In 2020, we were planning on a trip of a lifetime: Africa. Due to COVID restrictions we postponed this trip to 2021 and decided instead to do a road trip with our two dogs. We talked about driving down the Natchez Trace Parkway for some years now and so decided this would be a perfect year to do that. Finding dog friendly accommodations was not easy and took some creative thinking. Below was our itinerary:
- October 10: Leave from Maryland with a stop over in Knoxville at the Holiday Inn Express Knoxville-Strawberry Plains
- October 11-13: Two nights of camping at DeSoto State Park in Fort Payne, Alabama
- October 13-15: Two nights at Cutesy on the River VRBO in Natchez, Mississippi
- October 15: Start our trip down the Natchez Trace Parkway
- October 15-17: Two nights at Trailhead Bike & Bed in Houston, Mississippi
- October 17-19: Two nights camping at Tishomingo State Park in Mississippi
- October 19-22: Three nights in Nashville at the Bobby Hotel
- October 22-24: Two nights at Bent Mountain Lodge Bed and Breakfast in Copper Hill, Virginia
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And We’re Off!
We set off on Saturday, October 10, 2020 in our F250 truck with two dogs and a shit load of stuff packed in the back of the truck. We drove for 8 hours and stopped over at a dog friendly hotel in Knoxville for the night. This Holiday Inn Express was one of the only hotels in the area that allowed not only dogs, but two big dogs. The hotel was clean and staff were friendly and 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 2 1/2 hours to Desoto State Park in Alabama.
DeSoto State Park, Alabama
We arrived at the DeSoto State Park campgrounds on October 11th. As soon as we got there, we were welcomed by friendly campers. The campgrounds were well maintained with very clean bathrooms. Almost all of the spots were filled and I was happy I booked a site ahead of time. Most of the campers were RV’s which was another plus b/c the bathrooms and showers were barely used.
After we set up our tent, we set off to explore the area around the park. We went to Desoto Falls and Little River Canyon National Preserve, the deepest canyon east of the Mississippi.
Little River Canyon National Preserve (below)
On Monday, October 12th, we decided to explore Fort Payne. Joe is a big Alabama fan so we visited the Alabama Fan Club Museum. The members of the band are from Fort Payne. There are several indications that they have had an influence on this small town including life size statues and parks named after them. We were told that they contribute money to the town to improve parks and other amenities.
The confederate history of this area was also evident as a statue and memorial was located within the town’s park.
After lunch, we went hiking in the park near our campsite. The trails are well marked and there were several to choose from. We chose to hike the waterfall trail which had a couple small waterfalls along the way.
On Tuesday, we drove 6 1/2 hours to Natchez, Mississippi where we stayed for 2 nights at Cutesy on the River VRBO located across from the Mississippi River. The house was cute as the name described with all the amenities you need including coffee and tea in the morning. It was conveniently located within walking distance of anywhere you’d want to go in town. It was clean and allowed dogs which was a huge plus. The Natchez Trace Parkway begins in Natchez, MS.
After we got settled in, we decided to walk around town. We went to the Under the Hill district and were welcomed into one of the bars by some friendly townies smoking cigarettes outside. Food was not served and thus our dogs were allowed inside and were quite a hit with the locals. If you want to meet people go on vacation with your dogs! We met a guy named Jeff who took us under his wing and gave us a personal bar crawl that night as well as a tour of his Antebellum he had just bought. There was some fantastic artwork in his house. It looked like the monkey was wearing a beard and goggles in one of them.
Our final destination on our bar crawl was The Corner Bar where most of the locals hang out. They did not have any food that night but the bartender got her boyfriend to drive Joe to get some food for me. I think if I had not had food I would have been feeling much worse the next day. It was overwhelming how friendly the locals were. We had so much fun that night (maybe too much). I loved Natchez!
Jeff had told us about the Pilgrimage Tour which happens twice a year in Natchez. This is the public’s opportunity to tour private Antebellum’s in Natchez that are usually not open to the public. We booked a tour of Stanton Hall. Way before our trip we bought the old 80’s tv series North and South featuring Patrick Swayze. After we finished the 9 hour miniseries, we assumed the the pandemic would be over. We were wrong. Little did I know when I booked this house that this was the house where scenes for The Mount Royal Mansion in the series was filmed!
Afterwards we walked to the Natchez Brewing Company for lunch and beers. The food was great as was the beers, and dogs are allowed outside at the picnic tables.
We then walked around town. There are interpretive signs all over the town with information about specific Antebellums and local history.
