Motorcycle Touring The Natchez Trace Parkway

Traverse Mississippi, Alabama, And Tennessee without a map.

Mississippi swamp at sunset
MississippiJP Valery

Some people are born Magellans; others struggle to navigate around their hometowns. My terrible sense of direction puts me firmly in the latter camp, which is why the prospect of traveling a meandering rural route across state lines sans map is always alluring. The Natchez Trace Parkway, managed by the National Park Service, offers an easy route from Nashville, Tennessee, through the corner of Alabama, and all the way to southwestern Mississippi.

The Road

The Natchez Trace Parkway is 444 miles of smooth, two-lane tarmac uninterrupted by commercial traffic. The historic Natchez Trace follows a ridgeline traversed by prehistoric animals, indigenous people, and then European settlers. The parkway honors its historical significance by protecting the surrounding natural lands and maintaining a beautiful ribbon of tarmac for motorcyclists. Fine, for all travelers. Which means there will be Winnebagos. Anyone else still waiting for a rocket launcher-equipped Gold Wing? For most of the way, the speed limit is 50 mph, so choose your bike accordingly and get in the right frame of mind.

The Food

Get off the Trace and head to Tupelo in the northeast quadrant of Mississippi. Check out the Neon Pig, a local meat butcher and café that also has a nice selection of craft beer. The Pig's "famous" Smash Burger features a patty made of filet, sirloin, New York strip, rib eye, and Benton's bacon. How could that be bad?

Diversions

Muscle Shoals and Florence, Alabama. Music lovers can visit Elvis’s birthplace in Tupelo and head to Muscle Shoals, where countless R&B and rock ’n’ roll tunes were recorded. If modernism is more your thing, visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Rosenbaum house in Florence. If those destinations don’t sound particularly diverting, take it as a sign: The Natchez Trace Parkway reaffirms that the journey is the real destination.