This year has us bopping all over the state of Tennessee in search for quiet, peaceful nooks we can have to ourselves, and I’ve never been more grateful to live in a state full of natural treasures like the Natchez Trace Parkway, which starts on the outskirts of Nashville then stretches down through Hohenwald, Leiper’s Fork and Collinwood before breezing on into North Alabama.
As someone who grew up just an hour off this storied pathway, it was hardly my first time visiting many of the spots along this stretch of Trace, but it was my first time driving the whole section in one continuous trip. The nice thing about the Tennessee section of the Natchez Trace is that it spans an even 100 miles, meaning you can easily tackle it in a day.
Note: Due to COVID-19, many facilities are currently closed. While you can still access the parking areas and the sites, please know that bathrooms might not be open and to plan your stops in towns accordingly. And as a courtesy to others, please wear a mask if you aren’t alone at any of these stops.
Starting from the northern terminus, here are the Natchez Trace Parkway stops in Tennessee you shouldn’t miss.
Northern terminus (milepost 442.1)
The northern terminus for the Natchez Trace Parkway is in far West Nashville, just a stone’s throw from Loveless Cafe, where many bikers celebrate a victorious ride when they’re through pedaling sections of this cyclist-friendly byway. If you’re looking to kill a morning before you start your drive, I highly suggest filling it with a trip to Cheekwood Botanical Gardens and a plate of biscuits at Loveless before you enter the Trace at milepost 442.
Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge (milepost 438)
Less than five miles down the road, you’ll hit one of the most iconic photo stops along the parkway: the Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge. This double-arched concrete structure soars over Birdsong Hollow and was built in 1994, receiving the Presidential Award for Design Excellence the following year. There’s a lookout point on your right before you drive the bridge where you can pull over and take your epic photos.
On the other side of the bridge, you can hang a left and wind down to Highway 96 below and look up at this mighty site towering over you.
Venture off the Trace: Timberland Park
After crossing the bridge, you’ll spot the pull off for Timberland Park at milepost 437.2. This pet-friendly park has hiking trails galore, as well as a Butterfly Garden and interpretative center. Timberland is also a convenient spot to use the facilities should you need them as the visitor’s center is open daily.
Leiper’s Fork (milepost 428)
Leiper’s Fork is akin to if you took some of the nation’s top minds, deposited them in a protected land trust in the middle of a Mayberry-esque setting in rural Tennessee and told them to go wild, but create something awesome. This delightful hamlet is a part of Franklin and, though it may be small, is brimming with art galleries, upscale shops and an abundance of creative energy. My favorite upscale spot at which to eat is 1892, which has patio dining, though I’m also a fan of Country Boy and the original Puckett’s when I’m looking for something more casual.
Leiper’s Fork is also home to the General Lee, which is parked at the entrance to the town, as well as a distillery of the same name that boasts a raccoon mascot who answers to “Bandit,” and if that’s not enough to get you to pull off the Trace, nothing will.
Additionally, if you’re coming to the Trace to hike or go horseback riding, this is where you’ll pick up the Garrison Creek Trailhead.
Venture off the Trace: Franklin
Rife in Civil War history, Franklin is a treasure trove of tasty bites, 1800s-era mansions and one of the best-preserved Main Streets in the South, if not the country. If you want to explore the area between Leiper’s Fork and Franklin via your own two legs, I highly recommending renting a pedal-assist Pedego bike or booking one of the company’s several tours.
If you’re making your trip down the Trace a multi-day excursion, Williamson County is an excellent place in which to lay your head, my favorites being the Harpeth Hotel in Franklin and Pot N’ Kettle Cottages right in the heart of Leiper’s Fork.
I have plenty of Franklin travel resources if you choose to extend your trip along the Natchez Trace:
- Masters & Makers: Where to Drink in Franklin, Tennessee
- Exploring Franklin’s Civil War History
- Opt Outside: Fun Summer Things to Do in Franklin + Leiper’s Fork
- How to Do Downtown Franklin with Your Dog in Tow
- On the Whiskey-Fueled Tennessee Backroads
Jackson Falls (milepost 405.1, 404.7)
One of the most popular waterfalls on the Trace is located in Hickman County just outside of Centerville. You have two options for experiencing it: the first is parking at Baker Bluff Overlook (milepost 405.1) and walking half a mile each way on a dirt path to reach the falls.
