We will be visiting Vicksburg next year, and since it’s close to the Natchez Trace Parkway, I was thinking of traveling along a section of it with my mother, and stopping at some of the historic sites along the way. My mother uses a manual wheelchair, but she can walk a few steps. Can you tell me anything about the accessibility of the sites along the Vicksburg portion of the Natchez Trace Parkway? Can you also tell me the best places to enter and exit the parkway?
The 444-mile long Natchez Trace is filled with history, and it’s an excellent choice for a day trip from Vicksburg. The trail was originally created by Native Americans, and later used by explorers and traders in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Today the Natchez Trace Parkway (800-305-7417, www.nps.gov/natr) runs alongside what was once the original trail, from Natchez to Nashville. Although the sites along the way vary in access, many are quite doable for your mom. As an added bonus, you’ll also have some lovely windshield views along this scenic two-lane road.
From Vicksburg, head east on Interstate 20 and pick up the Natchez Trace Parkway in nearby Clinton. You won’t be on the parkway long, when you’ll spot your first stop — the Battle of Raymond Site — on your left. Granted there’s really not much to this site, except a commerative plaque, but it’s a must-stop for Civil War buffs.
There is level access over to the plaque, which commemorates the 1863 battle where General Grant drew fire from General John Gregg. After a day of battle the Confederate army retreated and Grant was victorious. The skirmish also convinced General Grant of the need to take Jackson in order to assure his success in Vicksburg — a strategy that ultimately paid off for him. Although there is a picnic table at this site, it’s not really accessible, as there is a large ditch around it.
There’s a better place for a picnic, just up the road on the left at Dean’s Stand. This was the site of William and Martha Dean’s “stand”, that offered lodging to travelers on the Natchez Trace in the early 1800s. It was also the site of General Grant’s headquarters after the Battle of Raymond.
There’s no accessible parking there, but it’s pretty secluded and there’s plenty of room to pull up near the picnic tables and enjoy a bite to eat. There is also a dirt pathway that leads across a wooden bridge to a graveyard that dates back to 1848. Although the path might be a bit too steep for your mom, she may be able to do it with some assistance.
There aren’t many stops along the next 20 miles of the parkway, but after you pass Midway Road you’ll spot Rocky Springs on your right. Located on the original stretch of the Natchez Trace, this town was a thriving community in the 1790s. Today there’s little left of it, but it’s a pretty scenic stop, and it’s a good opportunity to walk or roll along an original section of the Natchez Trace.
Accessible parking and restrooms are available near the hard-packed dirt trail that leads to the old town site. The first part of it is very doable for everyone, but once you cross the bridge, there are a lot of exposed tree roots, so wheelchair-users will have problems going all the way to the site. That said the first part of the trail is worth exploring, as it’s pretty scenic.
Just up the parkway, you’ll find another scenic stop — the Owens Creek Waterfall. Truthfully, it’s called a lazy waterfall, because it’s only active after a heavy rain; however it’s still worth a look. There is level access over to the viewing area, and even if it’s not running, the surrounding woodland provides a scenic backdrop to it all. There is a steep paved pathway down to the lower viewing area, with a few steps along the way, but the view is just as good from the top. This is also a nice place for lunch, as there’s an accessible picnic area right next to the accessible parking area.
Last but not least, be sure and stop at the Sunken Trace site, just outside of Port Gibson. This deeply eroded section of the original trail is visible from a viewing area at the end of a short hard-packed dirt path. There is accessible parking near the path, and although it’s a bit bumpy it’s doable for most manual wheelchair-users with a little assistance. There are some roots along the way, but the trail is level, and even if you can’t make it all the way to the end, it’s still a scenic stop.
To complete your loop, head south to Port Gibson, then take Highway 61 and circle back to Vicksburg. The total distance covered on the Natchez Trace Parkway is about 40 miles, so it makes a nice afternoon jaunt. Although access isn’t perfect along this historic stretch or roadway, many of the sites at least offer limited access. So give it a try, as it’s a very scenic drive.