Ridgeland makes for a great basecamp to explore all the Natchez Trace Parkway has to offer. This National Scenic Byway and All-American Road takes you deep into the heart of an extraordinary American experience. So take your time because there’s lots to take in – there’s beautiful scenery, exciting history, recreational opportunities and cultural attractions at every turn. Plan to spend some time in Ridgeland and take a tour of the Natchez Trace Parkway. Whether you head north or south on The Parkway in Ridgeland, adventure awaits!
For many, the enjoyment of the cruising the Natchez Trace Parkway is on two wheels. Here are some helpful cycling tips if you’re planning to explore the Trace on your bicycle.
Here’s a list of the sites along the Parkway when you drive North towards Tupelo, MS from the Ridgeland Parkway Information Cabin at milepost 102.4:
The Trace was one of the first highways the U.S. government built for wagon wheels. The old Natchez Trace wagon highway ran along the dry ridge between the Pearl River and Yazoo River. Old Agency Road and portions of Rice Road are the Old Natchez Trace through Ridgeland. The Parkway Information Cabin was built by the National Park Service in 1951 as the first visitor’s center on the Parkway. The cabin contains exhibits about the Old Natchez Trace and the Choctaw Nation that existed where Ridgeland is today. The Parkway Information Cabin is currently closed due to the COVID-19 Pandemic but it’s normally open on Fridays and Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Milepost 104.5 Old Trace and Brashears Stand Site – It’s here that you can walk along a short segment of the Old Natchez Trace in the footsteps of those who would be future presidents, Native American leaders, warriors and bandits. Though the road had a dirt surface, you will notice how the dirt was sloped for ramps for wagons. Just to the west of the boardwalk area, Turner Brashears and his Choctaw wife built a large inn for travelers that also served as the headquarters for Andrew Jackson’s troops during the War of 1812. After the war, the inn was purchased by a couple said to be part of the notorious John Murrell gang. Highway bandits found it more profitable to rob and murder guests as they slept at the inn than to track them down on the road.
Walk across the wooden boardwalk to the Bill Waller Craft Center. This state-of-the-art facility, nestled in the trees of the Parkway and Rice Road, is the home of the Craftmen’s Guild of Mississippi and displays the artwork of more than 400 artisans. These fine Southern crafts available for purchase include vivid Choctaw baskets and pottery, carvings in natural wood to more contemporary works such as metal sculpture, fused glass and handcrafted jewelry. The Craft Center offers a variety of classes and demonstrations, and it’s the site of many beautiful weddings and other special events.
Milepost 105.6 Reservoir Overlook – Take in a view of the 33,000-acre Barnett Reservoir which was created in the 1960’s by impounding the Pearl River to supply drinking water for the Jackson metro area. The lake is the state’s largest drinking water resource and was named to honor Ross Barnett, Mississippi’s 52nd governor. The Parkway runs along with western edge of the Reservoir for about 16 miles. It’s not unusual to see birds from the Gulf Coast taking shelter on the Reservoir. On weekends at the Overlook, you’ll find lots of boats gathered in the area known locally as the Cove. It’s a great spot to hang a hammock among the pines or spread a blanket for picnic. This is also a great spot to park your car and walk along the Chisha Foka Multi-Use Trail.
Milepost 106.9 Boyd Site – Here you’ll find ancient burial mounds built between 750 to 1,250 years ago from the Late Woodland and Early Mississippian period.
Milepost 107.9 West Florida Boundary – This site was once the northeast boundary of land ceded to the United States by Spain. When it was discovered that a large amount of land to the southeast was left out fo the treaty, a group of adventurers seized control and declared the formation of their own West Florida Republic. This new country only lasted 74 days until the U.S. Army took control. This point is also the southern trailhead of the Yockanookany Section the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail. Hikers may walk a short loop on the nature trail or continue for 24.9 miles to the Yockanookany trailhead.
Milepost 114.9 – Highway 43 Trailhead – This is the only staging area for horses on this section of the National Scenic Trail. Riders can travel north for 16 miles to the terminus at Yockanookany or travel south for 7 miles to the terminus at the West Florida Boundary. Exit the Parkway on Highway 43 and travel west. Turn left on Yandell Road, located just past the DAR marker. The trailhead will be on your left.
Milepost 122.0 Cypress Swamp – This area, including the boardwalk, is currently closed due to severe storm damage in Spring 2020. The swamp is home to dozens of tupelo and bald cypress trees. Cypress Swamp, like other swamps throughout the Southeast United States, provides an ideal habitat for many wildlife species including birds, frogs, snakes, and alligators.
Milepost 122.6 River Bend – This picnic spot along the Pearl River has 20 tables, 15 grills, and restrooms. In 1698, Pierre LeMoyne Sieur d’Iberville sailed into the mouth of this river and found pearls and named it “River of Pearls.” The Pearl River served as a transportation route when boatmen loaded supplies from the Gulf Coast and delivered them for sale at the Ratliff Ferry trading post and Norton’s public stand on the Old Trace. Since 1812, the last 75 miles of the Pearl River have served as a boundary between Mississippi and Louisiana.
Milepost 128.4 Upper Choctaw Boundary – The line of trees crossing the Parkway immediately to your left, marked a section of the boundary accepted by the Choctaw Indians and the American Commission under Andrew Jackson in the treaty of Doaks Stand, October 20, 1820. Here you’re on the Choctaw side of the boundary. The Choctaw reluctantly gave to the United States the land west of the line from White Oak Spring on the old Indian Path, northwardly to a black oak standing on the Natchez Road, about 40 poles eastwardly from Doaks fence marked “AJ” and blazed. The area surrendered by the Choctaw Nation amounted to some 5.5 million acres, about 1/3 of their land. Ten years later in 1830, the Choctaws were forced to give up all their lands. Other Indians were forced to do the same by 1834 thus clearing for white settlement all areas of the three states crossed by the Natchez Trace. (credit: U.S. Department of the Interior National Park Service) The Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail runs parallel to a self-guided interpretive trail here.
Milepost 130.9 Yockanookany Trailhead – This is the northern terminus of the Yockanookany Section of the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail. Only hikers, no horses, can walk the 26 miles south the West Florida Boundary.
Here’s a list of the sites along the Parkway when you drive South towards Jackson & Natchez, MS from the Ridgeland Parkway Information Cabin at milepost 102.4:
Milepost 100.7 Choctaw Agency – U.S. agents like Silas Dinsmoor lived among the Choctaw and represented their interests while implementing U.S. policy. His duties included surveying and preventing illegal settlement of Choctaw land. He also encouraged the Choctaw to be more dependent on modern farming practices. He was tasked to collect tribal debts owed to American companies and insure that the Choctaw were paid for land ceded to the U.S. The agency moved four times to stay within the shrinking boundaries of the Choctaw Nation. It was located here, along the Natchez Trace, from 1807 until just after the Treaty of Doak’s Stand in 1820. (credit: U.S. Department of the Interior National Park Service)
Walkers, joggers and cyclists can access the Chisha Foka Multi-Use Trail from the parking area. The trail travels north and parallels the Parkway all the way to the Reservoir Overlook at milepost 105.6. The trail runs south to milepost 95.8 providing nearly 10 miles of recreational trail.
Milepost 93.1 Osburn Stand – In 1805, the Choctaw allowed inns, known as stands, to be built along the Natchez Trace to provide basic food and shelter to travelers. By 1811, Noble Osburn opened a stand near this spot. He was known to treat equally his Choctaw neighbors and American travelers. In 1821 at LeFleur’s Bluff along the Pearl River, the city of Jackson was founded and a year later became the state capital. As a result, the postal route shifted slightly east from here to go through the new capital leading to the demise of the stands along this section of the Old Trace. (credit: U.S. Department of the Interior National Park Service)
Milepost 88.1 Cowles Mead Cemetery – Like many of his generation, Cowles Mead came from the east seeking opportunity in the Mississippi Territory. He owned a tavern on the Old Trace near Natchez and held several political offices, including acting governor in 1806. During this time, he ordered the arrest of Aaron Burr for treason but the former Vice President was acquitted. Mead followed the growth of the state and moved to the Jackson area. He built his beautifully landscaped home, “Greenwood” on this site. Little remains today of his grand estate that burned after his death, during the Civil War, except the family cemetery. (credit: U.S. Department of the Interior National Park Service)
Milepost 78.3 Battle of Raymond – The Battle of Raymond was fought on May 12, 1863 during the Vicksburg Campaign of the American Civil War. By the time of the Civil War, the Natchez Trace had lost its significance as a national road. One of the sections ran from Port Gibson toward Jackson but the route veered from the original Trace to reach Raymond. In the spring of 1863, General U.S. Grant marched his Union Army over this route after crossing the Mississippi and taking Port Gibson. On May 12, Grant’s forces drew fire from a Confederate brigade, commanded by Brigadier General John Gregg, located on the southern edge of Raymond three miles east of here. After a day of bitter fighting, the Confederates retreated toward Jackson leaving their wounded in the county courthouse. This set-to convinced Grant of the need to take Jackson in order to assure the success of his forthcoming siege of Vicksburg. (credit: U.S. Department of the Interior National Park Service)
Milepost 73.5 Dean Stand Site – The Treaty of Doak’s Stand, 1820, opened this land to white settlement. Land was quickly claimed and pioneer families established themselves in this wilderness. William Dean and his wife, Margaret, settled near here on the Old Natchez Trace in 1823. The Deans supplemented their farm income by offering lodging to travelers. The clientele was a cross section of the advancing frontier – the homeward bound boatmen, the hurrying mail rider, the trader in land and horses, the fugitive, or the itinerant preacher. On the night of May 12, 1863, General U.S. Grant made his headquarters here after the battle of Raymond. (credit: U.S. Department of the Interior National Park Service)
Milepost 61.0 Lower Choctaw Boundary – A line of trees here has been a boundary for 200 years. It was established in 1765 and marked the eastern limits of the old Natchez District. This boundary ran from a point 12 miles east of Vicksburg, southward to the 31st parallel. First surveyed in 1778, it was reaffirmed by Spain in 1793, and by the United States in 1801. Since 1820, it has served as the boundary between Hinds and Claiborne Counties Mississippi. (credit: U.S. Department of the Interior National Park Service)
Milepost 54.8 Rocky Springs – Now a ghost town, Rocky Springs was once thriving community along the Trace. The site includes a 22-site campground, picnic tables and restrooms. There is a section of the Old Natchez Trace here along with other self-guiding walking trails through the old town site and the spring and access to the 7 mile-long Rocky Springs Trail, a segment of the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail.
Milepost 52.4 Owens Creek Waterfall – The spring that feeds Owens Creek has dried up as the water table has dropped, so it’s only after heavy rains that the stream fills enough to feed the waterfall. This site is the southern terminus of the Rocky Spring Trail. It’s about a 3-mile walk northward to the Rocky Springs site.
For more information on all of the historic sites and natural beauty to be found along the Trace, visit the Natchez Trace Parkway website and Facebook page.