Last October 2020, we went on a road trip down to the Southern States. I enjoyed it so much, I decided to plan another Deep South Road Trip partly because COVID regulations are much less restrictive in the southern states and I loved the southern hospitality. I couldn’t leave our two dogs at home so I had to plan another dog friendly road trip. The trip took 16 days and we drove 3,118 miles from Maryland through Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama. The trip was roughly planned around the Blues Highway tour which highlights famous blues singers and attractions. We did make a few changes along the way. Below was our final itinerary for our Deep South Road Trip:
- February 27th: Leave from Maryland with a stop over in Knoxville, TN at the Holiday Inn Express Knoxville-Strawberry Plains
- February 28th: 3 nights in Memphis, Tennessee at Hotel Indigo Memphis Downtown
- March 3rd: 1 night in Clarksdale, Mississippi at the Shack Up Inn
- March 4rd: 1 night in Jackson, Mississippi at The Westin Hotel
- March 5th: 1 night in Natchez, Mississippi at the Cutesy on the River VRBO
- March 6th: 3 nights outside New Orleans, Louisiana at a VRBO
- March 9th: 2 nights at a cabin in Dismals Canyon, Alabama
- March 11th: 2 nights at a cabin in Cheaha State Park, Alabama
- March 13th: 1 night at the Bent Mountain Lodge in Copper Hill, Virginia
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We left Maryland on Saturday, February 27, 2021 in our F250 truck with two dogs and a whole lot of stuff packed in the back of the truck. Our Deep South Road Trip had begun! We drove for 8 hours and stopped over at the dog friendly Holiday Inn Express in Knoxville, TN for the night. We stayed here on our last trip and so I knew the hotel was clean and dog friendly. There were COVID restrictions in place such as wearing a mask in common areas, no sharing of the elevator with others, and scheduling to use the indoor pool. The next day we got up and drove 6 hours to Memphis, TN. We stopped off at Harpeth State Park to do a little hiking on our way to Memphis. It was quite scenic and I recommend it as a stop over point.
I had no expectations of Memphis and anticipated it to be much like Nashville. I was wrong. Memphis was a much more run down city and clearly had seen better days. There were many abandoned buildings and blue light cameras (indicating a high crime area) surrounding our hotel which was downtown. We stayed at the expensive but very nice dog friendly Hotel Indigo. It had a 70’s theme to it and was well decorated and clean. On the plus side, we did see several police officers during our walks downtown.
On Monday, March 1st, we walked the dogs 5 minutes away to the River Dog Inn Kennel so we could explore Memphis where dogs couldn’t go. We started our adventure with a walk down Beale Street. Many of the buildings were boarded up or abandoned. There were a few business’ open. It appeared that perhaps some of these business’ were hit hard before COVID and looked like they may not open back up. I had expected Beale Street to be similar to Broadway in Nashville. It was smaller with more closures. If you have a choice, I’d opt for Nashville over Memphis if you are looking for nightlife.
We attempted to rent scooters to go to the Bass Pro Shop Pyramid, but they kept shutting off for an unknown reason. I do not recommended trying them! This photo was completely posed.
The pyramid was originally supposed to be used as a basketball arena but that failed. Bass Pro bought it and turned it into a tourist attraction which offers a huge hotel with treehouse rooms, outdoor gear store, restaurants/bars, a cypress swamp and other water features, and a observation deck which overlooks the City. We stopped to buy some clothes, eat lunch, and get a great view of the city (not free).
There were very few museums open on Monday. Our only option was Sun Studios. We walked what seemed like forever and took our chances on tickets. There was no wait (likely due to COVID) so we went right in! The tour was actually pretty cool. Most of the studio is original and appears how Elvis would have seen it in the 1950’s. The tour guide was passionate and it was well worth the minimal price of $15 to visit. The studio hosted such singers as: Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Charlie Feathers, Ray Harris, Warren Smith, Charlie Rich, and Jerry Lee Lewis, throughout the mid-to-late 1950s. We were able to pose with an original microphone from the 50’s that perhaps one of these famous singers touched.
