by Adam Hlasny
Simplicity. In an era of constant distractions from pandemics, smartphones, and holiday preparations, sometimes it’s best to breathe deeply, images of rolling countryside lulling you into relaxation. Let these images become a reality as you take a drive in precious solitude. The Natchez Trace, running 400+ miles from a historical town in Southwest Mississippi all the way to the Music Capital of the World, hits the mark with aplomb. 50 miles per hour, 5,000 sightseeing possibilities. Zero regrets.
Before this tristate gem was a byway, it began as a travel corridor between the traditional homelands of the Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Natchez tribes. Its popularity grew in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, with Thomas Jefferson declaring it a postal road of national importance in 1801. Over the decades, its uses have ranged from a commercial lifeline to a conduit for weekend getaways. The Trace has been painstakingly preserved, allowing the traveler a rare glimpse into yesteryear and opportunities to inhale fresh country air around every bend. Sometimes forest-ensconced, other times spanning a lazy river or cleaving an open plain, this simple route is never boring.
Begin your journey by strolling the classic, tree-lined Main Street in Natchez, a town whose humble population of 15,000 belies its historical gravitas. Discover remarkable colonnaded dwellings and ponder the importance of this port town, sitting pretty on the mighty Mississippi.
Speaking of sips, swig a tall glass of sweet tea as you sample classic southern comfort food. A stop in Clinton or Ridgeland will reward you with copious down-home dining options. Savor a platter of catfish or bowl of gumbo with sides of cornbread and genuine hospitality.
You’ve been movin’; now it’s time for some groovin’. The City of Tupelo is synonymous with Elvis – whether you’re a fan or not, seeing the King’s birthplace and related sights is something you won’t soon forget. The harmonious melodies continue as you cross the Alabama border, arriving in Muscle Shoals. This small town’s brawny name appropriately describes how it has punched above its weight in music history. FAME Studios have hosted legendary recording artists from Aretha Franklin and Little Richard to Michael McDonald and Gregg Allman. Visiting this unique part of the Music Triangle will never fail to get your toes tapping.
Before the journey’s end in Nashville, reset by spending some time in nature. Recreational choices are endless and will appeal to everyone, from the casual bird watcher to the mountain biker to the rugged outdoorsman. Many trails allow you to appreciate the landscape in all its finery, no matter the season. Tennessee’s Jackson Falls cascades effortlessly, inviting you to cherish its timeless, stony splendor.
Even if you don’t feel like getting out of the car, nature remains nearby. From forests to farmland, by now, you’ll realize that this is not just another byway; it’s truly a Southern US treasure. Driving the Trace will undoubtedly clear your mind and inspire gratitude for the land’s simplicity. It doesn’t know the stress of deadlines, family emergencies, or health scares. It just is. Perhaps for a few precious moments, you can follow its lead. See. Feel. Listen. Be.