Gulf Islands National Seashore


Long expanses of white, sandy beaches, blue waters, and marshy bayous characterize Gulf Islands National Seashore. Located along the Gulf of Mexico in Florida and Mississippi, this 150-mile patchwork park also includes several barrier islands. In the diverse habitats of dunes, estuarine marshes, and deciduous forests, several hundred species of birds, plants, and animals find homes secured from disruption by federal protection. The seashore’s 11 sections are divided into two basic areas separated by Alabama. Both areas have forts and other historical sites---as well as miles of recreational beaches, trails, and waterways---and both require at least two days for full exploration. Tour offerings and hours at all the seashore’s visitors centers vary with the season (and with government budgets), so check ahead. In Mississippi, the Gulf Islands National Seashore offers plenty of opportunities to explore history and the outdoors---with a mix of bayou as well as beach. At the William M. Colmer Visitor Center in the Davis Bayou, you can watch a video describing the unique ecosystem of underwater grasses, shallow waters, and shoreline hardwood trees such as magnolia, live oak, and pine. Keep your eyes peeled for herons and, of course, alligators---so numerous here that swimming is strongly discouraged. Fish for blue crab from the pier, bike the 15.5-mile Live Oaks Bicycle Route, or walk the half-mile self-guided nature trail. Across the Mississippi Sound from the bayou lie are several barrier islands. On West Ship Island, which is reachable only by private boat or ferry leaving from Gulfport, you can tour Fort Massachusetts, which was built between 1859 and 1866. Though never much used, it's still a good example of 19th-century coastal fort masonry. Spend the rest of the day picnicking, swimming, or hiking the beach area. Other islets here include the isolated Horn and Petit Bois islands, both designated wilderness areas. One of the seashore’s Florida highlights is Fort Barrancas, just east of the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola. The British were the first to build a defensive structure here in 1763; later in the century, the Spanish built both a fort and the water battery. In the 1840s, American engineers rebuilt the battery and connected it to yet another fort, leading to the configuration you see today. Between 1845 and 1870, engineers also constructed the Advanced Redoubt to defend the Pensacola Navy Yard from land attacks. The best time to visit is on Saturday, when tours of both the redoubt (at 11 am) and the fort (2 pm) depart from the Fort Barrancas Visitors Center. Other days see tours only of the fort. A short drive southwest and across the water is Perdido Key, where you’ll find Johnson Beach and a long nature trail amid sea oats, palmettos, and other marsh vegetation. There’s even more outdoor adventure on Santa Rosa Island. After you cross the Pensacola Bay Bridge, stop by the Naval Live Oaks Visitor Center and watch a 12-minute orientation film before exploring some of the 7.5 miles of nature trails. Heading east along the island brings you to two day-use areas, Okaloosa and Santa Rosa. Heading west along the island brings you to Fort Pickens. Originally built in the 1830s, it was a key fort during the Civil War, during which time it was never held by Confederate forces. It also served as a prison for Geronimo and other Native Americans in the 1880s. Its 10 gun batteries were built for different purposes between the 1890s and the 1940s.


3500 Park Rd.
Ocean Springs, Mississippi 39564


30.34789000, -88.55358000
Visit Website
(228) 875-9057

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