Memphis is know for its blues music so we decided to go bar hopping down Beale Street to experience some blues music. There were only a couple bars open, partly due to COVID and it being a Monday. Our friend had recommended Silky O’Sullivan’s and told us about that goats that were sometimes fed beer by the bar patrons. We saw a stuffed goat by the bar and a couple goats behind a large fence in the back. Apparently getting goats drunk is no longer allowed. Our waitress was super friendly and I would recommend a visit.
BB King’s Bar was recommended both for their food and entertainment. It did not disappoint and was one of the only places open that had a packed bar and a great band. My husband, Joe, got the ribs and enjoyed them. This would be his first of three plates of ribs during our stay in Memphis!
The night got a little foggy after this but we hit a couple more bars, had a bourbon slushy drink in a leg, and heard some local blues music. I will say that Memphis is known for its high crime rate but I did not feel unsafe in the city. I saw several police officers standing on corners and never got approached by a homeless person (and there were many)
On Tuesday, March 2nd we picked up the dogs from the kennel and walked to Mud Island River Park. The park is only accessible by foot. One of the main features of the park is a large model of the Mississippi River and its watershed. There was supposed to be water running through the model but there was none during our visit. There’s a large field to walk the dogs and an oversized Memphis sign for photos.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped and got take out BBQ from the famous Rendezvous restaurant for lunch. Joe got ribs of course and I got a pulled chicken salad.
Experiencing and learning about Black history was an important part of our Deep South Road Trip and so our next stop was the Lorraine Motel. This is where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. It has been converted to a Civil Rights Museum and was closed during our visit. Dr. King was in Memphis to support a sanitation workers’ strike when he was shot. You can see the balcony where he was shot and replicas of 1960’s era cars in the parking lot.
There was an obvious presence outside the property. A older lady was protesting being forcibly removed after the assassination. She was living at the motel at the time. She has been protesting since 1968 and the locals say she has never missed a day even during large snow storms. We decided it best not to approach her as the locals advised against it.
Joe continued his rib tasting at Central BBQ which is a short walk from the Lorraine Motel. We were able to sit outside with the dogs. The waitress’ and staff were very accommodating and friendly. The dogs were a big hit with them.
I felt like we experienced as much as Memphis as we could during COVID. Memphis is not terribly dog friendly and for the most part is a dirty city. I feel like 3 days was more than enough time to see the city and have no plans to visit it again. In the future I would have researched museum closures and would have planned the trip toward the end of the week when more things were open and the nightlife was more alive.
On March 3rd, we left Memphis, turned on the blues mix I had made on my IPOD and set out for Clarksdale, Mississippi. Hernando DeSoto River Park was recommended by one of our waitress’ so we stopped to check out the park and have a short hike with the dogs. The park is nothing special and I would not recommend this park except as a picnic spot.
Our next stop was the Tunica County River Park in MS. The road to the park was ominous as there were many large abandoned casino resorts. It looked like an apocalypse had happened. This appeared to be way before COVID as the vegetation growing in the parking lots and buildings were quite established. There was no one at the park we did not go inside the museum but had a short walk around the grounds and set off once again.
We stopped to see several blues trail areas of interest and interpretive signs along the way as well as an historic log cabin. Almost all of the blues attractions were dilapidated and abandoned.
There are many Indian mounds in the area including these Salomon Mounds. The mounds were used for ceremonial purposes and to bury their dead.
For lunch we stopped at the famous Hollywood Café in Robinsonville, MS. The café hosts live blues music and has hosted many famous blues singers. The waitress was really friendly, the drinks were strong, and the the catfish was delicious. You’ve got to have catfish when you’re taking a Deep South Road Trip! The Hollywood café is in the middle of no where and is easy to pass without giving it a second thought.
Learning about blues music was part of our Deep South Road Trip. The town of Clarksdale is the epicenter for blues music. Unfortunately the famous Ground Zero Blue Club was closed due to COVID restrictions but the manager let us take pictures inside.
We checked into the Shack Up Inn just outside of town. The property has many renovated sharecropper shacks to stay in. Dogs are allowed so that was a huge plus. The bar and restaurant were not open during our stay. They usually have live music and festivals on the grounds. The place looked like a fun place to stay during non-COVID times. The shacks were very reasonably priced, clean and were uniquely decorated inside.
There were very few options for dinner since most places were shut down and we have dogs. We bundled up and ate outside at Hooker Grocery and Eatery. The food was upscale and delicious.
