The legendary David Cohn quote about the Mississippi Delta is that it, “Starts in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and ends on Catfish Row in Vicksburg,” although today Catfish Row is better known by many as a delightful children’s art park located across from a row of murals on the floodwall that depict area history.
Whether you start your Delta explorations up north and work your way south to Vicksburg, or start in the place called the “Key to the South” and then travel north on the famous Highway 61, you should still spend some time in the city, especially the pretty downtown.
A day should of course start with a local breakfast.
I’m not normally a chain restaurant person, but would make an exception to get some of the pecan waffles (or hashbrowns “Smothered, Covered, Chunked, Diced, Peppered, Capped, Topped, and Country”) at the Waffle House near the state’s Mississippi Welcome Center.
After breakfast, stop into the Welcome Center off of Washington Street to enjoy this double-bridge view over the Big Muddy into Louisiana…
The rest of the morning is a good time to learn the stories of the 47-day Union siege of Vicksburg during the American Civil War. The siege ended (ironically) on July 4, and was the culmination of brutal months of land maneuvers, failed frontal assaults, artillery shots into the town, fortifications being built and blown up, and innovative Union Navy support of the Union Army with gunboats, ironclads, and transport craft.
Check in at the Vicksburg National Military Park and learn what’s currently open and what is not. I recommend booking a Park Service-licensed Vicksburg battlefield tour guide who will spend about two hours filling your head with all kinds of interesting facts and stories, whether you are a Civil War history fanatic, or wouldn’t know a cannon from a carbine.
Plan a visit for the first Saturday in March if you want to literally run through history.
You can also simply drive around the park on a self-guided tour, hopping in and out when you see something interesting. There are plenty of placards and cell phone call-in informational recordings to help you understand what you’re seeing. Grab the Vicksburg Battle App for iOS or Android, too.
One spot that I missed in the park is a restored Union ironclad, the USS Cairo.
It sank into Mississippi mud in December 1862 during a fierce battle, and wasn’t recovered until the mid-1960s. Similar to the Steamboat Arabia in Kansas City, Missouri, the silt and mud kept oxygen away from the Cairo and her contents, preserving them.
Check first to see if the Cairo and its associated museum are open.
If all that history makes you hungry, it’s time for lunch.
If you’ve never experienced the Southern cooking delights and desserts at the Walnut Hills Restaurant, you HAVE to go and enjoy them. Cakes range from Coconut to German Chocolate to Hummingbird (banana-pineapple spice) and the pies include Pecan Praline, Key Lime, and Snickers Peanut Butter.
If all that is a little too heavy, I can also recommend the Main Street Market Café on Cherry Street. They have excellent sandwiches, soups, and salads, plus some New Orleans specialties like a muffaletta sandwich and delicious chicken and andouille sausage gumbo with rice.
For the afternoon, it might be good to stay mostly indoors, especially if you’re not accustomed to Mississippi heat and humidity in the warmer months.
There are all kinds of intriguing Vicksburg museums to keep you mostly in air-conditioning.
To learn more about the Mississippi River, particularly all the efforts over the year to control catastrophic flooding, explore the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jesse Brent Lower Mississippi River Museum. The Corps Vicksburg District headquarters is responsible for 400+ miles of river levees and lots of other projects, and this museum explains them with dioramas, murals, an aquarium, and an actual tugboat/work boat, the M/V Mississippi IV.
The Old Depot Museum and the Old Courthouse Museum are not too far away, and for something, well, more bubbly and slightly more modern, see the place where Coca-Cola was first bottled in 1894. Yes, you can get a real Coke float there.
There are several nice local shops in walkable downtown Vicksburg, although keep in mind that it’s on a river bluff, so some parts can be steep. I picked up unique note cards at H.C. Porter, and pottery by Mississippi native Tab Boren in one of the gift shops.
One of my favorites is The Attic Gallery (see the photo at the top of this post.) It is a bonanza of folk art works by area artists, mostly from Mississippi. The owner and staff are full of information about every item in the shop – they often know the artist personally.
As you wander around, look for blue markers from the Mississippi Blues Trail. There are six in Vicksburg, including one for hometown songwriter Willie Dixon, of “Hoochie Coochie Man” and “Little Red Rooster” fame. Did you know that there’s a Spotify playlist for every marker on the Blues Trail, if you’d like a soundtrack for your time in the state?
Another outing I want to try when I return to Vicksburg is getting on the water with the Quapaw Canoe Company. I don’t have a whole lot of experience with paddling trips or outings, but how can you be so close to one of the most famous rivers in the world, and not explore it a bit?
To end your day in the city, head up to 10 South Rooftop Bar & Grill for one of the best views in town. The burgers are excellent, the waitstaff delightful, and my craft beer – Mississippi Fireant Imperial Red Ale from Southern Prohibition Brewing – was perfect.
Have you been to this part of the Mississippi Delta? What is your favorite thing to do there? Tell us down in the comments.
(All photos by the author)
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