A beautiful place to spend an afternoon is the Natchez Trace, a parkway winding through forests and across creeks once traversed by flatboatmen on their way home to the North and by rogues and thieves who lurked in the shadows ready to attack unsuspecting travelers.
A federal parkway operated by the National Park Service, the Trace offers not only scenic beauty but many historic markers to lead the visitor through some of the earliest history of the old Southwest Territory.
Extending almost 450 miles between Natchez and Nashville, Tenn., the Trace begins for Natchez visitors just off U.S. 61 near the intersection with Liberty Road. The Trace goes through some of the areas most important to Native American history as well as to early European and early American settlement of the area.
The roadway’s course follows as nearly as possible the same route as the old Trace footpath. In places, signs will direct visitors to the old road, and it is worth a stop and a walk through the old rutted byways to get a feel for what it must have been like in the 18th century, when many flatboatment floated down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, sold their boats in places such as Natchez and New Orleans and then began the six-month trek back up to their homes in the Northeast.
The Natchez Trace began centuries ago as a footpath, used by Native Americans for travel between the southern and central areas of the continent.
Parties of the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Natchez and other Southern tribes followed this route on their way to Middle Tennessee, Kentucky and the territory of the present North Central states.
As development ensued in the Old Southwest, as the Natchez area was known then, the Trace was used by many who migrated to the area from other parts of the country to take advantage of the opportunities abounding in the rich, fertile land of the great river.
For many years the Trace was known as a dangerous place to travel. Robbers and rogues waited in hiding to attack unprotected small parties. Travelers learned to band together for protection, but even that did not always provide the necessary safety.
All along the Trace were small inns, where travelers could stay for the night. One of those is Mount Locust, a good stop for visitors, even if the house is not open for tours.
There are exhibits and signs to tell something of the experiences of travelers in the old days, and there are nature trails, as well.
One of the most impressive stops on the Trace in the Natchez area is Emerald Mound, built in about 1400 by Native Americans who lived in the area then.
The mound is the second largest of its kind in the United States and is reached by turning a couple of miles off the Trace and following signs.
The Trace is a designated bike route. A good destination for a picnic might be Rocky Springs, if the visitor plans to return to Natchez for the evening.
Located at milepost 54.8, the site commemorates a community that once stood at Rocky Springs.