Those traveling to The Shoals often ask for the best routes into and out of the area. I’m not sure what your definition of “best” may be, but I personally love to travel visually interesting routes, when time allows. For those that have the time and inclination for a scenic drive, I always recommend taking part of the journey on the Natchez Trace Parkway.
The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444-mile historical path that travels from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee, and connects the Cumberland and Mississippi rivers. It follows a geologic ridgeline that prehistoric animals followed in search of new grazing land and water sources. The Trace connected tribal homelands of the Natchez, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations. Native travelers used the same pathways repeatedly, creating natural sunken sections in the ground.
The first American settlers used the pathways to create settlements and trade routes. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, boatmen known as “Kaintucks” floated merchandise down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to markets in Natchez and New Orleans, then sold the boats for lumber. They used the Natchez Trace as part of their long walks home; the 500-mile trek took approximately 35 days, on foot. In 1801, the U.S. Army began to clear trails, preparing it to become an officially established thoroughfare. Shortly thereafter, President Thomas Jefferson designated the Trace as a national postal road for delivery of mail to the cities between Natchez and Nashville.
Some of the early settlements in Mississippi and Tennessee grew up along the Natchez Trace, usually as a result of trading posts and inns required to accommodate frequent travelers. After the “Great Awakening” spiritual movement in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, itinerant preachers used the pathways to create a circuit of regular stops. It was also known to be a hideout for bandits and a hotbed for gangs and highwaymen who preyed on settlers with full wagons and cash-carrying Kaintucks.
By 1816, as development expanded and the city of Memphis began to grow, quicker routes to New Orleans were built. Once steamboats became widely used for trade and travel on the Mississippi River, the Trace shifted to mostly local travel. But, for a time, the Natchez Trace was an essential link between the growing eastern American settlements and the major Mississippi and Louisiana trading posts.
Today the Natchez Trace provides a near-continuous greenway from the southern Appalachian foothills of Tennessee to the bluffs of the lower Mississippi River. There are impressive stops along the way, including reservoirs, waterfalls, and archaeological sites. We recommend a stop at Emerald Mound, a national historic landmark and one of the largest American Indian mounds in the United States. The Natchez Trace also crosses four ecosystems and eight major watersheds and provides habitat for nearly 1,500 species of plants, 33 mammal species, 134 bird species, and 70 species of reptiles and amphibians. Designated as a National Scenic Byway and All-American Road, the parkway encourages modern travelers to experience historic and scenic landscapes at a leisurely pace. The National Park Service has an excellent guide for travelers that includes historical information, important stops, campsites, and opportunities for outdoor activities.
Scenery along the Trace changes with the seasons, so there is really no “right” time to plan a trip. For information on directions, transportation, basic maps, and more, click here. And don’t forget to take lots of photographs to share with us on your next visit to The Factory.
Photos of the brochures by Abraham Rowe