Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee: The Natchez Trace Parkway

Text: Luke Swab • Photography: Luke Swab

For most people in Tennessee, fall riding means heading east toward the beautiful Smoky Mountains, but I did that last year. Of course, I see the appeal of the park when the leaves change and the days are shortening, but so does everyone else. It’s the most visited national park in America, and its relatively small footprint can’t handle the influx of people during the short peak-color season. I vividly recall being stuck in traffic for hours simply trying to leave the park to get back to our cabin for the evening, and that’s an experience I didn’t wish to repeat.

So, this year was going to be different. I was going to find a quieter route for enjoying the leaves, and I chose the Natchez Trace.

The Trace Parkway is a two-lane road inlaid on an 800-foot-wide, 444-mile-long strip of public land. It’s technically a national park, but there are no fees. The route starts in the rolling hills just outside of Nashville, TN, and ends in the flatlands of Natchez, MS. I need to stress the uniqueness of this road. There is nothing else like it in all of America. Since it is a national park (where advertisements aren’t allowed), you won’t ever see any billboards or McDonald’s arches. There aren’t any driveways or mailboxes either. No one lives on this road. The speed limit is set at 50 mph and commercial traffic is prohibited. No semi-trucks or commuters. The only people on this road are people who want to be on this road. That means very little traffic even during the fall. 

Despite our late start from picking up our bikes in Nashville, Cameron and I couldn’t skip the Loveless Cafe. It is the official starting point for the north end and, with free biscuits and an online rating of 4.6 stars, it’s a must-visit. The waitress wouldn’t stop bringing us biscuits and we couldn’t stop eating them. Good for the gut, but bad for the butt, we fight the food coma as we enter the Trace to see what it has to offer. 

The Trace Delivers

I think we timed this trip perfectly. The leaves have started to drop, but as we continue south, the temperature will rise and the trees will be loaded with bright colors. At only five miles in, we come upon the Double Arch Bridge, an $ 11-million structure that crosses Tennessee’s Birdsong Hollow for 1,648 feet and shuttles us 155 feet above Highway 96. It’s a beautiful work of engineering, featuring huge, winged supports, and we stay there for 30 minutes taking photos before jumping off the Trace to find our hotel in Franklin, TN. 

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the March/April 2018 back issue.