel, but he’s far from the only whiskey maker. The Tennessee Whiskey Trail honors these distillers throughout the state, including Leiper’s Fork Distillery, located around milepost 428. Opened in 2016, the distillery crafts small-batch Tennessee whiskey and offers tours of the facility and tastings. Sip on the Old Natchez Trace White Whiskey, named for the scenic byway. You can also catch an impromptu show at any of the “pickin’ corners” in town, where musicians can borrow instruments and just start playing. Leiper’s Fork Market and Serenite Maison are two favorites.
Santa Fe, Tennessee, USA
Spend the night around milepost 416 at Forest Gully Farms, a working permaculture farm that has underground hobbit houses. Like their Tolkien-inspired counterparts in New Zealand, they are built into the earth, feature round doors, and have herbs growing atop them. The three interconnected huts must be rented together in advance. All come equipped with cozy quilts and access to the small kitchen and nearby bathhouse. Guests can even explore trails from the property and pick their own produce.
Hohenwald, TN, USA
Pay your respects to one of America’s explorers at the Meriwether Lewis Monument at milepost 385.9. In 1809, after Lewis, Clark, and Sacagawea navigated the West, he passed through the South on his way to Washington, D.C. While staying with a local family, he mysteriously died from two gunshot wounds. The site, including his gravesite, is now part of Shiloh National Military Park. It is set next to one of the original Natchez Trace footpaths.
While the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee isn’t open to the public, they do have a Discovery Center, which educates visitors on their mission and history. Detour from milepost 391 to learn about the gentle giants.
Florence, AL, USA
The trace cuts off the northwest corner of the state around milepost 341, entering Alabama. This region along the Tennessee River is known for its “Muscle Shoals Sound” recording studios which have attracted artists like Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones and Percy Sledge. You can tour these studios, which have now been restored. Music fans can also spend the night at the GunRunner Hotel, a boutique hotel with rooms inspired by the famous acts.
Back on the parkway is the Wichahpi Commemorative Stone Wall, also called Teh-la-nay’s Wall. The late Tom Hendrix created the winding path by hand to honor his Native American ancestors removed from this region on the Trail of Tears.
But the town is also home to the Dogwood Valley Sunken Trace at milepost 275.2, one of many points where travelers can see the original path that travelers took by foot or horse, wearing it down. You can reach the town between mileposts 248 and 281 and visit the official Natchez Trace Parkway Visitor Center in town, the halfway point.
Kosciusko, Mississippi, USA
Named for a Polish Revolutionary War officer, the small town of Kosciusko is located between miles 135 and 166. Here visitors can learn about notable former residents James Meredith, the first African American student at the University of Mississippi, and media mogul Oprah Winfrey. A small sign marks the location of the home where she grew up, set on (what else?) Oprah Winfrey Road.
But the International Museum of Muslim Cultures is the only museum of its kind in the United States. The exhibits cover the heyday of Islamic cultures like Timbuktu and connects slave spirituals to the Muslim call to prayer.
Rodney, Mississippi, USA
Next, detour on State Road 552 to visit the ghost town of Rodney. It was originally the site of a Mississippi River crossing on El Camino Real, an early Spanish route across what’s now America. It developed into a thriving town with the state’s first opera house and a number of plantations and businesses. But a yellow fever epidemic, the Civil War, and a devastating fire led to the economy’s crash. It was no longer considered an official town in 1930. A handful of flood-damaged buildings are all that remains.