The second is pulling right up to the Jackson Falls parking area (milepost 404.7), which has bathrooms (which may or may not be open right now), a picnic area and a paved path that takes you down to the falls. It’s a very steep, 900-foot drop down to the falls, so keep this in mind before you make the descent. There’s also a quarter-mile trail that goes out to the Duck River Overlook, which soars 30 stories above the river below.
Even if you aren’t driving the Natchez Trace Parkway, Jackson Falls alone is a great day trip for those visiting Nashville, as it’s just an hour outside of the city and offers a way to cool off in the humid summer months.
Meriwether Lewis Death and Burial Site (milepost 385.9)
One of America’s original true crime stories, Meriwether Lewis’ death is one that is still hotly debated, even more than 200 years later. Was he shot? Was it suicide? No one can be certain, but what we do know is that in 1809, the famed explorer (of Lewis and Clark renown) was en route to Washington, D.C., died by some act of violence at Grinder’s Stand. He is buried at the site right along the Natchez Trace outside of Hohenwald.
Venture off the Trace: Hohenwald
Just 10 minutes west of the Meriwether Lewis Monument is the quaint town of Hohenwald. In the history books, Hohenwald is most well-known as the final stop on Lewis’ cross-country journey before he died. In more recent times, it’s widely known as the home to the Elephant Sanctuary, a 2,600-acre refuge for both injured and retired circus elephants that is nestled in the rolling hills of Lewis County.
The Elephant Sanctuary, which houses 28 pachyderms, is only one of two of its kind in the country, and while you can’t actually go and see the elephants or their habitat—trust me, as a journalist who has written about the 25-year-old organization for more than a decade, I’ve tried to work my way in there before—you can stop by the Elephant Discovery Center to learn more about the various species of these gentle giants that roam the earth. This is one of the more impressive small-town museums I’ve ever seen with interactive and educational components both indoors and out, as well as a beautiful rain garden out back and upcycled art.
Since the discovery center sits right in the middle of the town, it’s worth a quick stroll around Hohenwald’s Main Street when you’re done to see the other sites and grab a bite to eat at Rock House Coffee Company. With just shy of 4,000 residents, Hohenwald has an interesting backstory: It was established by a German immigrant couple in 1878 and named for the German word for “high forest” thanks to its verdant topography. The area as a whole welcomed dozens of German and Swiss settlers in the late 19th century who rolled into town via boxcar at the Hohenwald train depot (that also explains the city’s neighbor, New Switzerland).
Collinwood (milepost 370)
Once you get back on the Trace, there’s a sprawling picnic area by the creek at milepost 378 worth a stop to stretch your legs and have a bite to eat if you packed your own lunch.
Collinwood is a charming little stop on the Trace where you can grab a snack and souvenir from The Dragonfly—which boasts fresh juice, specialty coffee drinks and an array of fresh baked goods—and pose in front of our friend Mobe’s postcard mural before continuing on your way to the Alabama border just beyond Cypress Inn.
And on from there, it’s just another 13 miles until you hit the Alabama border.
If you live in Tennessee and have never done this drive along the Natchez Trace Parkways, it’s the perfect excuse to get out of the city on a weekend or fall break and appreciate the space in our expansive state. If you’re not from here, it’s a great glimpse at everything Tennessee has to offer beyond our four major metro areas. So much of the state is green space, yet travelers often only see the cities, so I encourage you to extend your trip in Nashville or Memphis and get a taste of what our Southern oasis is truly like.
Pro tip: This section of the Natchez Trace Parkway in Tennessee is largely devoid of cell reception and data coverage, so bring your own tunes. Luckily, it’s nearly impossible to get lost, so this is one trip you can take without Google Maps for a safety net!
For more travel ideas along the Trace, check out these posts:
- Exploring North Mississippi: Tishomingo to Tupelo on the Natchez Trace
- Finding Fall Colors Along the Natchez Trace Parkway in North Alabama
- From Music to Design, the Shoals is Alabama’s Cultural Secret Weapon
- Opt Outside: Fun Summer Things to Do in Franklin + Leiper’s Fork
- Dismals Canyon: North Alabama’s Most Unexpected Natural Treasure
This post is part of a long-term storytelling project with the Natchez Trace Compact. All opinions are our own.