The Ultimate Must-Do List for the Mississippi Gulf Coast

Canoeing on Mississippi's Pascagoula River.
Canoeing on Mississippi's Pascagoula River. Joe Lee/Visit Mississippi
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Adventurers come in all forms—from explorers and wanderers to thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies—and Mississippi’s Gulf Coast offers a variety of noteworthy, memorable experiences for all of them. We’ve tried to mix it up for you, offering 15 iconic, inspiring adventures that you will want to check off your personal bucket list.

1. Explore the Pascagoula River

The free-flowing Pascagoula River features an amazing ecosystem to explore.
The free-flowing Pascagoula River features an amazing ecosystem to explore. Visit Mississipppi

The Pascagoula is the largest free-flowing river in the United States, and the Pascagoula River Audubon Center is the starting point to explore the habitats of this unique river basin. More than 70,000 acres along the river are now protected, and visitors to the center in Moss Point, Mississippi, can learn about both native animals and plant life that make this part of the country so special. Hop on a boat and take the McCoys River and Swamp Tour to get an up-close look at old growth swamps and tidal marshes. The Audubon Center also features bayou kayaking, a natural play garden for the kids, and an interpretive center to learn more about the area. The Pascagoula River is ideal for paddling enthusiasts. Beginners and experts alike can enjoy the wide waterway with a medium flow. Go for a few hours or a few days—with a length of 80 miles, there’s enough to keep any paddler busy.

2. Kayak among Barrier Islands

Kayaking among the Barrier Islands is by far the best way to survey the area, and to scope out potential weekend, snorkeling and camping trips for when you return—which you’ll likely want to do, once you visit. You can find a listing of paddling outfitters and rental shops here.

3. Bike the Entire State’s Coastline

You'll find lots of scenic roads for cycling on the Mississippi coast.
You'll find lots of scenic roads for cycling on the Mississippi coast. Gary J. Wood

Mississippi’s 62 miles of coastline will take your breath away. Although located in an area known mainly for bayous, the state boasts one of the more stunning—albeit short—coastlines that’s best experienced by bike.

4. Climb to the Top of the Biloxi Lighthouse

The Biloxi Lighthouse was the first cast-iron lighthouse built in the South.
The Biloxi Lighthouse was the first cast-iron lighthouse built in the South. Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant

Erected in 1848, the Biloxi Lighthouse is notable for being one of the first cast-iron lighthouses in the South, having several female lightkeepers, and withstanding some of the region’s most vicious storms. Climb to the top and see why this structure has become the symbol for Biloxi.

5. Snorkel at Ship Island

While the destination is called Ship Island, it is more specifically two barrier islands off the coast of Mississippi (a hurricane split the island in two in 1969). No matter what you call it, you'll find one of state's finest beaches, few crowds, and no automobile traffic, all making for a perfect getaway. Travel on the Ship Island Excursions ferry to spend an entire day snorkeling among stingrays, blue crabs, stone crabs, and redfish, just to name a few. West Ship Island is home to Fort Massachusetts, a preserved brick fortification that was built following the War of 1812 to protect the country's shoreline. Tours are available to discover more about its fascinating history.

6. Take a Schooner Trip

Set sail on an authentic Biloxi oyster schooner through the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum. These beautiful sailboats once dominated the Gulf Coast in the late 1800s and early 1900s before marine engines and a change in the oyster harvesting laws all but eliminated them. The museum has two replica ships that are available for charter or for shorter walk-on sailing trips to explore the coast.

7. Catch a Big One at Chandeleur Islands

The 50-mile long Chandeleur Islands chain in the Gulf of Mexico are part of the Breton National Wildlife Refuge, which was established by Theodore Roosevelt in 1904. The uninhabited islands are a top fishing destination, with charted fishing trips available through Chandeleur Guide Fishing as well as other outfitters on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. You can take a multi-day angler’s adventure among the Chandeleur Islands that will earn you some serious bragging rights as you pull in speckled trout and redfish.

8. Go Birding in a Hancock County Marshes Preserve

You may see the Mississippi Mottled Duck at the Hancock County Marshes Preserve.
You may see the Mississippi Mottled Duck at the Hancock County Marshes Preserve. Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren

The marshes in the state’s southernmost county is home to rare and endangered species, including the Black-crowned Night-heron, White-faced Ibis, Mottled Duck, Royal Tern, Common Barn-Owl, among others. Be sure to occasionally look down for snakes and other reptiles.

9. Sleep Under the Stars

Located in the De Soto National Forest, the Airey Lake Recreation Area is an excellent spot for family camping under the stars. There's an extensive hiking trail system that's easily accessible from the campground and excellent fishing in the 3-acre Airey Lake. Other camping options include the Buccaneer State Park, which is located on the Gulf Coast in Waveland and features 206 campsites with full amenities—plus there's a waterpark for the kids.

10. Go Wild at the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge

This is a great all-ages nature adventure, and you can adjust to your level of adventure. Simply watch birds and other wildlife near the visitor’s center at this refuge or get a little wild yourself and venture out along the trails among carnivorous plants and the Wet Pine Savanna.

11. Kayak the Old Fort Bayou Blueway

Kayakers will enjoy exploring the Old Fort Bayou Blueway, a meandering waterway that's perfect for paddling. The river trail begins just south of Vancleave among the longleaf pine savannah, and travels to the wide mouth at Biloxi Bay in Ocean Springs. Along the way, you'll travel through the Sandhill Crane Wildlife Refuge, the Land Trust’s Twelve Oaks Conservation Park, and Mississippi’s Old Fort Bayou Coastal Preserve.

12. Pedal the Pascagoula Historic Bike Trail

Offering a little something for everyone, the Pascagoula Historic Bike Trail offers 15 points of interest along the trail including the Round Island Lighthouse, several historic districts, Jimmy Buffett's childhood home, the site where Faulkner wrote some of his famous literary works, and of course the gorgeous shoreline.

13. Canoe Under a Full Moon Along the Wolf River

Wolf River Canoe and Kayak will take you on an awe-inspiring canoe trip through Wolf River Coastal Reserve any time of day, but for the adventurous, plan your trip during a full moon for a truly unique experience. Howl at the moon as you paddle one of the state’s most notable waterways.

14. Go Green at Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve

The Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve features more than 18,000 acres to explore.
The Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve features more than 18,000 acres to explore. NOAA/Gretchen L. Grammer

Any nature enthusiast will love all of the possibilities found at the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve: hiking, fishing, hunting, birding, nature photography, and paddling 18,000 acres that contain an eclectic combination of natural habitats, including pine savannahs, salt marshes, bays, and bayous.

15. Do it All at Gulf Islands National Seashore

No visit to the gulf is truly complete without stopping at Gulf Islands National Seashore. Spend a day, a week, a year—whatever it takes to get your personal fill of all the activities you can stand: swimming, snorkeling, hiking, fishing, camping, boating, and watching incredible sunsets.

Originally written for Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast.

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