I’m super excited to start my thru-hike of the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail tomorrow! A quick background on this hike. Back in 2013, when I first thru-hiked the Ice Age Trail and fell in love with thru-hiking I had a travel writers’ conference in Biloxi, Miss. I knew there was another National Scenic Trail nearby – the Natchez Trace – and decided to thru-hike it after the conference. It’s only 444 miles (715 km), so no big deal after the 1,150-mile (1,850.8 km) Ice Age Trail.
Well, despite all of my Googling, all I came up with was the Natchez Trace Parkway. So I assumed this was an unusual trail that you had to bike, not hike. (Most people on the parkway drive it, but many people bike it as well.) So my hubby, Ed, and I biked the entire Trace. But shortly after we started, we saw signs for the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail. Hmmm. I was so confused!
What is the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail?
To make a long story short, I eventually discovered there is both a Natchez Trace Parkway and a Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail. The trail is an outlier in the system in that it consists of 62 miles (99.8 km) of trail via five sections, all along the parkway. There are no plans to create more trail and/or connect these segments. Unlike other National Scenic Trails, the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail isn’t managed by an association or organization. The National Park Service is in charge. I asked a ranger what the rules were. As in, what constitutes a thru-hike? Are you even allowed to hike in between segments, as that would entail hiking on the shoulder of a parkway with a 50 mph (80.5 kph) speed limit.
The ranger said there are no rules. You can hike just the 62 miles (99.8 km) of trail, driving in between them or hiking or biking along the parkway to each segment. As a backpacker/long-distance hiker, it seems in the spirit of things to hike the parkway in between each trail section. So that’s what I’ll be doing.
COVID Postponed My Trace Plans
I’d originally planned to thru-hike the Trace in the fall of 2020. But COVID had other plans. So here I am in April 2021. While fall is beautiful on the Trace, my piano teacher – who lived in Mississippi for several years – says April is one of the best months in the state. The temps are in the 70s F. (20s C.) and the azaleas are in bloom. Yay!
So here’s the plan. Ed is with me for one week. After he leaves, I’m alone for a day or two before my good friend (and fellow travel writer) Amy Eckert joins me for the final two weeks. But there’s a snag. Because life is full of snags, right? In the last three years, I’ve had both of my hamstrings reattached. I had a bad lower back episode a month ago, and your lower back and hamstrings are intertwined. So what should be a very easy hike (mostly on blacktop and no major hills) is full of questions. Can I do it? I’ve got my foam roller and a bag full of other aids. I know all sorts of stretches. But who knows what will happen.
Back to Natchez
Ed and I drove six hours from Sun Prairie, Wis., to Festus, Mo., on Sunday. Today, we drove well over eight hours (thanks to construction and an accident) from Festus to Natchez. We made it just in time to take in a gorgeous sunset over the Mississippi. I wish we had time to explore this town.
Natchez used to be home to the wealthiest people in the nation (pre-Civil War). Because the city’s movers and shakers sympathized with the Union, it was spared demolition and is filled with incredible, ritzy homes. Today, although small, it’s home to a gazillion B&Bs. We’re at Clermont Bluffs B&B, right near the river. Love it!
Excited to see what tomorrow brings.
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Book your night at Clermont Bluffs here!