Natchez Trace Parkway: the all-star All American Road.

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As a standout in every classification, this all American treasure offers a visitor experience in a class by itself.

As a standout in every classification, this all American treasure

offers a visitor experience in a class by itself.

It’s more than appropriate to say that in earning the prestigious designations of National Scenic Byway and All American Road, the Natchez Trace Parkway passed with flying colors. For one thing, the designation was awarded in September, 1996, just in time for the roadway’s annual (and brilliant) fall foliage display.

Certainly if travelers were asked to vote on the nation’s most beautiful roadway, there’s no doubt the eyes would have it on the Parkway, 444 miles of spectacularly scenic roadway stretching from Natchez to Nashville. However, in the 1990s when the U.S. Department of Transportation began selecting routes for those distinguished designations, rigorous criteria of six “intrinsic qualities” were applied—archeological, cultural, natural, recreational and scenic. A route must show demonstrable value in at least one category to earn the designation of National Scenic Byway, and at least two to qualify as an All American Road. The Natchez Trace Parkway met the standards of all six.

And that’s the true beauty of the Parkway—there’s something for everyone to enjoy here, all year round.

Archeological: Digging deep, aiming high.


Prehistoric animals were the first to carve out the beginnings of the trail here; Native American tribes following the “traces” of bison were the first to create the footpath of the early Natchez Trace. Today, sections of that rugged path are still preserved, along with a number of significant Native American historic sites, including a half dozen majestic burial and domiciliary mound sites. The Parkway offers an exciting opportunity to go deep into history.

Cultural: Great American history, arts, knowledge.


Andrew Jackson made his name (and money) along this route, history-making Civil War battles were fought here, and great American leaders in music, arts and literature were born here, from Elvis to W.C. Handy to Helen Keller. The Parkway is also home to two state capitals (one of them the capital of country music), several leading universities and a wealth of vibrant museums offering fascinating knowledge experiences in a range of vital subjects. The architecture along the Parkway offers a master class in historic design, from the antebellum splendor of Natchez to the modernist genius of the Frank Lloyd Wright home in Florence. Visitors come to the Parkway to relive history, to experience the birth of genius, and to immerse themselves in a deeply American story.

Natural: The Earth’s bounty preserved.

The invention of the steam engine and the steamboat destroyed the value of the Natchez Trace as a commercial route, yet ultimately saved it from extinction. After commerce and travel migrated to the Mississippi River in the mid nineteenth century, the Trace fell into disuse, which kept commercial development at bay, making the task of preservation much easier.

Today, the Parkway is a natural paradise: 800 different types of plants, 157 types of birds—the Parkway is a major American birding trail which is also part of the North Alabama Birding Trail—and 350 different types of wildlife, including at least 22 federally listed threatened or endangered species. Along the Parkway, travelers encounter a richly diverse ecosystem blending softwood and hardwood forests, wetlands and prairie landscapes, all of it generously interspersed with croplands.

Recreation: Year-round fun under the sun.

Boating, fishing, hunting, hiking, biking—the ways to play are endless along the Parkway. Against such a gorgeous outdoor backdrop, these recreational opportunities are a natural, and yet they’re mostly man-made, part of the overall plan when the Parkway was created back in the 1930s. The plan’s primary goal was historic preservation, but equally important was community enrichment, and that meant the addition of recreational and visitor assets. Today, the Parkway beckons lovers of nature and lovers of fun, with almost one hundred miles of hiking trails, horse and nature trails; dedicated bike routes; 12 state parks; 10 camping grounds; thousands of acres of hunting lands; and thousands upon thousands of acres of azure lake, including the Ross Barnett Reservoir, Wilson Lake, Bay Springs Lake and Pickwick Lake that starts in Mississippi and spreads for miles into Tennessee.

Scenic: A world apart.

It is for the last quality, the scenic element, that the Natchez Trace Parkway is perhaps best known. In the twenty-first century world of intrusive commercialization, the Parkway offers a serene and welcome escape. No billboards, no crass development, just mile after exhilarating mile of beautiful vistas and gentle curves, through forests, wetlands and prairies, with a generous spread of cropland in between. The sunsets here stay with you—this is the getaway that keeps on giving in memories that last a lifetime.

Of course, there’s one more criterion that Department of Transportation didn’t include in their assessments.  Call it the result of the good cooperation, particularly between the communities of the Natchez Trace Compact.  Or call it by its simplest name:  Good old-fashioned southern hospitality.  Natchez Trace Parkway communities large and small love to have company, and it shows.

As the demand grows for eco-friendly destinations that offer both authenticity and a deep level of involvement, other locations in the U.S. may be scrambling to create that kind of appeal, but the Natchez Trace Parkway has already been providing that kind of engaging experience for more than 70 years.

And that experience is the ultimate test that prompts visitors to the Parkway to classify this All American Roadway in a class by itself.