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Mississippi: The Outdoor Enthusiast's Playground
Outdoor enthusiasts find lots to do in Mississippi, where wild woodlands and swamps shelter an interesting array of birds and wildlife. And as a refreshing vacation alternative, water activities are everywhere on the "Magnolia State’s" rivers, lakes, streams and coastline.
In Mississippi’s north region, on the Coldwater River there’s Arkabutla Lake. Accessible via Hernando or Coldwater, Arkabutla is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gem encompassing more than just the 33,000-acre namesake lake. It also provides a dozen recreation areas, boat ramps, nature trails, protected swimming beaches and extensive hunting and fishing grounds. Watersports like sailing, skiing and windsurfing are popular pastimes, however, it’s the anglers with their record-breaking crappie, bass, bream and catfish catches that seem to be having the most fun. Observant birders can expect to see wood ducks, raptors and turkeys.
On Mississippi’s Delta is the United States’ only bottomland hardwood national forest.
Another northern Mississippi attraction is Holly Springs National Forest, near the town of the same name. This national park boasts more than 40 lakes; each more than suitable for shoreline fishing. Holly Springs’ terrain is hilly and wooded, fitted with loblolly or short leaf pines and stands of hardwoods at the forest’s higher elevations. Recreation areas at Choctaw Lake, Chewalla, and Puskus feature picnic facilities, walking trails and lakes with swimming beaches. Opportunities for boaters, anglers and hunters are practically unlimited in Holly Springs’ 147,000-acre forest.
Lake Lowndes State Park is tucked away in Mississippi’s central region at Columbus. A tranquil lake fringed with stately pine trees provides the perfect setting for easygoing hours of canoeing, boating, fishing and picnicking. Swimmers and waterskiers appreciate the freedom of Lake Lowndes’ calm, uncrowded waters. There are nature trails for hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders plus tennis courts, softball fields – even an 18-hole course for disc golfers, also known as Frisbee golf. Rainy days won’t slow you down either, because there’s an indoor sports complex equipped with basketball, tennis and volleyball courts.
Slightly westward but still in the center of the state, Delta National Forest is located between Rolling Fork and Vicksburg. This preserve maintains one of the last remaining hardwood forests on Mississippi’s Delta and is the United States’ only bottomland hardwood national forest. Delta’s two major recreation areas, Blue Lake and Little Sunflower Riverboat Landing, offer trails not only for hikers but all-terrain vehicles as well. Fishing and hunting are popular, too. And here’s good news for birders. As part of the Mississippi Waterfowl Flyway, Delta National Forest is an established duck habitat and a promising locale for observing waterfowl migrations.
In Mississippi’s southwestern region, the riverside town of Natchez is the southern point of origin for the famed Natchez Trace Parkway. Folks who drive this National Scenic Byway and All-American Road follow a legendary Indian trail between Natchez, Mississippi, and Nashville, Tennessee. Before its introduction to auto traffic in the early 1900s, this 400-mile circuit endured eight millenniums and was formerly traveled by traders, trappers, hooligans and missionaries. Besides significant archaeological and historical sites, Natchez Trace skirts several public recreation areas with established trails for walkers, bikers and equestrians. Parts of the famed Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail run parallel to the parkway. There are swimming, boating and fishing spots along the route, as well as fine prospects for birders and wildlife watchers. And much to the delight of RVers, multicolored wildflowers such as honeysuckle, crimson clover and fire pink brighten Natchez’s roadside woodlands.
Another worthwhile attraction at southern Mississippi’s western edge is Clark Creek Natural Area near Woodville. This 700-acre tract contains 50 waterfalls surrounded by shady forests of pine, beech and magnolia. Some of the creek’s trees command world and state records for their lofty heights; this tract also grows rare botanic species like witch hazel and umbrella trees. Clark Creek residents include migrating birds, threatened black bears and an endangered fish called the southern red belly dace. Visitors at this remote nature area should arrive prepared for challenging terrain and exclusive foot-travel within the preserve‘s boundaries.
In the Mississippi’s southern Gulf Coast region, Gulf Islands National Seashore at Ocean Springs presents an authentic Gulf of Mexico experience. This park extends across 150 miles of America’s southern Gulf Coast from West Ship Island, Mississippi, to Santa Rosa Island, Florida. On the seashore’s Mississippi side, sparkling Gulf waters, sandy white beaches and the offshore isles of West Ship, East Ship, Horn and Petit Bois are the main attractions. Ten miles from the mainland, these islands are accessible by boat or tourists can board a ferry originating in Gulfport. Excursion information is available at Davis Bayou’s mainland visitor center. While Horn and Petit Bois Islands are designated wilderness areas, West Ship has a boardwalk to transport guests to a developed swimming beach with picnic facilities. The mainland’s Davis Bayou features a boat launch, bicycle path, and self-guided nature trek for hikers.
No trip to the Gulf Coast would be complete without a trip to the beach, so consider parking the RV and spending time basking in the sun. Sugar sand beaches stretch for 26 miles, offering all types of water-related activities. For the more active, there’s JetSkiing, bodysurfing and parasailing. For those more interested in relaxation, there are plentiful opportunities for comfortable, gulf-side lounging. And for Vegas-style action, visit the area’s numerous casinos.
For a quiet, relaxing afternoon, take a drive along the beach past beautiful antebellum homes, unique landmarks and graceful live oak trees. Historic neighborhoods proudly display the architecture of the past. And plan on indulging in several of the area’s specialty seafood cuisine – crab, shrimp, oysters, fish and crawfish are all in abundance – so be sure to sample them all.
For more information, contact Mississippi Division of Tourism at 800/WARMEST;