On Thursday, March 4th we continued our journey destined for Jackson, MS. Our first stop was at the Winterville Indian Mounds. The museum was closed, but we walked around the mounds and read the interpretive signs.
I was super excited for our next stop: Leland Mississippi, birthplace of Kermit the Frog! The town has a museum and surprise it was open (a novelty during COVID)! The volunteer who was running the museum even let us bring our dogs inside.
While going on a Deep South Road Trip, visiting a swamp is a must do activity. We found the Sky Lake Boardwalk through the Roadside America app while we were driving to Jackson. This place is a hidden gem! The boardwalk runs throughout a beautiful cypress swamp. It was a nice stopover during our long drive.
Our last stop of the day was at the Mississippi Petrified Forest. The petrified forest is a privately owned National Natural Landmark. The entry fee is only $7 and includes a pamphlet describing the interpretive stops along the path through the forest. There is also a large gift shop with gems and crystals of every type. Dogs are very welcome on the grounds.
We stayed overnight at the Westin in Jackson, MS. Our original plan was two stay two nights in Jackson. My Mother in law had sent us a text message shortly after we arrived informing us of a water quality issue in Jackson. We were told nothing about it when we checked it but after further research we realized the water was not safe to drink. The lack of transparency from the hotel was annoying at best. We asked for our money back for the second night. On our last road trip in 2020 we had stayed in Natchez, MS at a cute VRBO. I emailed the owner and we were able to book it for Friday night.
As we were leaving Jackson on Friday morning we drove through the Farish Street Historical District which was known for its blues music and was a business district for Jackson’s African American community. The city of Jackson has poured millions of dollars into reviving this area with little success. I could see the potential of this street driving through and the money spent on it to no avail.
One of our must see attractions was the Vicksbury National Military Park, an 1,800-acre park which honors both union and confederate soldiers from the Civil War. The park was free due to COVID since the museums are closed and some of the roads through the park were also closed. We chose the 16 mile self guided driving tour through the park. There are 15 numbers stops along the way where you can hear about each site. You can access the audio information for each stop through your smart phone. Each state that participated in the battle of Vicksburg has memorials throughout the park.
Visiting at least one historic plantation was on my list for our Deep South Road Trip. I found the Windsor Ruins through the Roadside America app. The plantation survived being burnt down by union solders during the civil war but caught fire when a guest attending a party left a lit cigar on the balcony. There are only pillars left. There was no one at the site and if you wander around the surrounding woods you can see remnants of pillars that have fallen outside the fenced in area.
We continued our drive to our final destination for the day: Natchez. As we entered the town, we stopped off at the Forks in the Road Historical Site, the second largest slave market in the Deep South. This is a small site across from a mechanic shop and is easy to miss. There are interpretive signs to read and an area with chains embedded in a concrete pad.
After we settled into our VRBO we went bar hopping to our local dog friendly spots we had visited on our last trip. I love Natchez! The people are so friendly and welcoming. We saw some old faces and met some new people that night at The Corner Bar, Under the Hill Saloon, and Smoot’s Grocery Blues Lounge.
On Saturday, March 6th we bought some food from the local farmers market in Natchez and set out for our drive to our VRBO outside of New Orleans. We had done a little too much drinking the night before and were feeling less than 100%. Joe decided the best thing for a hangover was some pickled pigs feet from the local gas station. Apparently they are a local delicacy in Mississippi. After a few bites it got thrown away.
On the way to our VRBO, we had an impromptu stop in the middle of nowhere at the Lynyrd Skynyrd plane crash memorial site which we found on the Roadside America app. It was larger than I expected with a steady stream of people coming and going.
We had stayed in the City of New Orleans before and this time we chose to stay outside of the city on the bayou. It was not easy finding dog friendly VRBO options in the area so we had to settle on one that was a little above our budget. It was an amazing VRBO house with views of the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge.
A Deep South Road Trip would not be complete without a traditional Louisiana meal. We drove into Slidell and bought 20 lbs of crawfish and 5 lbs of shrimp from Kenney’s Seafood. The place was completely packed with a line outside. The prices were reasonable and they had a good variety. Head up: The shrimp came with their heads on!
After a fantastic meal we enjoyed some wine and a beautiful sunset from our balcony.
On Sunday, we decided to went to the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge. We explored two areas of the refuge near our VRBO. We saw an alligator and several wetland bird species.