I like to find unique things to do when we go on road trips and use the app Road Trips America. They have unusual things to see like the biggest ball of twine and Babe the Ox statue type stuff. We decided to try and find Tripod the Cat’s grave. Supposedly the cat lived in city hall and became such a fixture that when he died the town chipped in to have a gravestone made. According to Road Trips America, “local legend is that the cat was so loved that when the donations were tallied the dead cat had more money than the city”.
The hospitality of Natchez did not disappoint today either. We were welcomed inside the Smoot’s Grocery Blues Lounge (which was not open yet) to grab some drinks and had great conversation with one of the bartenders. They were preparing for a very busy weekend as the Natchez Balloon Festival was happening that weekend.
We ended our day at The Corner Bar again. They were grilling pork chops and salmon in the back. We took the dogs to the outside back area and had a delicious dinner!
Natchez Trace Parkway: Mile Post 0 to 266
On Thursday, October 15th we started our journey down the Natchez Trace Parkway. The parkway is designated an America’s National Scenic Byway. The parkway extends from Natchez, Mississippi 440 miles to Nashville, Tennessee. The original trail dates back to the 1700’s and winds in and out of the parkway with historic markers along the way. It was historically used by Indians, traders, and civil war soldiers.
There are many Indian mounds along the parkway dating back to 1200 CE. There is a lot of mystery surrounding why these mounds were built. Many were built as burial grounds but others seem to be used for ceremonial purposes. The first mound we came across was Emerald Mound. It just looks like a grassy hill.
Our second stop was Sunken Trace at milepost 41.5. This is where the historic trail has sunken down due to erosion and heavy traffic throughout the years.
Not all stops are the same. At Owens Creek Waterfall at milepost 52.4 we saw a less than impressive waterfall next to the parking area.
Rocky Springs historic site at milemarker 54.8 is a must see. There is a short trail through remnants of the old town and ends at a cemetery and a 1837 Methodist church which is still used today.
Our last stop of the day was at the Cypress Swamp at milemarker 122. There is a short trail and boardwalk through the swamp. The trails are in need of repair and are not all passable. Beware: this is mosquito heaven!
We settled in for two days at the Trailhead Bike & Bed in Houston, Mississippi. We were quite pleased with the accommodations. It’s right next to the Tanglefoot Trailhead which is a popular rail to trail converted path. There was a outside food prep area with grill, fridge, and anything else you need to cook. Dogs are welcome and the entire hotel is enclosed by a large fenced in area. The rooms were very clean and new with bike themed decorations. A group of bikers staying there welcomed us when we arrived. We settled in to have food and cocktails with them before heading to bed.
On Friday, October 16th, we drove into Tupelo, Mississippi birthplace of Elvis. On the way there we stopped at Davis Lake. There is a fee to enter. We took a quick drive around to see the lake and left. The park was virtually empty with only a couple RV’s in the camp area. It looks like a nice picnic spot otherwise I’d skip it.
On the way back from Davis Lake we stopped at Owl Creek Indian Mounds at mile marker 243.1. We walked the dogs and took some pics and headed back on the road. If you have to choose Indian mounds to stop at, Emerald mounds are probably the most impressive. These were smaller than those.
Tupelo is best known for being the birthplace of Elvis. The birthplace is a bit of a tourist trap but you can see the original home of Elvis, the church he attended as a boy (it has been moved there), a museum, and several statues. There is a cost to enter the house and the museum. We chose the free route and did not go inside. There was a Elvis Excursion tour bus when we were there and the place was pretty busy. I actually didn’t realize there were still so many Elvis fans. Many of the patrons were younger than I expected.
When we got back to the hotel, we walked the dogs on the Tanglefoot Trail. It was not terribly scenic as it went through a old industrial area. I think the scenery improves further down the trail.
One thing I like about staying 2 or more nights at a hotel is the ability to settle in and relax after a day of tooling around. Vacations are not only about seeing everything you can see, but also taking the time to relax and enjoy time with your family. The Trailhead Bike & Bed had a relaxation vibe which we enjoyed at the end of the day.
The next day we set off to explore more of the parkway. On our way, we saw a sign for Tupelo Buffalo Park and Zoo. I’m generally anti-zoo (I worked at one very briefly) but we decided to do the drive through safari park. I’m not sure the dogs were actually allowed but no one said anything and we were just driving through the fenced area. It was a bargain at $10 a person. We had the option of buying food for the animals but opted against it. There was a very obnoxious camel and several ostriches waiting for us as we arrived. They were expecting food per the usual but got none from us.
