(The Old Trace is an historic stretch of roadway between Tennessee and Mississippi that today is merely a worn down foot and horse path in the few places where it remains.)
Here are highlights, plus photos, of our favorite place to hike on the Natchez Trace Parkway:
The Old Trace at milemarker 426.3 along the Natchez Trace Parkway.
Without a doubt, this is our favorite route to hike on the Trace.
Hiking The Old Trace
In effect, this trail goes from milemarkers 426.3 to 427.6. Seems simple enough, right? However, it’s really a 4+ mile loop by foot!
Since it’s not a straight shot, and this is all backcountry deep woods hiking, it’s a fairly serious hike. While you could turn back and repeat your steps at any point, there’s really no “turnaround spot” or anything. Instead, it’s a clearly marked 4-mile loop that is meant to be enjoyed form start to finish.
And that is what we did… with our dog!
Photo Highlights From Start To Finish
It took us exactly 2 hours to complete this loop. It was a hot summer day, so that slowed us down a bit. And we had our dog in tow (…but that probably kicked up our pace a notch or two!)
We also stopped for 10 minutes at the halfway point (Garrison Creek rest area).
Okay, here we go…
Start by parking your car in the relatively small parking lot. (I guess that means few people actually park & hike from here. Perhaps more people start at the Garrison Creek rest area and work their way back to here. There’s plenty of parking there!)
From the parking lot, walk up a little hill toward the woods (away from the Parkway) and take a moment to read the signs explaining the history behind the Old Trace routes.
Looking toward the woods, you will see the entrance to the hiking trail, as well as a picnic table and hitching post for horseback riders.
And we’re off!… It’s a woodsy entrance and the first time we hiked this trail, we weren’t sure what to expect. We did cross paths with a couple of other hikers along the way, but no horseback riders on this particular day.
Before long, you reach the part where the actual “loop” begins. I know of a few people who’ve done this loop backwards, be we haven’t yet. We went left at the fork in the road and headed on to Garrison Creek.
For the most part, it’s a clear-cut path that appears to be well-traveled. There is a lot of tall foliage that you can help but brush against (…which probably explains all the ticks. More on that later.). Most of this pathway is shared with horseback riders as well.
One unique feature at the Old Trace hiking trail is this underground tunnel. It goes under the Natchez Trace Parkway itself, and takes you to the other side of the Trace. Up to this point, there were no water crossings.
The only real “obstacle” on this hiking trail is water! There are several water crossings after the tunnel — a couple of them are fairly deep. On this particular hike, Tennessee was experiencing a drought. So that might give you some idea of how deep these water crossings might be normally.
And a word of caution: Jim actually fell in the first water crossing we encountered. Not because it was so deep, but because it was so slippery! The rocks below the water’s surface were completely covered in moss and if you lose your footing, you’re a gonner. (It’s not that bad though… pretty shallow… just remember to do a secure your valuables before you start crossing these creeks and streams.)
This is what it looks like when you emerge from the wooded trail into great wide open at Garrison Creek. A few hundred feet away is where the trail picks back up — near the restroom/comfort station.
This is the halfway point. From this point on, there is no more water… just picturesque woody scenes and landscapes.
These are some of the views that can be seen from the Old Trace trail. This second half of the trail is the most beautiful.
Fortunately, there are signs at key points along the way which give you a sense of direction and an idea of how much farther you’ve got until the end.
The only downside to this or any other hike along the Natchez Trace Parkway: ticks! They are inevitable. Fortunately, most of them are not the lyme disease carrying ticks… just ticks that leave tiny little bite marks and nasty welts that itch forever!! It took us 3 days to remove the last tick from ourselves and our dog.. there were 35 in all! In fairness, we didn’t take the proper precautions on this trip by using tick-repellent and dressing appropriately.
Here’s all the best info about ticks, including pictures of ticks that are known to carry Lyme Disease, and how to remove a tick from your body.