Winding its way North from Natchez Mississippi to Nashville Tennesse the Natchez Trace Parkway tells the stories of Native Americans and “Kaintuck” boatmen. The parkway will take you on a journey through 10,000 years of history.
The Natchez Trace Parkway is a unit of the National Park Service. Began in 1938 to commemorate the historic travel route known as the “Natchez Trace.” Completed in 2005, the Parkway is 444 miles in length, covers 52,289 acres, and averages 800 feet in width. In 2020 the Parkway had 6,124,808 visitors. The busiest month for visitors to the parkway is September.
Exploring The Natchez Trace Parkway Today
Today The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444-mile ribbon of road running through Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee. The Trace is paved and generally has a rural speed limit of 50 MPH. The road is generally only two lanes.
This National Park Service Unit, The Natchez Trace Parkway is one of only six National Parkways in the system. The thing to do along this scenic byway is to relax and enjoy it. Of course, you can explore by car, but you can also hike bike, and camp your way along the parkway. Of course, there are Ranger Led Programs in the historic areas. There are even places to fish or ride horses. The trace not only takes you back through time to before European explorers came to the area but also to the golden age of the family road trip. The times before the Interstate Highway System when travel was at a slower pace and you could stop along the way and see the culture and history of an area.
History Along The Natchez Trace Parkway
The Trace began as a series of trials dating back to prehistoric Native Americans. One of the best examples of the culture of the Mississippian Period in this part of the country is Emerald Mound. Located about 1o miles Northeast of Natchez. Emerald Mound is the second-largest Mississippian Period ceremonial mound in the United States. Built between 1200C.E. and 1730C.E., this 35-foot-high mound covers eight acres and measures 770 feet by 435 feet at its base. Two secondary mounds sit atop the primary mound, bringing the total height to approximately 60 feet. The larger one at the west end measures 190 feet by 160 feet by 30 feet high.
Emerald Mound is open from sunrise to sunset every day. Please respect the ceremonial origin of the mound by refraining from recreational activities, including ball games and kite flying. There is an established trail that allows you to climb to the top of the mound and enjoy a view of the countryside, just as early residents of the area did.
A Path Home
Known as “Kaintucks,” these boatmen floated merchandise down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers from states throughout the Ohio River valley. Agricultural goods, coal, and livestock were among the many products that were floated to markets in Natchez and New Orleans. Once the goods on the boats were sold, the boats were often dismantled and sold as lumber. Before the age of the steamboat, Kaintucks had little use for these flatboats once they reached their destinations.
From Natchez, the boatmen would begin the long walk home. They traveled the Natchez Trace to Nashville, Tennessee. From there, they used more established roads to take them to their homes further north and east. Research indicates that more than 10,000 Kaintucks traveled the Old Trace in the year 1810 alone. The 500 mile trip on foot typically took about 35 days. Lucky travelers that rode horses could expect to cover it in 20 to 25 days.
Read about another Great National Park here.