Natchez Trace Parkway

This article is an itinerary.
The Natchez Trace Parkway

The Natchez Trace is a 444-mile-long (715 km) national parkway that runs from Nashville in Central Tennessee to the town of Natchez in Mississippi. The route has been in use from pre-Colonial times and includes exceptional scenery, Indian burial mounds, overlooks, hiking trails, nature exhibits, and sites of historic interest. There are no commercial vehicles allowed on the road, making the route a laid-back journey through the Southeast. Although its length is impressive, the park averages only 800 feet (about 240m) in width.

Understand

History

The parkway follows the old Natchez trace from Natchez to Nashville. The trace originated as a footpath used by Native Americans and early explorers to travel across the region. In the late 1700s, the route was heavily used by Ohio Valley farmers, who floated their goods down the Mississippi, sold their flatboats for lumber, and then returned home on foot. These "Kaintucks" often walked the trace's approximately 500 mile distance in just 30 days. By 1820, over 20 "stands" (inns) were located along the route to cater to the increasing traffic.

Landscape

Cypress swamp in Mississippi

The Natchez Trace Parkway is a haven of biodiversity because it traverses a variety of ecosystems that possess an amazing array of natural features. The southern portion of the park features bayous and swamps situated in the floodplains of meandering rivers. Man-made impoundments of flowing watercourses have created small ponds and massive lakes with miles of shoreline. As the park rises in elevation, outcrops of limestone become apparent, some of which contain caves and fossils. Limestone is also the parent material underlying the park's remnant prairies. The natural features most readily visible, however, are the vast tracts of eastern deciduous forest lining the parkway motor road.

Flora and fauna

Red-tailed hawk

As a 444-mile-long National Park, the Natchez Trace Parkway provides a safe corridor for wildlife to move between neighboring national forests, state parks, and other public lands. While traveling on the parkway, visitors may see mammals on the move, especially around dawn and dusk. Deer are quite common, but a lucky traveler may have a chance to see a coyote, fox, or armadillo. While black bear have been confirmed on the parkway, a bear sighting is extremely rare.

Several of the parkway's pull-offs are noted for their quality birding opportunities. Wading birds such as great blue herons, great egrets and double-crested cormorants can be seen from the Ross Barnett Reservoir, Ten-Tom Waterway, or Colbert Ferry. Songbirds such as buntings, cardinals, cedar wakings and scarlet tanagers are commonly seen from the Rocky Springs, Jeff Busby, Witch Dance, Donivan Slough, and Meriwether Lewis nature trails. Raptors such as bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, Mississippi kites, and kestrels have been seen in the skies at Chickasaw Village, Pharr Mounds, Water Valley Overlook and Birdsong Hollow. The parkway's grasslands are home to killdeer, whip-poor-wills, and the Northern bobwhite. Hundreds of people visit Rock Spring every fall to witness the ruby-throated hummingbirds feasting on jewelweed nectar. Featured on the North Alabama Birding Trail, both Rock Spring and Colbert Ferry provide excellent birding opportunities throughout the year. In addition, turkey, Canada geese, vultures, and hawks are often visible while driving.

Fifteen species of frogs, from big bullfrogs to stealthy leopard frogs, are known to live within the woods and wetlands preserved along the parkway. Newts and salamanders are plentiful within the park as well. Note that the park's amphibians are very vulnerable to traffic, particularly south of Interstate 20 in Mississippi, and frequently try to cross the parkway between December and March in an attempt to reach their breeding pools; please obey posted speed limits to protect them.

The parkway is home to over 40 different species of reptiles, including alligators, turtles and snakes. While reptiles may not be as easy to spot as many of the mammal species of the parkway, there are opportunities to see alligators at Cypress Swamp, or turtles along the numerous creeks and streams along the Natchez Trace Parkway. There are 25 species of snakes that live along the parkway, with only three of them being venomous (Southern copperhead, Western cottonmouth, and Canebrake rattlesnake). While the chance of seeing a venomous snake is rare, visitors are encouraged to use caution when hiking and picnicking along the Parkway.

