As the sun sets over the beaches of Biloxi, Mississippi, the horizon lights up with all of the glitz and glamor of the Las Vegas strip. Casinos dot US Highway 90, inviting patrons to take a chance at the gaming tables or slots, and spend the weekend in an upscale hotel with sumptuous dining. But there is more to the Mississippi Gulf Coast than casinos.
Mississippi’s footprint along the Gulf Coast is small, only about 80 miles, but along that coastline, there is an incredible world of outdoor activities just waiting for you to explore: Hop aboard an eco-tour to probe the area’s marshes and wetlands to view alligators, birds, and wildflowers. Take a beautiful and serene walk through longleaf pine forests and wetlands. Kayak just offshore to view dolphins as they play in the waves. And end the day with a glorious, vibrant sunset.
And, that is only the beginning of the many outdoor recreational activities just waiting for you to explore along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Here are eight fantastic outdoor adventures that you won’t want to miss.
1. Mississippi Gulf Coast Blueway
The Mississippi Gulf Coast is an intricate maze of interwoven streams, marshes, bayous, and wetlands where egrets and blue heron survey the shoreline looking for their next meal while osprey and bald eagles soar overhead and alligators lurk just beneath the surface.
All of these waterways make for incredible kayaking adventures. That’s why the state has established the Mississippi Gulf Coast Natural Heritage Area Blueway, a series of 10 marked waterways where paddlers can bring their own kayak, or rent one at one of the many outfitters in the area, and experience this fragile landscape first hand.
Favorite paddles include the 2.25-mile Bayou Bogue Homa through a river marsh that was once inhabited by Native Americans, passing beautiful mossy ancient bald cypress swamps and maybe passing an alligator or two.
Complete information about all of the paddles with maps and details on what you need to know before you go can be found on the Blueway’s interactive website.
2. Mississippi Coastal Birding Trail
For birders or even those of you who just like to take a nice quiet walk in the woods, Mississippi has something just for you — the Mississippi Coastal Birding Trail.
Forty sites have been established along the coast that allow visitors to view 362 species of birds ranging from pelicans and heron to spoonbills and storks and everything in between.
The state has set up an excellent online guide describing all of the trails and birding sites in the six Mississippi Gulf Coast counties.
One unique site along the trail is the Escatawpa Trail. Talk about stretching your legs at a rest area. The trail is a 1.4-mile loop with its trailhead at the state welcome center on I-10 at the Mississippi-Alabama state line that leads to nice views of the Escatawpa River.
3. Gulf Islands National Seashore
Crashing ocean waves, glittering white sandy beaches, waving seagrasses and wildflowers, wildlife roaming freely, and a good dose of outdoor recreational activities all add up to making a visit to the Mississippi unit of the Gulf Islands National Seashore a must-do on your visit to the coast.
The barrier islands that make up the seashore actually stretch from Florida to Mississippi. Five barrier islands and a wooded marshland onshore make up the Mississippi area. Shady and peaceful RV and tent camping are available at Davis Bayou in Ocean Springs. Further west just off the coast from Biloxi, take the ferry for a 12-mile cruise out into the gulf to Ship Island for a swim, wet your line for some surf fishing (a saltwater fishing license is required), and explore historic Fort Massachusetts.
Be aware that hurricanes significantly impact the seashore and what activities and facilities are closed. Visit its website for the latest alerts.
4. Pascagoula Historic Bike Trail
Saddle up on that bike and take a ride to visit the “coastal culture” of Pascagoula on the Pascagoula Historic Bike Trail.
This 8-mile loop ride leads you to 15 historic sites. Starting at the historic 1859 Round Island Lighthouse on Laurel Avenue (which was relocated inland after Hurricane Georges in 1998), the easy-pedaling road trip takes you through the Orange Street Historic District with its 1850s houses, the home of politician Zachary Taylor, who ran for president in 1848, and the childhood home of singer Jimmy Buffet.
There are even beautiful views of the gulf along Beach Blvd.
