Sugar-white beaches, wildlife spotting, swimming, boating and fishing lure people to this ever-changing paradise
Wind and water have buffeted and washed over the granite of the Appalachian Mountains for millions of years, slowly but steadily scouring away the outer layer of rock. Rivers, streams and creeks have transported, and continue to transport, fine quartz toward the Gulf of Mexico. The stunningly beautiful white-sand beaches that today attract millions of visitors annually to Gulf Islands National Seashore in Mississippi and Florida continue to be transformed by the waxing and waning tides. This ever-changing landscape will likely make perfect sense to travelers who experience the dynamism and diversity of Gulf Islands National Seashore, since the region is vibrantly alive.
As gorgeous as the seemingly endless sugar-white beaches are, however, they make up only one-third of the seashore’s area — the other two-thirds of the seashore being underwater. Yet, potential visitors should not let the submerged nature of much of the seashore dissuade them from experiencing the region’s attractions. Atlantic bottlenose dolphins ply the water, gopher tortoises and red-eared sliders (semiaquatic turtles) sidle through the sand and numerous species of birds allow birders to add to their life lists.
The seashore consists of 12 units that exist in two districts that are about two hours apart. The Davis Bayou unit in the Mississippi District features ample fishing and boating options, as well as biking and ranger-led programs. Private boaters can access Horn Island, Petit Bois Island and East Ship Island year-round, and from March through October, visitors can access West Ship Island via a passenger ferry based in Gulfport, Mississippi. In Ocean Springs, RVers can camp in Davis Bayou Campground (228-875-3962), which features 51 sites, some of which can accommodate rigs up to 45 feet.
In the Florida District, visitors can swim, snorkel, fish, go boating, explore sections of the 40-mile multi-use loop trail or walk the historic Andrew Jackson Trail. Or spend your time exploring the region’s forts, which span a time period of nearly 150 years, from the Spanish colonial Bateria De San Antonio to the World War II-era Battery 234. Fort Pickens Campground (850-934-2622) has 200 sites up to 50 feet in length.
Gulf Islands National Seashore