Natchez Trace and the Gulf

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When COVID-19 forced us to postpone our trip to Spain for another year we took the opportunity to drive the Natchez Trace Parkway, a road trip we’ve been wanting to do. We combined that with a couple of weeks along the Gulf of Mexico for some beach time and long walks in nice weather. We split our gulf time between Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. The beaches were nicer than expected and the weather was great for being active outdoors if not sitting on the beach (we’re more familiar with further south on the gulf in Florida). 

The Natchez Trace Parkway doesn’t offer the mountain vistas of the Blue Ridge Parkway but it’s a pleasant, relaxing drive. The attraction is more historical. We’d do it again if we were headed in that direction. 

Food & Beverage $23 per day

Average per person per day. Our longer stays were at places with kitchen facilities, so we ate a lot of meals in. And did a lot of takeout, thanks to COVID.

Lodging $74-$168 per night

Franklin was our least expensive stay. Orange Beach was the priciest. Most places were in the $100-$110 per night range.

Transportation $267

Gas and a couple of bridge tolls. It was 3037 miles all in and we got 35 miles per gallon.

Entertainment $7

We stopped at a Mississippi state park that had a $4 entry fee. And we paid $3 to park at Ole Miss so we could walk in Bailey's Woods.

Days 1-2: Franklin, Tennessee

The Plan: We’ll spend our first day driving to the Nashville area to the start of the Natchez Trace Parkway. Then we plan to spend a day in the area checking out where Steve used to live near Summertown and probably do some hiking.  

The Reality: It all went according to plan!

  • Drive to start of the Natchez Trace
  • Check out Steve’s old neighborhood
  • Hike at Meriwether Lewis

Day 3: Florence, Alabama

The Plan: This will be our first full day on the parkway. We plan to stop for a hike and at any wayside stops that look interesting to us.

The Reality: We missed the Wichahpi Stone Wall, which wasn’t right on the parkway. Watch out for small detours like that. We still found enough along the Trace to keep us busy all day. 

  • Drive the Natchez Trace Parkway (150 miles)
  • Rock Spring

Days 4-5: Tupelo, Mississippi

The Plan: Our second day on the parkway. We’re spending two nights here so we can take a day trip to Oxford and the Bailey’s Woods Trail, a hike that sounds interesting to us. 

The Reality: We skipped hiking at Tishomingo, opting for a short visit instead. The problem with hiking earlier in the day on a road trip is that you don’t know how long the rest of the drive will take!

  • Drive the Natchez Trace Parkway (75 miles)
  • Visit Tishomingo State Park
  • Pharr Indian Mounds
  • Day trip to Oxford (about 150 miles)

Days 6-7: Jackson, Mississippi

The Plan: Our third day on the parkway. We’re spending two nights here so we can take a day trip to Vicksburg. 

The Reality: Our day trip ended up being to the Vicksburg National Military Park and not the town. Which worked out well. We spent a couple of hours at the park and could have spent longer except it was closing. 

  • Drive the Natchez Trace Parkway (177 miles)
  • Day trip to Vicksburg (about 120 miles)

Days 8-9: Natchez, Mississippi

The Plan: Our fourth and last day on the parkway. We’re spending a second night here because here are lots of old house in Natchez and we enjoy viewing them. We’ll probably spend a day just wandering around Natchez. 

The Reality: That’s pretty much what we did. The hikes at Rocky Springs were very short but interesting. Leg stretchers really.

  • Drive the Natchez Trace Parkway (110 miles, plus a 20 miles detour to Windsor Ruins)
  • Hike at Rocky Springs
  • Emerald Mound
  • Sightseeing in Natchez

Days 10-14: Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi

The Plan: We thought we’d experience three different areas on the gulf. Bay Saint Louis sounds appealing for the small town atmosphere. 

The Reality: We did enjoy the small-town charm. The “boardwalk” (actually a wide concrete path) along the beach was a nice surprise and great for walking. The beach was more beautiful and longer than we expected too. 

  • Walk the “boardwalk”
  • Hang out at the beach
  • Explore the town

Days 15-18: Orange Beach, Alabama

The Plan: Orange Beach will represent the Alabama section of the gulf. We like the idea of walking to the state park to hike. 

The Reality: We did enjoy hiking at the state park. The beach was also great, and great for walking.  

  • Hang out at the beach
  • Hike at the state park

Days 19-25: Panama City Beach, Florida

The Plan: While we’re in the area we thought we’d hit the Florida panhandle, since I haven’t been to this part of the state. My brother’s family likes this area. 

The Reality: We liked it too. This is probably the closest we’ve come to traveling “like a local.” We didn’t sightsee or eat out; just went back and forth to the beach.

  • Hang out at the beach
  • Walk on the beach

Days 26-27: Panama City Beach to Home

The Plan: Make the 974 mile drive home over two days, with a stop in the Nashville area on the way.

The Reality: That’s just what we did!

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Christmas Ornaments

Unusually, both ornaments from this trip were handmade when we returned. We picked up a nice pinecone and some interesting seed pods that we embellished.