National Park Natchez Trace Parkway
Natchez Trace Parkway
A Drive through History
History of Natchez Trace Parkway
The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444-mile drive through exceptional scenery and 10,000 years of North American history.Â Used by American Indians, “Kaintucks”, settlers, and future presidents, the Old Trace played an important role in American history. Today, visitors can enjoy not only a scenic drive but also hiking, biking, horseback riding, and camping.
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 in heavy use 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 five hundred mile distance in just thirty days. By 1820 over twenty “stands” (inns) were located along the route to cater to the increasing traffic.
Landscape of Â Natchez Trace Parkway
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 feature most readily visible, however, are the vast tracts of eastern deciduous forest lining the parkway motor road.
Flora and fauna
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 of Natchez Trace Parkway
In the summer, expect hot and humid weather throughout the length of the Parkway, high temperatures typically in the 90s. 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.
Prepare forÂ Natchez Trace Parkway
There is no food or gas located on the parkway itself, but the route passes numerous towns where services are available.
Fees / Permits
There are no fees or reservations at the Natchez Trace Parkway.
Visitors can enter the Parkway, free of charge, from dozens of county, state, and U.S. roads in Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee. Please refer to the Parkway Map for places to access the Parkway.
Camping at any one of the three campgrounds along the Parkway (Rocky Springs, Jeff Busby, and Meriwether Lewis) is also free and available on a first come, first served basis. Campgrounds are typically busiest during the spring and fall, especially during holiday weekends.
2010 America the Beautiful Annual Pass
2010 America the Beautiful Annual Pass
Though there are no fees at the Natchez Trace Parkway, you may be interested in the America the Beautiful – National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass if you are visiting other federal land areas, including national parks. However, because there is no entrance fee, the America the Beautiful Annual Pass, Senior Pass, or Access Pass is not available at the Natchez Trace Parkway.
All National Parks Passes, Golden Eagle, Golden Eagle Hologram, Golden Access and Golden Age Passports will continue to be honored according to the provisions of the pass. Only paper Golden Age and Access Passports may be exchanged free of charge for new plastic passes.
Laws and Policies
The laws enforced on the Natchez Trace Parkway are contained in two documents:
Federal regulations covering all National Park Service lands are contained in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 36, Chapter 1, also known as 36 CFR.
In addition, regulations pertaining specifically to the Natchez Trace Parkway are contained in the park’s Compendium of Regulations.
As of February 22, 2010, a new federal law allows people who can legally possess firearms under applicable federal, state, and local laws, to legally possess firearms in this park. It is the responsibility of visitors to understand and comply with all applicable state, local, and federal firearms laws before entering this park.
In addition, Federal law prohibits firearms in certain facilities in this park. Those facilities are posted at public entrances to identify them and notify the public that firearms are not allowed in those areas.
As a starting point, please visit the federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms website and select the state that you are interested in from the list on the right side of the page.
More specific information about state permit regulations can be obtained on the following websites:
Any firearm that is prohibited by State or Federal law is prohibited on the Parkway.
Mississippi State Law Synopsis (Mile Post 1-310)
Any Firearm that is legal to possess under state law may be carried in your personal vehicle while traveling the Natchez Trace Parkway.
Effective July 1, 2010 in Mississippi, the possession of a handgun permit is required when in possession of a concealed handgun outside your vehicle.
Alabama State Law Synopsis (Mile Post 310-344)
Possession of a concealed firearm in the State of Alabama is prohibited without a valid state permit. This prohibition includes possession inside and/or outside of your personal vehicle.
Tennessee State Law Synopsis (Mile Post 344-444)
Any firearm that is legal to possess under state law may be carried in your personal vehicle while traveling on the Natchez Trace Parkway, possession of handguns requires a valid state permit.
Any firearm that is legal to possess under state law may be carried on your person while outside of your vehicle, handguns require a valid state permit, while within the boundaries of the Natchez Trace Parkway.
Individuals must be in possession of the permit or license at all times while in possession of a concealed handgun in Alabama and Tennessee. Effective July 1, 2010 in Mississippi, the possession of a handgun permit is required when in possession of a concealed handgun outside your vehicle.
Get inÂ Natchez Trace Parkway
A combination of low speed limits and no commercial traffic make for a very relaxing and enjoyable drive – popular with bicyclists, motorcyclists, and cars. 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 toÂ Natchez Trace Parkway
The parkway mileposts start at Natchez (milepost 0) and end near Nashville at milepost 444.
Sleep inÂ Natchez Trace Parkway
There are no hotels located on the parkway itself, but numerous lodging options can be found in the towns that are along the route.
Three campgrounds are located on the parkway. These campgrounds are free and available on a first come, first serve 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.
- Rocky Springs, (Milepost 54).Â 22 campsites, picnic tables, restrooms, horseback riding, and self-guiding trails.
- Jeff Busby, (Milepost 193.1).Â 18 campsites, picnic tables, trails, exhibits, restrooms and an overlook.
- Meriwether Lewis, (Milepost 385).Â 32 campsites, pioneer cemetery, picnic tables, ranger station, exhibits, restrooms and trails.
Stay safe inÂ Natchez Trace Parkway
The parkway speed limit is fifty 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 commonsense 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.
Get out FromÂ Natchez Trace Parkway
- NashvilleÂ – The parkway’s northern terminus is located in America’s country music capital.
- TupeloÂ – Elvis Presley’s birthplace is located just off of the parkway near milepost 260.
- JacksonÂ – The parkway passes through Mississippi’s capital city between mileposts 90 and 100.
- VicksburgÂ – Site of a major Civil War battlefield and home to the Vicksburg National Military park, this town is located about fifteen miles from the parkway near milepost 60.
- NatchezÂ – The parkway’s southern terminus is home to an impressive and historic cemetery as well as many Antebellum homes.