Some of America’s finest minds rose from Mississippi’s cotton fields, muddy riverbanks, and hole-in-the-wall blues joints. Elvis Presley grew up listening to soulful ballads in the gospel churches of Tupelo, and Tennessee Williams marveled at the antebellum mansions that lined the streets of Columbus. Other, less famous personalities have also found lots to love in Mississippi, from the state’s fried catfish to the virgin hardwoods that shade its numerous wildlife reserves and hiking trails.

There are plenty of things to do in the state’s capital, Jackson. These include visits to the Mississippi Museum of Art, where the masterpieces of James McNeill Whistler and John Sloan are on display, and the preserved Tudor revival house of writer Eudora Welty. Jackson truly sparkles at night, when its more than 50 nightclubs, juke joints, and blues bars fill with the trills of soulful music.

Up in Oxford, Ole Miss football games generate rollicking tailgates complete with tents, buffets, and bars. Not in the mood for bourbon and beer? Pay a visit to the University’s eclectic arts and science museum, or stroll through the forested meadows of Rowan Oak—the historic estate where William Faulkner wrote many of his celebrated works.

You can almost hear the ghostly battle cries ringing throughout Vicksburg, where General Ulysses Grant’s army once laid siege on Confederate troops. The Old Courthouse Museum memorializes this siege with artifacts from the era, and the city’s historic landmarks and cemeteries are hotspots for Civil War reenactments.

To experience a deeper kind of history, strap on a backpack and head to the Natchez Trace Parkway, a 423-mile stretch of pristine wilderness that once bisected the territories of the Natchez, Chickasaw, and Choctaw Indians. Weary hikers will find respite in the small communities just beyond the trails’ thick pines, where they can pop into local restaurants to refuel with spicy boiled crawfish.

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