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From Prehistoric Animals to Elvis: Explore 10,000 Years of History on This U.S. Road Trip

A drive down this parkway will take you to Elvis’ birthplace, stunning trails, and even an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee.

The 444-mile scenic Natchez Parkway follows one of the oldest trails in North America. Prehistoric animals first cleared the ground on route to find new grazing land, Native Americans including ChoctawChickasaw, and Natchez tribes, as well as other Indigenous peoples all followed in their footsteps to hunt big game, and early European explorers and colonists and American colonists used the trail as a trade route.

Today, the National Scenic Byway links Natchez, Mississippi, with Nashville, Tennessee. Along the way, the two-lane byway gives drivers a chance to pull off the road and meander through 10,000 years of American history.

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WHERE: Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee

The unincorporated rural village of Leiper’s Fork, 30 miles south of Nashville, is the perfect first stop for those looking for art galleries, boutique shopping, or a good old fashion Southern meal. If you are there on a Thursday night, make sure to stop by Puckett’s for open mic night when music lovers swarm the dive bar to hear musicians play their two-song limit. If you are lucky, one of the famous locals, like Keb’ Mo’, Vince Neil, Justin Timberlake, or Keith Urban, might pop on stage for their chance to sing in the spotlight.

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The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee

WHERE: Hohenwald, Tennessee

One of the nation’s largest natural habitat refuges for African and Asian elephants sits in an unassuming brick building in downtown Hohenwald. The Elephant Sanctuary of Tennessee rescues elephants retired from zoos and circuses. Visitors are not allowed to see the elephants in person (they live on a 2,700-acre sanctuary outside the town limits), but the sanctuary discovery center offers hands-on exhibits to teach the public about the ecological role elephants play in the wild, the difference between African and Asian elephants, and about each of the rescued elephants. Visitors can also watch the elephant at the nearby sanctuary via live stream.

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Meriwether Lewis Burial Site

WHERE: Hohenwald, Tennessee

In 1809, Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark fame died mysteriously at the Grinder’s Stand Inn while heading to Washington, D.C. The innkeeper heard two shots in the middle of the night before finding Lewis bleeding from gunshot wounds. Authorities at the time labeled his death a suicide; however, several theories supporting the fact he was murdered have popped up over the years. You can decide for yourself as you explore the Grinder’s Stand ruins and Meriwether Lewis Monument and Gravesite.

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Muscle Shoals Studio

WHERE: Muscle Shoals, Alabama

As the famous sign says: Muscle Shoals, Alabama, is “The Hit Recording Capital of the World,” thanks in part to the Muscle Shoals Studio. Jimmy Cliff, Joe Cocker, Aretha Franklin, Levon Helm, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, and the Staples Singers all recorded there. Stop by the only musician-owned music studio for inspiration for your road trip playlist. In addition to listening to original recordings, the studio tour also includes a look into the bathroom where Mick Jagger wrote Brown Sugar.

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Helen Keller's Birthplace

WHERE: Tuscumbia, Alabama

Pull off the parkway to tour the childhood home of Helen Keller. Ivy Green is the name of the simple white clapboard house built back in 1820. Visitors can see the famous well-pump where teacher Annie Sullivan taught Keller her very first hand sign (water). From there, Keller wrote 11 books, lectured in 39 counties, and spent a lifetime dedicated to improving the conditions of people who are blind-deaf worldwide.

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Wichahpi Commemorative Stone Wall

WHERE: Florence, Alabama

About 10 miles past the Tennessee-Alabama border is a stone wall 30 years in the making. Tom Hendrix began building the wall to commemorate his great-great-grandmother Te-lah-nay’s long, on-foot journey from Oklahoma to Tennessee more than 150 years ago.

Following the Indian Removal Act of 1830–and the subsequent Trail of Tears, in which the American government forced approximately 60,000 Indigenous peoples off their ancestral lands between 1830 and 1850–government officials forcibly removed Te-lah-nay and her tribe, the Yuchi, from their home on the Tennessee River to Oklahoma. After one winter in Oklahoma, distraught to be separated from her beloved river, Te-lah-nay walked back to her native Alabama—a solo pursuit that took the teenage girl five full years. Each stone in Hendrix’s memorial wall represents a step in her long walk home.

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Lady’s Bluff Small Wild Area

WHERE: Linden, Tennessee

Any long road trip requires a break to get out of the car and stretch your legs. If you want beautiful scenery to accompany that leg stretch, stop at Lady’s Bluff Small Wild Area. The three-mile moderate loop winds through a wooded forest up to the top of a limestone bluff overlooking the Tennessee River. The view from the top makes the moments of calf-burning hiking worth it.

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Elvis Presley’s Birthplace

WHERE: Tupelo, Mississippi

Follow the footsteps of the King of Rock-n-Roll’s early days at the Elvis Birthplace Museum. Wander through the two-room shotgun house where Presley was born in 1935. While in Tupelo, the Presley family regularly attended the Assembly of God Pentecostal Church. That church, which is credited for inspiring Presley’s love of Gospel music, was moved from its original site to the museum grounds.

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Emerald Mound

WHERE: Stanton, Mississippi

About ten miles from the parkway’s end (or beginning) sits a sacred hilltop known as the Emerald Mound. Ancestors of the Natchez peoples built this holy site between 1250 and 1600 A.D. At the time, it acted as the ceremonial center for local populations who lived in outlying villages. Today, it is the second-largest ceremonial mound in the United States.

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Natchez Under the Hill and the Forks of the Road Site

WHERE: Natchez, Mississippi

Two hundred years ago, Natchez was a major port where enslaved people were trafficked before the Civil War and cotton was shipped on paddle boats to the textile factories in the north. At the time, the river’s edge was lined with brothels, taverns, and gambling halls, which helped the town garner a reputation as one of the rowdiest ports along the Mississippi River. Today, a row of shops and restaurants has taken their place along Silver Street in the area known as Natchez Under the Hill. The Forks of the Road Slave Market in Natchez was transferred to the National Park Service in an effort “acknowledging the travesties of enslavement and preserving the site’s stories for the education of this and future generations,” said Kathleen Bond, the historical park’s superintendent. Natchez National Historical Park was established in 1988 as the first national park with a mandate to tell the stories of “[B]lacks, both slave and free.”