We went back to the VRBO, had a delicious lunch from leftover shrimp and Joe went for a kayak ride while I relaxed with a glass of wine. We settled in early because we had a 5 am wake up the next day for our fishing trip.
On Monday, March 8th we woke up at 5 am and drove 20 minutes to meet our guide, Captain Chris for our in shore fishing trip. The weather was a bit cold so fleece hats were a must. We were out for about 7 hours and got a couple hits but only two redfish were caught for the day.
There were three baited crab pots that were provided by the VRBO owner. For dinner we feasted on crabs and grilled redfish and settled into the night to enjoy this fantastic house one last night.
After some coffee, shrimp avocado bagels, and a sunrise view, we set off for Alabama.
On Tuesday, March 9th we left Louisiana and headed to Dismals Canyon for a 2 night stay. We had an impromptu stop at the Last Bare Knuckles Last Prize Fight Memorial in Hattiesburg, MS. This spot was found through the Roadside America App. The monument marks the spot where in 1889 the last (illegal) bare-knuckle prize fight took place.
There is not much to see along the way. We did get a pic of the Tennessee William’s home which happened to be next to a gas station we stopped at in Columbus, MS. Tennessee Williams was an American playwright known for A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Glass Menagerie.
After a 6 hour drive we arrived in Dismals Canyon, Alabama. The canyon is a National Natural Landmark and is privately owned. We stayed in one of their cabins (only one is dog friendly) for two nights for $556. The grounds were well groomed and you could see they were in the middle of some major improvements. The cabin was clean but slightly dated. There is no food on the grounds so we brought our own as we had no plans to leave after driving so long. Their mascot was a very large cat that lounged around on the cabin’s porches.
On Wednesday, March 10th, we set off to explore the canyon with the dogs. The hike around the canyon is a 1. 5 mile loop with an interpretive brochure highlighting the natural history of the canyon as well as the impact humans have had. There are a couple of stream crossings with very unsteady cinderblocks placed as steps in the channel. Be prepared to get your feet wet! There were very few people when we visited but we were told that during the height of COVID they had more visitors than the canyon should or could support.
On Wednesday night we went on a night tour with one of their guides to view bioluminescent creatures called Dismalites. The glowworms require a specific habitat to survive and are only found in a few places in the world including Australia and New Zealand. We were at the beginning of their peak so the canyon was not totally lit up with them but we did see quite a few.
On Thursday, March 11th we left Dismals Canyon and drove 3 hours to Cheaha State Park in Alabama. On the way there we stopped to take a hike at Alabama’s Natural Bridge, found through the Roadtrip America app. The bridge is the longest natural bridge east of the Rockies. We hiked for about an hour including a hike to the bridge and a short walk to a rock that looked like an Indian face. They had an interesting gift shop with rainbow unicorn tee shirts which I was tempted to buy and other oddities that looked like they had been sitting there since the 80’s.
We couldn’t check into our cabin at Cheaha State Park until 4 pm so we hiked around a little before checking in. The view from the firepit was magnificent and the cabin was minimal but clean. There are no pots/pans, or a stove. Only a microwave and coffee pot was available so we had to buy a few staples at the park store to cook our food over the fire.
The next day we set out to explore the surrounding trails and parks. There is a Bigfoot Trail at the park for children and adults who still think they are children. Along the trail there are several bigfoot cutouts peaking behind trees for you to spot.
At the end of the Bigfoot Trail was Alabama’s highest peak where you could go up into a building and get a panoramic view of the area. We also explored the Bald Rock Boardwalk Trail which was ADA accessible and led to another scenic overlook.
We then decided to drive to Lake Chinnabee Recreation Area in Talledega National Park. We did some hiking and saw a small waterfall and the lake. There is a trail you can take around the lake as well as fishing opportunities.
I had wanted to get a good sunset picture during our travels and the Pulpit Rock Trail behind our cabin offered this opportunity. The view was amazing and there was only a couple other people there offering serenity and peacefulness.
The next morning we started our drive back to Maryland with a brief layover at the Bent Mountain Lodge Bed and Breakfast near Roanoke, Virginia. By the time we got home from our Deep South Road Trip we had driven over 3,100 miles and spend 64 hours in the truck.
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