One of the most popular travel destinations each March and April is the Spring Pilgrimage in Natchez, Mississippi. Americans have long beat a path to Natchez; it was the first town built on the Mississippi River. And for hundreds of years before that Indian tribes trod a route from the Tennessee River in search of game. Today you can make the trip to Natchez on a 444-mile parkway created by the national government and when you try it with your dog, don't be in a hurry because the Natchez Trace abounds with easy canine hiking opportunities.
Long used by the Natchez, Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians, the Trace became an important trade route with the arrival of European settlers. The French mapped the trail as early as 1733 and enough travelers tramped down the crude path that became the most-heavily used road of the Old Southwest. The route was dotted with roadhouses and familiar to traders in the Ohio Valley who floated goods down the Mississippi River, sold their flatboats for lumber and rode or walked home on the 400+ miles of the Natchez Trace. The importance of the
Trace waned in the early 1800s with the arrival of the steamboat and it gradually quieted to the feel of a country lane.
In the 1930s a 444-mile Natchez Trace Parkway between Nashville, Tennessee and Natchez, Mississippi was begun, by which time much of the original Trace had been destroyed by development. Today, modern-day travelers with dogs can enjoy an unhurried trip through the Old South that mimics the route of the original trace...
Just six miles from the Northern terminus below Nashville comes an engineering highlight in the construction of the Parkway - the innovative Double Arch Bridge (Milepost 438) that rises 155 feet above the valley. Another dozen miles down the road your dog can sample the Old Trace (Milepost 426.3) for the first time on a section cleared by the U.S. Army back in 1801. These chances for leisurely excursions on the historic pathway come at regular intervals, seldom longer than a quarter mile.
In fact, most your outings with your dog along the Parkway will be of the laid-back, strolling variety. Your first campground/picnic area comes a bit more than an hour into your journey at the Meriwether Lewis Site (Milepost 385.9). There are foot trails here for your dog along the Little Swan Creek and a recreation of the rough hewn Grinder’s Inn where the co-captain of the Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery and one-time governor of the Louisiana Territory died of unexplained gunshot wounds in 1809.
In another 15 minutes a turn-off takes you along a narrow 2.5-mile road that follows the original trace route. In another hour the Parkway briefly visits the State of Alabama. Your dog’s highlight in his short time in the Yellowhammer state will probably be at Colbert Ferry (Milepost 327.3) where he can enjoy a swim in the Tennessee River. The story goes that George Colbert charged Andrew Jackson $75,000 to ferry his army across the river here during the War of 1812. At Freedom Hills Overlook (Milepost 317) a steep quarter-mile trail leads to
Alabama’s highest point on the Parkway, 800 feet.
Crossing into Mississippi, the Parkway begins its final 300 miles by crossing through the largest state park on the route. Tishomingo State Park (Milepost 304.5), named for a Chickasaw medicine man and warrior, offers plenty of outdoor recreation for your dog. Up ahead is the first city of any note, Tupelo,that was known as Harrisburg in the heyday of the Natchez Trace. You can exit for several attractions here, none too time-consuming. A small one-acre site on West Main Street marks the Tupelo National Battlefield (Milepost 259.7) where Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest and withering Delta heat were able to halt a Union advance during the Civil War on April 14, 1864. Civil War buffs can detour from the Parkway for more significant battle sites at Shiloh National Military Park in Tennessee and Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield Site and Vicksburg National Military Park in Mississippi. Your dog can also spend a few minutes wandering around the boyhood home of Elvis Presley while in Tupelo.
The next 150 miles of the Parkway, until you reach a break in the road, is mostly a driving stretch punctuated by bits and pieces of the original Trace. Highlights include the Jeff Busby Site (Milepost 193.1), named for Thomas Jefferson Busby, a Congressman from Mississippi who introduced the bill in 1934 to create the Parkway. The Little Mountain Trail crawls about a mile to an overlook from a height of 603 feet, one of the highest on the road. Another must-stop comes at Milepost 122 for a one-mile loop hike through a water tupelocypress
After taking a break from the unfinished Parkway to get around the capital city of Jackson, rejoin the two-lane ribbon for your final 80-mile stretch to the Mississippi River. Short trails lead through mixed pine forests, to nearby waterfalls and old town sites. Pull off to walk you dog through Port Gibson (Milepost 39.2), a town Ulysses S. Grant declared “too beautiful to burn” during the Civil War. If you haven’t stopped to take your dog through one of the deeply eroded “Sunken Traces” of the original wilderness road yet, your last chance comes at Milepost 41.5.
One of the first inns along the Trace, Mount Locust, has been restored at Milepost 15.5. All along the ancient passageway their have been scattered mounds built by prehistoric people for ceremonies and village sites. The final one to explore comes at Milepost 10.3, the Emerald Mound. Built around the year 1400, this is America’s second-largest ceremonial mound. It covers nearly eight acres and you can take your dog on the trail right to the top. And catch one last look at the original Trace presents itself just before the Parkway ends and the antebellum
river town of Natchez awaits.
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