Driving the Trail of Tears
|Map of the trail's autoroute|
Start in Chattanooga at Ross's Landing, downtown on the Tennessee River. From this internment point, 2,000 Cherokees departed either overland or by water. The historical marker nearby rather disingenuously states that this was a"departure point" for the Cherokee.
Take in the 400,000-gallon Tennessee Aquarium, the largest freshwater aquarium in the world, the RiverWalk, and enjoy the shops and restaurants of the four-acre plaza. If you have kids along, visit the Creative Discovery Museum, a hands-on experience geared to the younger crowd.
Drive 15 miles east to Red Clay State Historic Area, the seat of Cherokee tribal government from 1832 to 1838. The Great Council Spring, a deep pool beneath a limestone bluff, was used by the Cherokee for their water supply during council meetings. This was a gathering place for up to 5,000 Cherokees at a time. The site features an interpretive center and a theater.
Then move up U.S. 11 to Charleston, Tennessee, and view the Lewis Ross home on Market Street. This home is privately owned and was the home of Lewis Ross, the brother of Cherokee chief John Ross.
Follow Tennessee 30 west toward Nashville, stopping near McMinnville at the Shellford Baptist Church site. A Cherokee girl is buried in the church cemetery, one of the few recognized graves along the trail. This route takes you just north of Fall Creek Falls State Park.
Take a side trip to the Fall Creek Falls State Park at 256 feet it's the highest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains plus the spectacular gorges, ridges, and forests of the Cumberland Plateau. Hike the Gorge Overlook Trail to really get the feel of the area. Enjoy a night at one of the lakeside lodges or continue west on U.S. 70 South and U.S. 41 to Nashville and visit the Hermitage, the plantation home of President Andrew Jackson. The Hermitage has been restored to its original splendor and reflects the lifestyle of the privileged upper class of the 19th century. Many of the furnishings on display originally belonged to Jackson. This stately brick Greek Revival style mansion is surrounded by gardens and is located 12 miles east of downtown Nashville.
Continue west on U.S. 431 and U.S. 41 into Kentucky where you'll see the Stagecoach Inn near the town of Guthrie. Originally known as Gray's Inn, legend has it that the Cherokee chief Whitepath drank from a well here before he died. He is buried further up the road in the town of Hopkinsville, along with another Cherokee, Fly Smith. Life-size bronzed statues of these two Cherokee chiefs are on display at the city's Trail of Tears Memorial Park located on the site of a campground used during the removal.
Take Kentucky 91 west from Hopkinsville. Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park is just north of Kentucky 91. A lodge with a restaurant, cabins, and hiking trails sits in the seclusion of the western Kentucky woodlands. As you continue on and cross the Ohio River Ferry into Illinois, near the site of the Berry Ferry used by the Cherokee to cross the river, you'll pick up Highway 146. In the town of Golconda, the Buel house stands at the corner of Columbus and Madison Streets. This two-story house, originally a log cabin, was built just prior to the march in 1837 by A. H. Buel, whose wife fed the Cherokee as they passed through. West of town is Dixon Springs State Park.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication