Category Archives: Mississippi

Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail

Overview

Not as well-known as the parkway it parallels, Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail is one of only three National Scenic Trails officially managed by the National Park Service (NPS).  The trace (or trail) started as an American Indian footpath.  Some of the mound builder sites protected here were inhabited when Hernando de Soto led the first Europeans into this area in 1540.  The Natchez Trace was heavily used in the 1800s by “Kaintuck” flatboatmen returning from New Orleans who left the Mississippi River from Natchez, Mississippi and continued on foot north to Nashville, Tennessee.  Today you can follow portions of the “sunken” trail worn down by travelers for centuries.

Highlights

Rocky Springs, Owens Creek Waterfall, Tupelo-Baldcypress Swamp, Grindstone Ford, Witch Dance Horse Trail, War of 1812 Memorial

Must-Do Activity

The Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail does not follow the entire 444-mile parkway, but exists in five segments totaling 67 miles in length.  The two longest sections are near Leipers Fork, Tennessee (Miles 408-427) and north of Jackson, Mississippi (Miles 108-130).  There are many other places to go hiking along the Natchez Trace Parkway, including one of our favorite spots, Tishomingo State Park (Mile 304) in Mississippi.  Near Tupelo, the Parkway Visitor Center at Mile 266 is another must-do stop to learn the history of the trace.

Best Trail

There are eight miles of the original trail around the Rocky Springs Campground near Mile 58 in Mississippi, which provides access to Owens Creek Waterfall and a historic town site.

Instagram-worthy Photo

In early April the dogwood trees bloom along the Natchez Trace.  At Mile 275 is Dogwood Valley, which also has a short section of “sunken” historic trail.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/natt/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The entire 444-mile Natchez Trace Parkway is paved from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee, but not all trailheads are RV accessible.

Camping

There are three NPS campgrounds along the route, as well as those in sites like Mississippi’s Tishomingo State Park.  The three NPS campgrounds are primitive and free, plus there are also five bike-only campsites along the route.

Related Sites

Tupelo National Battlefield (Mississippi)

Natchez National Historical Park (Mississippi)

Vicksburg National Military Park (Mississippi)

Explore More – The Natchez Trace Parkway officially joined the NPS system in 1938, but when was construction of the road finally completed?

Gulf Islands National Seashore

Overview

Gulf Islands National Seashore is renowned for white sand beaches on the barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico, but there is more than beaches on the shores of Mississippi and the Florida panhandle (yes, Alabama is in the middle but is not part of this park).  The white sand that attracts beachgoers here originated as quartz in the Appalachian Mountains.  This coastal region was originally purchased by the U.S. from Spain in 1821 and 150 years later Gulf Islands National Seashore was created. 

Highlights

Fort Pickens, Naval Live Oaks Area, Fort Barrancas, West Ship Island ferry, white sand beaches, wildlife

Must-Do Activity

The National Park Service (NPS) has four visitor centers for Gulf Islands National Seashore, one on the mainland in Ocean Springs, Mississippi and the other three are south of Pensacola, Florida.  The most developed area is around Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island with its popular campground.  Nearby, Fort Barrancas sits next to the free National Museum of Naval Aviation on the military base.  The Naval Live Oaks Area protects the first federal tree farm started for shipbuilding purposes in 1828.  In Mississippi, only Davis Bayou can be reached by road, with (seasonal) ferry service limited to West Ship Island.  Otherwise, bring your own boat!

Best Trail

The 1,300-mile long Florida National Scenic Trail starts at Fort Pickens then runs east across Santa Rosa Island.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Fort Pickens dates back to 1829 with additional batteries upgraded during World War II.  Inside the fort there is a nice museum explaining the history of Santa Rosa Island.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/guis/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$25 per vehicle or free with America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All access roads are paved

Camping

Reservations are highly recommended for the NPS campgrounds on Santa Rosa Island, Florida and Ocean Springs, Mississippi.  Primitive camping is allowed on undeveloped East Ship, Horn, and Petit Bois Islands.

Related Sites

Dry Tortugas National Park (Florida)

Canaveral National Seashore (Florida)

Everglades National Park (Florida)

Explore More – What are the four species of sea turtles that nest on the park’s beaches?

Shiloh National Military Park

Overview

Following the victory at Fort Donelson, Union General Ulysses S. Grant moved his 50,000 troops aboard steamboats down the Tennessee River to Pittsburg Landing.  The army camped near a log church named the Shiloh Meeting House where they awaited the marching Army of Ohio before advancing on the important railroad crossroads in Corinth, Mississippi.  The Confederate army launched a surprise attack on April 6, 1862, pushing the enemy lines back two miles before Union reinforcements finally arrived.  After two days and 23,746 soldiers killed, wounded, captured, or missing, the Confederates abandoned the field and Corinth.  There were an additional 7,000 casualties when they failed to recapture the town in October 1862.