The Natchez Trace Parkway contains a huge and diverse array of plant species by virtue of it being a 444-mile-long park oriented in a generally north-south direction. This enables it to contain representative habitat from four ecosystem provinces: the eastern broadleaf forest at the northern end of the park is dominated by hickory and oak species, while the lower Mississippi riverine forest at the opposite terminus features beech and oak species adapted to warmer conditions. In between the two extremes lie the outer coastal plain mixed forest and the southeastern mixed forest, both of which contain more of a pine and hardwood mix. Add to this diverse array of ecoregions the fact that the parkway traverses eight major watersheds, and it is not surprising that as of now nearly 2,200 plant species have been documented in the park. More will surely follow as additional studies are completed. But while this diversity of species is impressive, more readily apparent is the ever-changing beauty of the park's vegetation, whether it be the flowers of spring, the lush greenery of summer, or the magnificent fall colors of autumn.

Climate

In the summer, expect hot and humid weather throughout the length of the parkway, high temperatures typically in the 90s (i.e. above 32°C). In the winter, because the parkway spans 444 miles north and south, conditions vary greatly. Expect very mild winters near Natchez with only occasional freezing. In Tennessee, snow and icy bridges are common. Spring and fall are very pleasant.

Fees / Permits

There are no fees for entering the parkway, nor for any of the visitor centers, exhibits, or campgrounds along the route.

Prepare

There is no food or gas located on the parkway itself, but over its 444 mile length there are numerous options to exit the parkway and make use of services in the many towns located within a short drive of the parkway.

Get in

The combination of low speed limits and no commercial traffic makes for a very relaxing and enjoyable drive - popular with bicyclists, motorcyclists, and motorists. The route is fairly unique in that a motorist can travel the 444-mile length without seeing commercial buildings, traffic lights, or many other signs of the modern world. Rangers enforce the 50 mph speed limit, so the journey is at a slower pace than on most modern roads.

Drive

The parkway mileposts start at Natchez (milepost 0) and end near Nashville at milepost 444.

Tennessee

Meriwether Lewis National Monument and Gravesite

Alabama

Mississippi

Bear Creek Mound
Visitor center in Tupelo
Bynum Mound
Pigeon Roost
Yockanookany River
Ross Barnett reservoir
Magnum Mound
Elizabeth Female Academy Site

Sleep

There are no hotels located on the parkway itself, but numerous lodging options can be found in the many towns that are along the route. The largest of these towns include Tupelo and Jackson, each of which offers dozens of hotels.

Three campgrounds are located on the parkway. These campgrounds are free and available on a first come, first served basis. While restrooms with running water are available, they do not offer electricity, showers, or dump stations. Campgrounds are typically busiest during the spring and fall, especially during holiday weekends. Camping is limited to fourteen consecutive days at a single site or thirty days park-wide during a calendar year. In addition to the sites listed below, there are also a handful of campgrounds that are available only to bikers and hikers.

Stay safe

Southern copperhead hiding among leaves

The parkway speed limit is 50 miles per hour in most areas, and this is enforced by park rangers. In some areas lowered speed limits are put in place to protect both motorists and local wildlife - for example, the area between mileposts 85 and 87 is home to a wide variety of salamanders and frogs, and lowered speed limits may be in place during times of the year when they are likely to be crossing the roadways. Please obey posted limits, both for your own safety and for the safety of wildlife that makes the area its home.

Dangers from wildlife are minimal and exercising common sense should prevent any unwanted encounters. There are three species of venomous snake in the area (Southern copperhead, Western cottonmouth, and Canebrake rattlesnake), which, while rarely seen, can be avoided by paying close attention to where hands and feet are placed. Note that all wildlife, including venomous snakes, is protected along the Natchez Trace Parkway.

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This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, November 21, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.