With just under two weeks, you can wind your way from one epic music and food city to the next. The total drive is 620 miles; 444 of these curve down the National Park Service’s Natchez Trace Parkway. You’ll hear everything from country to Creole; visit the birthplace of the King and a place where civil rights stood proud. You can easily reverse the route from south to north, ending in Tennessee.
The trip will take longer on two wheels or horseback, but the Natchez Trace is well-suited for such modes of transport. Check out the Essentials chapter in Moon Nashville to New Orleans Road Trip for more specifics on planning such a journey.
The parkway mileposts are numbered from south to north, so it’s easy to start your trip in New Orleans and follow this guide in reverse to end your journey in Nashville. Either way, your trip is bookended by good food and music.
Arrive in Nashville. Check into a downtown or South Nashville hotel, such as the Thompson or Union Station. Set out on foot to the Tennessee State Capitol and the Civil Rights Room at the Nashville Public Library.
Feast at Chauhan Ale & Masala House for lunch. Stroll lower Broadway and enjoy dancing at the honky-tonks on your first night in town. Grab dinner at Pinewood Social.
In the evening, see a show at the Grand Ole Opry. Call Jake’s Bakes to have warm cookies delivered to your hotel room before you tuck yourself in.
As you head west to the Natchez Trace Parkway the next morning, drive by Centennial Park and see The Parthenon.
Nashville to Alabama Border (120 miles)
Up and at ’em! Fuel up both yourself and your car with biscuits from Loveless Cafe and gasoline from a nearby station. Your first stop on the Natchez Trace Parkway is a prime photo spot: the Double Arch Bridge.
If you’re up for exiting the scenic parkway, you have several good options for food, drink, and entertainment in Franklin, Leiper’s Fork, and Columbia, which is where you’ll find the James K. Polk Home & Museum. Other highlights include the Franklin Theatre. While in Franklin, take a tour at Carnton, a historic former plantation, where you can experience Civil War history from an intimate vantage point.
Along the Trace itself you should stop at the Meriwether Lewis Monument and Gravesite, which is a somber memorial to a man who helped the country expand. This is also where to camp for the night before crossing into Alabama.
Alabama Border to Mississippi Border (30 miles)
You’ll be covering fewer miles on the Trace today but plenty of territory when it comes to Native American, music, and military history.
Stop at the Wichahpi Commemorative Stone Wall and learn about the Trail of Tears.
Take a side trip to the Quad Cities region, where the namesake cities of Muscle Shoals, Florence, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia offer myriad opportunities. Muscle Shoals is home to important music sites like 3614 Jackson Highway and Fame Studios. Shop for unique clothing items or souvenirs in Florence, then tuck in for the night.
Mississippi Border to Tupelo (45 miles)
Don’t forget to get gas in the Quad Cities before heading back to the Trace. Next you’ll head south on the Trace, bound for Tupelo, stopping at Bear Creek Mound and Pharr Mounds on the way.
Once you arrive in Tupelo, sample the blueberry doughnuts at Connie’s Fried Chicken, and then head to the Elvis Presley Birthplace, where you’ll honor the King’s legacy and learn how he got to be who he was. Catch a show at the Blue Canoe, then head back to your hotel so you can be rested and ready to go in the morning.
Tupelo to Memphis (110 miles)
Arrive in Memphis and check into a downtown hotel, such as the Peabody or Big Cypress Lodge. Head straight to Graceland to immerse yourself in the world of the King. Eat lunch at The Little Tea Shop downtown, and then head over to Mud Island for the afternoon.
Go treasure-hunting at A. Schwab, then grab some Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken for dinner.
Stroll Beale Street in the morning, stopping at the W. C. Handy Home and Museum. Eat lunch along South Main, then go to the National Civil Rights Museum, followed by a trip to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and the Blues Hall of Fame Museum that afternoon.
Head to dinner at the Soul Fish, then hang out for a drink or two at Young Avenue Deli.
Head back to Tupelo on the evening of day seven, so that you’ll be ready for the side trip to Oxford, Mississippi, the next morning.
Tupelo to Ridgeland (275 miles with Oxford)
Before you leave Tupelo, stop by the Natchez Trace Parkway Headquarters and Visitor Center on the Trace itself. This is the best place on the 444-mile route to meet with rangers, ask questions, watch a film, and buy some souvenirs.