All the animals appeared to be well cared for and I was surprised how much room they had to graze and be “wild”. We did not visit the zoo part of it so I can’t attest for that. I will say this was VERY busy with families and children everywhere so that was deterrent enough to avoid the other exhibits.
Natchez Trace Parkway: Mile Post 266 to 304
We got back on the trace with our first stop at the Old Trace and Confederate Gravesites at mile marker 269.4. There was a short trail along the original Natchez Trace Trail to the gravesites. It is unclear how the soldiers died but someone found them and created this small cemetery.
Our last stop for the day along the Natchez Trace Parkway was at the Pharr Mounds at mile marker 286.7. The mounds were surrounded by a hay field. It made me wonder how many of these mounds are left undiscovered and just considered natural landscaping.
We drove to Tishomingo State Park to camp out for the next two days. The park was crowded and not nearly as nice as DeSoto State Park campground. I was happy I reserved a site ahead of time b/c otherwise we may not have been able to stay there (it was Columbus Day weekend).
The bathrooms nearest our site were closed for the season and the closest bathrooms were over 1/2 mile away and surrounded by a large Boy Scout Troop group campsite. They lacked toilet paper and general cleanliness. I had brought a toilet seat which sits on top of a bucket and that was my bathroom (at least for doing #1) for the two days we stayed there.
I was happy we had a campsite away from all the craziness. One of our dogs, Robin, is quite the barker. Usually I feel guilty about disturbing others with her barking, but as loud as she was, there was no muffling of all the kids yelling.
Along our travels we came across many cotton fields. I had never seen cotton fields before. It was a pretty cool site to see. It made me think about slaves picking this cotton and how difficult and painful it must have been. The “bolls” of the cotton plant contain sharp edges and many hands have bled during this task. Modern day cotton machines leave a lot behind so much so that locals say it is snowing when cotton harvesting season has arrived.
The Roadside America App had shown a Coon Dog Cemetery as a unique site. It was a little out of our way, but we set out from the campsite on Sunday, October 18th to try and find it. I thought this was a very low traveled site. As we arrived, one car was leaving and another one coming. There was a guestbook which contained several entries for each day.
The reminder of the day was spent at Tishomingo State Park visiting the swing bridge, a historic log cabin, and hiking throughout the rock outcroppings.
One thing to note about Mississippi is that they are very religious. Tishomingo State Park campground had a outside chapel with church service. At one of our stops I found a well used bible left on a picnic table perhaps for someone else to enjoy? A cashier at a local Walmart reprimanded me when I used the word “shit” after I realized I paid for my purchases and forgot to add bagged ice to my bill. My exact words were “Shit, I forgot the ice!”.
As far as my review of Tishomingo State Park goes, I would probably not stay there again. The amenities were dirty and unkept and there were an over abundance of children everywhere. It was definitely not the quiet camping experience I was looking for. It can often be difficult to find places to stay with two large dogs and camping was one of the only options in this area. I was looking forward to our hotel in Nashville the next day!
Natchez Trace Parkway: Mile Post 304 to 440
On Monday, October 19th we set off for our last leg of the Natchez Trace Parkway on our way to Nashville. Our first stop was a short hike around Rock Spring at mile marker 330.2.
We then got off the Natchez Trace Parkway along a 2.5 one way drive along the original Old Trace Trail. It starts at mile marker 375.8. It was very pretty and a nice change of scenery.
We took a quick stop at Napier Mine, a historic iron mine to read the interpretive signs. It is at mile marker 381.8. Many of the stops along Natchez Trace are only interpretive signs or scenic overlooks.
The Merriwether Lewis site at mile marker 385.9 is a must see. There are many hiking trails, historic buildings, a pioneer cemetery, and the grave of Merriwether Lewis. There are various theories as to what happened to Lewis ranging from murder to suicide. The grave site does not address how he died.
We then stopped at the Gordon House Historic Site at mile marker 407.7. Here you can view where John Gordon lived and operated a trading post.
Our final stop along the Natchez Trace Parkway was at Birdson Hollow Overlook at mile marker 438. The overlook is a short walk from the parking lot where you can see the double-arch bridge that passes over Birdsong Hollow.
Next Stop: Nashville
We left the peace of Natchez Trace Parkway and headed for Nashville for three nights. Keep reading on to find out how we tackled two big white dogs in the dog unfriendly town of Nashville.
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