Alabama/Tennessee Border: Natchez Trace
From the border area, traveleers will pass through McGlamary Stand, Sweetwater Branch before coming to Glenrock Branch located on the Natchez Trace Parkway at milepost 364.5. Here the weary traveler will find a Picnic Area and Restrooms. By-the-way, there are very few restroom stops along the Trace -one must play accordingly. From the parking area it is a short walk down a trail to this natural ampitheater. The creek and limestone bluff bend around the shaded picnic area.
The Sweetwater branch receives its name from the clean and fresh, or “sweet”, flavor of its water. Thousands of years of erosion and flooding have gradually built up the fertile bottom lands that can be found under cultivation in the area, The branch is still carving and shaping the valley.
Old Trace Drive is located on the Natchez Trace Parkway at milepost 375.8. Hiking Trail, Old Trace – 20-40 minutes. This 2.5 mile road (one-way north) follows the original Natchez Road route. Several overlooks provide views of the countryside. Not for travel trailers. When the sign post say “Not for trailers, that is exactly what is meant. The sign should have also said that there was no ability to turn around or pull off the side of the road. If you got stuck and another car was following or you were following a car that got. stuck. You will be stuck and have to walk out to get help. We were lucky that our low clearance sports car made it without an incident. Of course there were times when my wife had to get out to remove a fallen branch or tree limb. If a tree had fallen across the path- boy howdy we would have been in trouble.
Traveling on the “Old Trace Drive”
Metal Ford and Buffalo River is located on the Natchez Trace Parkway at milepost 382.8. SHiking Trail, Old Trace – 10-30 minutes
“I was roused from this melancholy reverie by the roaring of Buffalo River, which I forded with great difficulty.” Alexander Wilson, 1811
Here travelers on the Natchez Trace crossed the river which was fordable except after heavy rains. The ford takes its name from its stone bottom, which reminded frontier travelers of stone-surfaced or “metaled” roads of the day.
A 5 minute stroll beyond Metal Ford leads you beside the Buffalo River to the McLish stand exhibit and then back to this point by way of the historic mill trace.
Steele’s Iron Works – Here about 1820 stood a charcoal burning furnace used to manufacture pig iron. All that remain of this pioneer enterprise are the slag pile and the evidence of a millrace used to bring water from the Buffalo River to operate the furnace’s air blasting machinery.
The clear water of the Buffalo river was cool and refreshing as we waded through on a hot day during the drive.
Fall Hollow Waterfall is located on the Natchez Trace Parkway at milepost 391.9. Hiking Trail, Waterfall – 10-60 minutes
Fall Hollow is just off the Parkway (you can park your car and walk 10 feet and see and hear some of the action). Fall Hollow is just north of the US 412 intersection.
A path and a set of wooden bridges take you across the small creeks before they begin their tumbling descent. The easy part of the path ends at an observation deck where you can look down at the largest waterfall. Past this point the path becomes very rocky and steep. As the sign says, ‘Proceed with Caution’.
Tobacco Farm and Old Trace Drive is located on the Natchez Trace Parkway at milepost 401.4. Hiking Trail, History/Nature Exhibit, Old Trace – 15-45 minutes
Tobacco Farm – You see here a typical early 1900s tobacco farm. A 10 minute loop walk takes you through a field to the barn where you see tobacco hanging to dry.
Old Trace Drive – From here you may drive north on a narrow two-mile section of the old original Natchez Trace and meet the parkway on the other end. Your slower pace may take you back in time and let you enjoy views of the valley below. drive this road and pray that you don’t meet another vehicle coming in the opposite direction – there are very, very few places to turn-around or even pull off the trail.
Jackson Falls is located on the Natchez Trace Parkway at milepost 404.7. Hiking Trail, Waterfall, Picnic Area, Restroom – 40-60 minutes
A steep trail (concrete sidewalk) 900 feet long takes you to a clear pool at the base of these falls. This trail descends to Jackson Falls a beautifully sculptured cascade that seems ageless but it isn’t. For thousands of years before the falls existed Jackson Branch flowed into this high valley isolated from the Duck River below. Then in a classic case of stream piracy, the Duck River captured Jackson Branch. The flooding river and other erosional agents wore away at the bluffs, cutting a new channel through faults in the rock. At the site of Jackson Falls the diverted stream slips down into the Duck River Valley abandoning its former course.
Baker Bluff Overlook is located on the Natchez Trace Parkway at milepost 405.1. Hiking Trail, Scenic Overlook – 10-20 minutes
Baker Bluff Overlook offers one of the best scenic views along the entire Natchez Trace Parkway. In the valley below you will see farmland with cattle and barns. Photographers often setup tripods to get the best shots. Note: the view is to the east so afternoon and early evening is the best viewing time as the sun will be at your back.
A 3/4 of a mile trail connects Baker Bluff Overlook to the Jackson Falls site. The trail is fairly strenuous as it goes up and back down
Gordon House and Duck River Ferry Site is located on the Natchez Trace Parkway at milepost 407.7 – Old Trace, Indian History, Restroom – 10-30 minutes
One of the few remaining buildings associated with the old Natchez Trace is the house of ferry operator John Gordon. In the early 1800s, Gordon made an agreement with the Chickasaw Chief George Colbert to operate a trading post and ferry on the Duck River. Military expeditions with General Andrew Jackson kept him away from home much of the time. His wife, Dorothea, supervised construction of the present house in 1817-1818. John Gordon died shortly after it was completed, but Mrs. Gordon lived here until her death in 1859.
The 500 mile long Natchez Trace of the early 1800s, then known as Natchez Road, connected Nashville on the Cumberland River with Natchez on the Mississippi River. This historic wilderness road crossed the Duck River one quarter mile south of here. John Gordon an Indian Scout and fighter with Andrew Jackson, established a ferry and trading post here in 1802.
In 1800, stream crossings were critical to the operating of the Natchez Trace. Small trees would bridge small streams but rivers were greater barriers. Large scale bridge building wasn’t practical in the wilderness and rivers like this could be forded only during dry periods. A ferry was the best solution. John Gordon, trader, soldier and friend of Andrew Jackson, opened a ferry here in 1803, sharing the profits with Chickasaw Chief George Colbert who by treaty controlled ferries on Indian land. Gordon’s ferry crossed the Duck River for over 90 years until a bridge was opened in 1896.
A 10 minute walk beginning at the Gordon House leads to a section of the original Natchez Trace and the Duck River Ferry site.
War of 1812 Memorial is located near mile marker 426 and memorializes the War of 1812 soldiers buried along the Old Trace and those who marched on the Natchez to help establish American Independence.
Birdsong Hollow and Hwy 96 Double Arch Bridge is located on the Natchez Trace Parkway at milepost 438. – Scenic Overlook, Modern Marvel – 15-60 minutes
Completed in 1994, the double-arched bridge that spans Birdsong Hollow received the Presidential Award for Design Excellence in 1995 for its innovative design that rises 155 feet above the valley. The bridge carries Trace travelers 1,648 feet across the valley and Tennessee Highway 96.
At this point we completed our journey reaching the northern entrance of The Natchez Trace near Nashville, TN. We learned much of the history of the United States as we traveled this unique American National Park. I hope you enjoyed traveling with us doing this virtual tour, and maybe you also learned a little bit of history, the history you would not normally learn in a classroom.
To view more images from this section of the Natchez Trace Click here