Gas up the car for the 45-minute drive to Oxford, home of Ole Miss. Wander the University of Mississippi campus, where you can tour the University Museum and several of the campus’s historic civil rights sights. Visit Rowan Oak, William Faulkner’s home, then get lunch in The Square, the center of all things Oxford.
You have about an hour on the road to hook back up with the parkway (remember to fuel up). Then continue south. Two of five Native American ceremonial mounds are visible at the Owl Creek Mounds Archaeological Site, just off the parkway. Stop here to see sites that were likely Indian temples and then head south to the six Indian burial mounds at Bynum Mounds.
Take a quick hike at Cypress Swamp, then make for Ridgeland, another 150 miles down the Trace, to spend the night.
Ridgeland to Natchez (110 miles)
Ridgeland is just east of Jackson, Mississippi’s capital city. You have many museums from which to choose on your days in Jackson. The perfectly preserved Eudora Welty House and Garden feels like the author has just run out to lunch and she’ll be back in a few. The civil rights collection at the Margaret Walker Center on the Jackson State campus, and the Smith Robertson Museum show different perspectives on the state’s complicated civil rights history.
From Jackson you’ll head back on the Trace for the last piece of your parkway drive. Appreciate the leisurely pace as you drive, stopping to read historical signs. Allocate enough time at Mount Locust Historic House, an 1800s building and grounds with cemeteries, walking trails, and more. Drive on to Emerald Mound, because while you may have seen a lot of Indian mounds on this trip, this is one on which you can climb. Like Mount Locust, Elizabeth Female Academy is one of the few remaining buildings (or portions thereof) on the parkway.
You’ve made it to the southern terminus!
Natchez is known for its antebellum architecture. Don’t miss the opportunity to stay in one of these sweet, restored homes. At Devereaux Shields House you’ll get a wine reception at night, perfect for after you pull off the road. Check in, wander the manicured garden, and then head to King’s Tavern for flatbread and beer for dinner. The restaurant, which may be haunted, is in the oldest building in the state.
Natchez to Baton Rouge (100 miles)
From Natchez, take US 61 south and continue to Baton Rouge, capital of Louisiana. Tour both Louisiana’s Old State Capitol and the current Louisiana State Capitol, an art deco limestone stunner. Drive through Spanish Town, the city’s oldest neighborhood, dating to 1805. Visit the Old Louisiana Governor’s Mansion, which first resident Huey Long wanted to look like the White House.
Order boudin balls and fried green tomatoes at Beausoleil Restaurant and Bar for dinner. Continue the history vibe by spending the night at Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Baton Rouge to New Orleans (80 miles)
Start your day in the French Quarter with some warm café au lait and sugar-covered beignets at the world-famous Café Du Monde, part of the historic French Market, a collection of eateries, gift stores, and praline shops.
After breakfast, stroll through picturesque Jackson Square and tour the stunning structures that surround this well-landscaped park and promenade. Besides the majestic St. Louis Cathedral, you’ll see curious historical exhibits inside the Cabildo and the Presbytère and glimpse period Creole furnishings inside the 1850 House, part of the lovely Pontalba Apartments.
Stroll past the quaint boutiques and verdant balconies of Chartres Street, stop by the Beauregard-Keyes House and Garden Museum, then cross the street for a self-guided tour of the Old Ursuline Convent. Afterward, walk over to Royal Street for a guided stroll through the Gallier Historic House Museum. A few blocks away, you’ll spot the Old U.S. Mint, a magnificent, red-brick edifice that now houses a state-of-the-art concert space and an engaging museum about the city’s musical heritage.
At night, don your finest attire for a quintessential French Creole dinner at Galatoire’s Restaurant on Bourbon Street. Afterward, walk to the world-famous Preservation Hall for a short jazz concert. End your evening at the candlelit Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar for a late-night drink.
Board the St. Charles streetcar and head to the Garden District, where you can visit Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 and stroll amid historic homes. Take time to explore the antiques shops, art galleries, and varied boutiques along funky Magazine Street.
In the afternoon, head through the CBD to The National WWII Museum, where you can watch an immersive documentary and experience exhibits pertaining to the Allied victory in World War II.
Splurge on a modern Creole dinner at the classic Commander’s Palace restaurant. Afterward, catch some live rock, funk, jazz, and blues music at well-loved Uptown joints like Tipitina’s, or venture to Rock ’n’ Bowl for a concert and a round of bowling.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Nashville to New Orleans Road Trip.