Follow the Path of the Kaintucks on the Natchez Trace

How much time to you spend on your daily commute? If you’re lucky you may work from home, or maybe you hop in your car for a few minutes everyday. Even the longest of commutes rarely top an hour or so. So how would you feel if your commute took a bit longer- say over a month?

Well in the old days of the Natchez Trace, thousands of rugged individuals made this commute year after year. These travelers were referred to as “Kaintucks,” and they were some of the toughest souls to tread the nearly 450 mile trail from Natchez, MS to Nashville, TN.

Photo: NPS
Photo: NPS

These were the days before the advent of the famous steam engine and paddle-wheeled boats, which became famous all along the Mississippi river. Kaintucks were more familiar with flatboats, a simple craft that used the river’s current to travel from as far as modern-day midwestern United States. The boats were perfect for carrying huge loads of timber, coal, cattle, and whatever else was in demand. Their flat bottoms made the craft ideal for navigating seasonally low waters during the warmer months.

Photo: NPS
Photo: NPS

The Kaintucks would guide their boats hundreds of miles downriver to Natchez or New Orleans. There they would sell their cargo, and often their boats. Inexpensive to build and without a power source to head back against the currents, the boats were usually scrapped for their timber. This left their captains and crew without a way home other than their own two feet.

So how long was their commute? The Kaintucks took the Trace at least 440 miles north to Nashville!

Along the way these travelers encountered all kinds of hardship. Whether they were battling tent-battering summer storms, cold rivers and swamps, or rival traders, the trip wasn’t for the faint of heart. Nevertheless, more than 10,000 Kaintucks made this journey in the year 1810 alone!

The Sunken Trace at milepost 41.5
The Sunken Trace at milepost 41.5

Nowadays, the Natchez Trace Parkway is far less of a challenging road to travel. In fact, it’s extremely enjoyable! You can spend your days leisurely soaking in the gorgeous scenery, and dedicating your evenings in a cozy, friendly B&B in one of the many Trace communities.

The best part is you can still “trace” the footsteps of traders and pioneers that walked before you many years ago. Take for instance the Sunken Trace, where you can literally put your feet in the deep worn paths left over from wagons, feet, and horses’s hooves. Then, hop back in your comfy car or motorcycle and enjoy a luxurious cruise to your next Trace attraction! Don’t forget to stop for a tasty bite to eat in the communities dotted along this 444-mile scenic byway.

cover photo2
Natchez Trace Parkway

So next time you head to work, remember the Kaintucks and their epic commute. Once you’re properly thankful for your far easier journey, consider taking a relaxing trip along the Natchez Trace Parkway. It’s truly an incredible place to rediscover the stories of those that tamed the territory so many years ago!

To learn more about the Natchez Trace Parkway and plan your trip, give us a call at 866.TRACE56 (872-2356) or visit scenictrace.com. You should also check out helpful information about the Natchez Trace Parkway on National Park Service website here.

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