Highlights

Museum, film, driving tour, Shiloh Meeting House, Indian mounds, cannons

Must-Do Activity

Start with the great 45-minute movie at the National Park Service (NPS)  visitor center then take the 12.7-mile driving tour with twenty stops that passes 150 commemorative monuments, 229 cannons, and 4,000 graves in Shiloh National Cemetery.  The site also contains 800-year-old American Indian mounds within a 45-acre National Historic Landmark.  A free pass to the Tennessee River Museum in Savannah is also provided at the NPS visitor center.  In addition to the NPS unit in Shiloh, Tennessee, there is an Interpretive Center 22 miles away in Corinth, Mississippi. 

Best Trail

The short trail through the 800-year-old Indian mounds provides views of the Tennessee River.

Instagram-worthy Photo

A reconstruction of the Shiloh Meeting House log church is found along the driving tour.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/shil/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

None in the park, but Pickwick Landing State Park is located 15 miles to the southeast.

Related Sites

Fort Donelson National Battlefield (Tennessee-Kentucky)

Stones River National Battlefield (Tennessee)

Vicksburg National Military Park (Mississippi)

Explore More – Originally managed by the U.S. military, when was this park established?

Tupelo National Battlefield

Overview

Two cannons and a monument mark this one-acre (less than a football field) National Park Service (NPS) site surrounded by the city of Tupelo, Mississippi.  The park was established in 1929 to memorialize the battle of July 14, 1864, when the Union army drove off Confederate troops trying to disrupt General William T. Sherman’s railroad supply line at the historic town of Harrisburg. Located only one mile off the Natchez Trace Parkway, Tupelo’s own Elvis Presley probably visited this park as a child.

Highlights

Cannons

Must-Do Activity

Unlike other NPS sites, Tupelo National Battlefield provides much easier access to a car wash and a Walmart store.  Its visitor center is combined with the one for the Natchez Trace Parkway just outside Tupelo.  The city of Baldwyn, Mississippi runs an interpretive center (with a small admission fee) that also commemorates a Confederate victory on June 10, 1864 at Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield Site.   

Best Trail

There is a sidewalk on two sides of the one-acre park.

Instagram-worthy Photo

This is one of the smallest units in the NPS system, but from one angle, Tupelo National Battlefield looks like many larger Civil War parks.

Peak Season

“They get about a week of spring then the summer is blistering.” –Jason Isbell from the song “Tupelo”

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/tupe/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved, with street parking available.

Camping

Tombigbee State Park offers camping about 10 miles from Tupelo.

Explore More – What does the T. stand for in General William T. Sherman’s name?

Vicksburg National Military Park

Overview

During the Civil War, control of the Mississippi River was “the key” (in President Abraham Lincoln’s words) to preserving the Union by dividing the Confederacy and limiting its supply movement.  By 1862, Vicksburg and Port Hudson were the only fortifications not under U.S. control.  The numerous failed attempts to take Vicksburg by force are evidenced by the 17,000 soldiers buried in the National Cemetery here.  Following a 46-day bombardment, the city finally surrendered on July 4, 1863.

Vicksburg

Highlights

USS Cairo ironside ship, museums, 1,330 monuments, interpretive film

Must-Do Activity

The most fascinating exhibit in the park is the partially reconstructed USS Cairo, an ironclad gunboat which was carefully salvaged from the Yazoo River during the 1960s.

Best Trail

There are a few short trails with interpretive panels, but instead you might consider hiring a licensed guide to ride along with you for 2 hours on the auto tour.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Gates close precisely at 5 p.m. for the 16-mile auto tour, but the end of the day provides the best lighting on the Shirley House, the only surviving structure inside the park from the time of the Civil War.

The only house still standing from 1863

Peak Season

The weather is nicest in spring and fall

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/vick/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

27 miles to the south, the National Park Service runs the Rocky Springs Campground (with running water) on the Natchez Trace Parkway.

Sunset over the battlefield

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Tiff on steps of Illinois Memorial
The Illinois Memorial is the largest of approximately 1,330 located inside the park.

Mural of Illinois Memorial dedication day
A mural along the Mississippi River depicts the opening day for the Illinois Memorial

Scott with USS Cairo
USS Cairo is a well-preserved specimen of an ironclad ship, and the museum next door displays thousands of its artifacts.

Tiff with cannon

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Explore More – Why did many residents flee their houses to live inside hand-dug caves during the Civil War?

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