A complete map of the trail that points out points of interest can be found online. A word of caution — the bike lane on Beach Blvd. is narrow in some spots so use caution.
5. Camping On The Coast
There is nothing like camping out and the Mississippi Gulf Coast has some splendid and peaceful campgrounds waiting for you to soak in the tranquility of a starry coastal night.
On the east side of the state in the town of Gautier, there is the 395-acre Shepard State Park. The park features primitive tent campsites as well as 28 developed campsites with electric hookups, picnic tables, and barbecue grills all set within a beautiful forest lined with wildflowers and a thick canopy that provides excellent shade in the hot Southern summer months. The park also has an archery range and disc golf course.
On the west side of the state in Waveland, there is Buccaneer State Park. Located directly across South Beach Blvd. from the gulf, the park has 206 premium campsites with full amenities, 70 of those with gorgeous views of the gulf and many nestled within beautiful Spanish moss-draped oak trees. Buccaneer also features a beautiful hike along the Pirate’s Alley Nature Trail to a tidal marshland.
6. Gulf Side Waterpark At Buccaneer State Park
While we’re talking about Buccaneer State Park, it has one more amenity that you just have to try — Buccaneer Bay, a 4.5-acre water park with a wave pool, Pirate’s Lagoon, that generates eight different wave patterns and 6-foot waves.
Then there are the water slides — the 375-foot Pirate’s Plank, a completely enclosed water slide, and the 425-foot Pirate’s Plunge that is filled with twists and turns.
After spending time in the water, grab lunch and a souvenir mug at the Sea Dog Galley.
Buccaneer Bay is open daily Memorial Day through the first weekend of August, weekends only from August through Labor Day. Visit the park’s website for the latest fees.
7. Eco Tours Through The Marshes And Wetlands
The Mississippi Gulf Coast’s hundreds of miles of marshes and wetlands are fertile ground for wildlife and make for a fun and educational afternoon excursion on one of the area’s eco-tours. Knowledgeable guides transport you deep into the back bays and bayous of these waterways to view alligators, eagles, osprey, any number of migratory birds, and over 300 species of plants including beautiful white lilies and orchids.
EcoTours of South Mississippi offers kayak trips down the Pascagoula River, the longest unimpeded waterway in the country, and its dark and mysterious bayous and backwaters. It also offers motorboat excursions for those who want to experience the wilds of south Mississippi but do not want to paddle.
Add a bit of excitement to your eco-tour by hopping aboard a high speed airboat with the guides at the Gulf Coast Gator Ranch & Airboat Swamp Tours in Moss Point and race over the murky swamp waters of the region to view alligators in the wild.
8. Deer Island Coastal Preserve — Biloxi
Located only a quarter of a mile off the coast of Biloxi, the small 400-acre Deer Island Coastal Preserve allows kayakers to paddle a short distance into the Gulf of Mexico for a day of fun in the sun on its beaches. In fact, you can paddle to it in only a few minutes.
The island is technically more of a sandbar than a barrier island that at one time was connected to the mainland but has long since been separated by sea and storms.
The island plays host to a number of sea and migrating birds. Bring along the fishing pole and do a little surf fishing (a freshwater license is required), and swim in the warm gulf waters. There are also a series of nature trails for you to roam.
The island can be crowded on weekends but during the week, it is all yours to explore virtually on your own.
Oh, and don’t forget your tent, sleeping bag, and pack along dinner! Primitive camping is allowed on the island. Just remember to practice “Leave No Trace” — pack out what you pack in and leave only footprints. The best camping is on the south (gulf facing) side of the island away from the lights of Biloxi and where you may catch sight of dolphins frolicking in the waves.
Park your car and launch your kayak from the Biloxi Small Craft Harbor for a unique experience. No kayak? No problem. EcoTours of South Mississippi can set you up with a rental.
This is only a small sample of the outdoor activities waiting for you along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. To make your planning easier, download the My Gulf Coast app that will link you to many more activities, events, lodging, and restaurants.
Vacation opportunities along the Gulf Coast are numerous: