One of the must-do scenic routes that belong on your bucket list is driving the Natchez Trace Parkway in an RV. We just did so and have some tips for you.
We've driven parts of this 444-mike stretch of wilderness two-lane highway between Natchez, MS and Nashville, TN before but this time, we wanted to take our time and do lots of exploring, digging into the history of this ancient path and exploring some of the communities along its route.
We took nine days for our trip this time, including extended visits to Natchez on the Mississippi River, and Tupelo, MS, where we found a great State Park located on Trace Lake, one of the best bass fishing lakes in the south.
You can see all five of our videos in a special playlist on our RV Lifestyle YouTube Channel
The Natchez Trace Parkway
The Natchez Trace Parkway, administered by the National Park Service, prohibits all commercial traffic and development. There are no big trucks, no billboards, and a 50 mph speed limit that is enforced.
History in the region dates back 2,000 years, to the time of Christ, when a thriving Indian civilization built a sprawling series of temple mounds. It was used by the Choctaw and Cherokee people, trappers, explorers, adventurers, highwaymen, and soldiers from both the War of 1812 and the Civil War.
We started our trip in Natchez. And that's where Mile Marker 0 is. That's because, during its most active time, the Trace was used by folks who brought their goods down the Mississippi to sell in either Natchez or New Orleans. Because they could not pole those longboats back north against the switch currents of the river, they sold their boats for lumber and walked the way back home.
So we headed that way on our RV trip, too, South to North.
We made the trip in spring and indeed, during those 9 days on the road, we watched the canopy of trees leaf in and masses of wildflowers burst into bloom.
Our 7 Tips for Driving the Natchez Trace Parkway in an RV
1) Take Your Time Driving the Natchez Trace Parkway in an RV
I know we’ve said this before in this series but the speed limit on the Trace is 50 miles an hour. Stick to it. Stop often and enjoy. It is two lanes for all 440 miles with no passing lanes. Much of the time, unless you are near a busy community that adjoins the Parkway, yours will be the only vehicle you see. Set your cruise control and do just that… cruise.
You will be stopping a lot, anyway, so conquer that urge to rush right at the stop. The Trace is meant to be traveled slowly, with lots of stops. If you understand that at the start it will make the whole trip better.
BONUS READING: There is so much history you'll encounter while driving the Natchez Trace Parkway in an RV. CLICK HERE to read about French Camp.
2) Get a Map of the Natchez Trace Parkway
The National Parks Service has several maps and brochures on the Trace with lots of helpful info.
We got one that lists every recommended stop by Mile Marker at the Visitor's Center in Natchez
We really recommend you spend some time in Natchez either before you start if you are going south to north, or if you are coming from the north and end your trip there
Here's a video we did on Natchez:
3) There are size limits for RVs Driving the Natchez Trace in an RV
There are RV size limits.
You can’t be more than 55 feet with a tow vehicle and the RV can not be more than 14 feet high.
Many pullouts along the Trace will be a bit tricky for Class As and big 5th wheels that are towing a vehicle. But they can be done. There are several side trips off the Trace that are closed to RVs because the road is too rough or there is not adequate turnaround space for them.
The following pull-offs are closed to RVs. Sites without a circular drive are marked “no circular drive.”
- Mile Marker 17 – Southern trailhead for Potkopinu section of the National Scenic Trail
- Mile Marker 45 – Mangum Mounds (bridge clearance of 11’6”)
- Mile Marker 278.4 – Twenty-mile Bottom Overlook
- Mile Marker 375.8 – Old Trace Drive
- Mile Marker 394 – Devil’s Backbone State Recreation Area
- Mile Marker 401.4 – Old Trace Drive
The Trace Parkway is a very popular bicycle route. There are almost always cycling groups doing organized tours and you will encounter lots of single snd double riders.
In fact, there are several bicycle-only campgrounds available for long-distance cyclists.
There is no shoulder so you will be sharing the 11 foot wide lanes with cyclists. And as the signs clearly point out, bicycles have equal rights to the lane, meaning they can take up the entire lane if they want.
Visit the surrounding communities just off the Natchez Trace
As you drive the Trace parkway, you travel through parts of three states – Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee. You will see exit signs for lots of communities, big and small.
Most have great visitor centers and displays and they have much to offer. That’s where you will get food and fuel. There are no businesses or gas stations on the Trace itself.
So pull off, ex0lore a bit. Consider staying over for a while. Like we did in Tupelo (click the video below).
5) Camping on the Natchez Trace Parkway
There are three campgrounds located right on the Trace.
- Rocky Springs at Milepost 54.
- Jeff Busby at Milepost 193.1 has 18 sites
- Meriwether Lewis at Milepost 385.9 has 22 sites
Cell service was spotty at all three.
BONUS READING: For a full blog post we did on the mysterious death of Meriwether Lewis on the Natchez Trace, CLICK HERE
The NPS campgrounds on the Trace do not offer electricity, showers, or dump stations but they have level camping sites and flush toilets, and clean bathrooms.
The campgrounds are totally free and are first-come, first-served. They do fill up most nights. Maximum stay is 14 days.
There are lots of campgrounds in surrounding communities. CLICK Here to see a list.
We stayed at and can recommend three parks just of the Trace Parkway. We were able to get great spots with no reservations. They are:
- River View Campground in Vidalia, LA, right across from Matchez and right on the Mississippi River
- Timberlake Campground right on the Barnett Reservoir at Mile Marker 102
- Trace State Park, Mile Marker 259.7 outside of Tupelo
Here's one of our videos that talks about some of the camping we experienced:
6) Explore the hiking trails on the Natchez Trace Parkway
There are lots of great places to hike. Seemingly, every couple of miles.
Wear long pants. There are ticks in the woods. We saw lots of poison ivy.
Dogs are welcome but must be on a six-foot leash. There are venomous snakes as well, so keep your pets close to you.
We did have to brush off some ticks. We saw no snakes. Wear good hiking shoes.
Here's another one of our videos that gives you an idea of how peaceful and fascinating the Trace can be when you slow down and take your time.
7) Don't expect a dramatic ending to your Driving the Natchez Trace Parkway in an RV
As we kept driving towards Nashville, we kept visualizing that final shot…at Mile Marker 444.
If there is one, we never found it.
We just dumped off the Trace onto a roadway on the outskirts of Nashville. Thinking we missed it, we doubled back and twice more tried to find the official end.
The end of our driving the Natchez Trace parkway in an RV adventure was all so anti-climatic and a bit sad. After all, for 9 days we had so enjoyed driving the Natchez Trace. Then, it ended. Traffic. Noise. Big trucks. Congestion.
Anyway, I'm sure that there is a Mile Post 444, someone will note so in the comments below.
I hope we got you excited about making a similar trip. And, as always, we'd love to hear your reaction and suggestions.
Here's our Part 5 of the Driving the Natchez Trace in an RV series. Happy Trails!
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