The Highland Rim section of the Natchez Trace parkway runs from milepost 408 at Highway 50 to milepost 427.6 at the Garrison Creek Trailhead. If you run on the road -- the Parkway -- you'll cover 19.7 miles. The off-road trail hugs the parkway route but adds a little extra distance as it's slightly less straight than the parkway.
Destination Distance From Downtown
3 of 5 diamonds
The hills are rolling rather than steep, but this is a long run!
Time To Complete
On Leash Only
Dogs must be under control and on leashes no longer than 6 feet. Service animals are welcome on the trail.
The Highland Rim Trail is a dirt trail that parallels the historic Natchez Trace Parkway in Middle Tennessee. As a point-to-point run, you can cover 20 miles from the southern trailhead at Highway 50 to the northern trailhead at Garrison Creek Trailhead. The trail offers both single and double-track trail, and a wide variety of terrain through the woods and over multiple water crossings. Panoramic valley views, tunnel-like wooded trail sections and some technical ascents and descents through hills provide a diverse course for your long run.
What Makes It Great
You won't get bored on the Highland Rim trail -- as you wind north, or south, beside the Natchez Trace Parkway you'll travel up rocky ascents, through quiet wooded coves with pine needles covering the track, and through creeks in the hollows. The seclusion and low use rate of the trail is one of its advantages if you're looking for a quiet and solitary run. The trail is open to horses as well as hikers and runners, so in addition to being muddy -- especially after rain -- you might need to watch your foot placement to avoid horse manure. The trail is particularly runnable in the winter and the latter part of the fall season, when the overgrown brush and briars that can crowd the trail in spring and summer die back. You are never too far from water on this trail, although you should carry some option for water purification if sourcing drinking water from the creeks.
There are a few spurs to overlooks and interesting sites, but if you just want to run the straight 20 miles north or south on the Highland Rim trail navigation is relatively simple. The trail runs alongside the Natchez Trace Parkway, a historical and limited-access scenic drive that is intended as a leisure route rather than a commercial highway. If the trail is too muddy, wet or overgrown at any point, you can always run along the parkway itself. The parkway has wide grass shoulders and little vehicular traffic -- a run up the parkway instead of the trail would be just short of 20 paved miles from Highway 50 to the Garrison Creek trailhead.
Who is Going to Love It
Trail runners looking for a long point-to-point run will enjoy the Highland Rim Trail. It's not too far from Nashville for a long run on a day off, and shuttling vehicles between the northern and southern trailheads is relatively convenient. It's unusual -- and a huge bonus -- that this long trail never strays far from the Natchez Trace Parkway, so you have the choice of paved or dirt surfaces for sections or the entirety of the run. You're also always close to the road just in case you were to suffer a running injury and need help or rescuing from the trail -- it feels like an isolated nature experience without actually taking you miles into the wilderness. At right around 20 miles, this is a perfect option for the longest run of a standard marathon training plan.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From Nashville, Highway 65 southbound leads past Franklin to Route 46. The Garrison Creek trailhead is accessed by taking the Natchez Trace Parkway ramp off Route 46. There is plentiful paved parking, restrooms and water fountains at the Garrison Creek trailhead, which is at mile 427.6 of the parkway. From Garrison Creek, run south on the trail as far as milepost 408 and the Highway 50 trailhead. This is a smaller unpaved pull-off parking area which nonetheless has space for horse trailers, hitching posts and water for horses. Runners should not drink this water, and if starting the trail northbound should get drinking water back at milepost 407.7, Gordon House.
Dogs are allowed on the trail on leashes under 6 foot long.