The Natchez Trace Parkway is 444 miles of nature and history, virtually untouched by the last several decades. The Old Trace, which spanned what is now Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, was once an important trade route. In present day, the Natchez Trace Parkway is the scenic route from Natchez, Miss., to Nashville, Tenn., with plenty of hiking trails, campsites and historical landmarks in between. The road that once linked three rivers—the Mississippi, Cumberland and Tennessee—now connects a few of the South’s best cities.
The historic city may be known for its bed and breakfasts and antebellum home tours, but it also has a food scene not to be missed. From taverns to fine dining, Natchez has it all, and if you’re expecting typical Southern fare, you might be surprised to find strong Cajun influence, an abundance of tamales and quality Italian cuisine. Don’t be fooled by business names, The Donut Shop, The Malt Shop and Bellemont Shake Shop are not just for confections—they are also famous for tamales, fried catfish plates and burgers, respectively. For dinner with a view of the Mississippi, try Magnolia Grill, located in Natchez’s Under-the-Hill district. If you love local brew, downtown Natchez has its own microbrewery, the Natchez Brewing Company.
A little more than 90 miles down the Trace is Clinton, Miss., just outside the capital city. Jackson is home to the Mississippi Museum of Art, the Eudora Welty House and Garden and countless other historical treasures. The Fondren district is the best representation of Jackson in modern times, with a diverse food and art scene and regular community events. For coffee, you cannot beat the cozy and cool environment (and delicious drinks) at Sneaky Beans. Stop into Caet Wine Bar for a drink and a snack, or try one of Fondren’s bakeries—Campbell’s Bakery or La Brioche. For arguably the best slice of pizza in the state, head down the street to Sal & Mookie’s, and stop in all the fun shops on your way.
Head north on the Trace for nearly 200 miles and you’ll reach Tupelo, the first home of Elvis Presley. Visitors can tour The King of Rock and Roll’s birthplace, childhood church and a museum full of memorabilia. Downtown, Tupelo Hardware, where Elvis purchased his first guitar, is still a functioning hardware store. While downtown, check out the city’s art galleries—the Caron Gallery and the GumTree Museum of Art. Eat like a local at Cafe 212 if you can find a seat. To sample offerings from some of North Mississippi’s farms, try Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen. End your stay in Tupelo with a beer and a cigar at Spring Street Cigars or a decadent dessert at Crave.
Once you leave Tupelo, the Trace soon crosses over into Alabama. Follow it for around 70 miles to Lauderdale County, and then exit to head into Florence, Ala. The city has quite the musical history of its own, being adjoined to Muscle Shoals, Ala., home of FAME Studios. There is no shortage of good food, either. If you have time to make reservations, visit the 360 Grille. It sits atop the Renaissance Tower next to the Marriott Hotel & Spa and revolves to provide a panorama view of Wilson Lake. The historic downtown area has a variety of businesses, including Ricatoni’s, an Italian grill, and City Hardware, which offers American and Southern cuisine.
Less than three hours on the Trace will bring you to Leiper’s Fork, Tenn., a gem tucked away in Williamson County. Eclectic stores, antique shops and local eateries line the streets of the small downtown. The three galleries—The Copper Fox, Leiper’s Creek Gallery and David Arms—draw visitors from all corners of the country. Leiper’s Fork is home to the original Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant, known for its Southern cuisine and live country performances. Check the Lawnchair Theatre for local events, live music and movie screenings.
Illustration by Sarah B. Calligraphy // Photos courtesy of the Natchez Trace Parkway Visitors Center and visitfranklin.com. // Story by Carmen Cristo