Congress has designated 55 regions across the United States as National Heritage Areas. Once called a “new kind of national park” by President Ronald Reagan, these “lived-in landscapes” are areas that possess a natural, cultural and historical richness that make particularly strong contributions to the country’s heritage. Mississippi’s three National Heritage Areas provide visitors with a chance to see how history and culture continue to shape the country’s destiny.

Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area

In the northern region of the state, the southwestern most foothills of the Appalachians form the Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area. Crossed by the ancient Natchez Trace trade route, the Mississippi hills were largely Chickasaw territory before the wealth of the local farmland and forests drew American settlers. The area saw ferocious Civil War battles in Iuka and Corinth, leading in turn to the establishment of the Corinth Contraband Camp to accommodate recently freed people. Sons and daughters of the area would later become prominent leaders in 20th-century American culture: writers William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams came from here, as did Tammy Wynette, blues great Howlin’ Wolf and perhaps most famously, Tupelo-born Elvis Presley. Civil rights warriors including journalist Ida B. Wells and James Meredith, the first African American student at the University of Mississippi, contributed greatly to the struggle for equality in Mississippi and throughout the United States.

Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area

Fertile soil and proximity to the great Mississippi River have drawn people to the Mississippi Delta, spanning the North and Central regions of the state, since the first Americans arrived and built the earthen mounds that still stand in the Delta today. US Highway 61, the Blues Highway, crosses the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area—intersecting US Highway 49 in Clarksdale at the notorious Devil’s Crossroads, where Robert Johnson reportedly sold his soul to become a great bluesman. The Delta’s farms and rivers provide the ingredients for the area’s increasingly famous food scene, where local traditions and global influences transform the region’s natural riches into dishes that draw diners from across the nation. A particular attraction is the area’s tamales—stories vary as to how they originated, and returning Mexican War veterans, Depression-era migrant laborers and Native Americans are all sometimes credited. Spicier and saucier than those enjoyed elsewhere, they’re the perfect roadside fuel for a road trip exploring this attraction-packed part of the state.

Mississippi Gulf Coast National Heritage Area

The three Mississippi counties that adjoin the Gulf coast, along with three more just inland, make up the Mississippi Gulf Coast National Heritage Area. This historic, inno- vative, natural and flavorful region is where Europeans first encountered the land that would become Mississippi. Forts, lighthouses and historic cemeteries testify to the area’s storied past. The area’s natural beauty has inspired countless artists, including the world-renowned artists Walter Anderson and George Ohr, and serves as the backdrop for scientists working on our continued exploration of outer space. The coastal waters, beaches, bayous and swamps teem with abundant plant and animal life—and the Pascagoula River is the largest undammed river in the lower 48 states. These fertile waterways have also led to the Mississippi Gulf Coast becoming famous for its seafood, with catfish, crawfish, drum, shrimp and oysters filling plates across the region.

Get your passport stamped!

Through the Passport to Your National Parks© program, you can collect free stamps with the name of your destination and date of your visit at countless attractions throughout our National Heritage Areas. There are hundreds of these locations across the country, and more than 80 locations in Mississippi.

See More Features