BEST KEPT SECRET IN MS
THE GULF COAST’S BEST KEPT SECRET: SHIP ISLAND, MISSISSIPPI
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Mississippi is one of the most underrated states in the USA. I’ll admit, in the ten years I’ve lived in Louisiana, I’ve driven through it countless times on my way east, but I’ve never really taken the time to explore it. This summer, I vowed to explore more of my own backyard in the Gulf Coast region and discover all the amazing hidden gems it’s got to offer. Ship Island, Mississippi definitely fits that category! If you’re in the Gulf Coast or planning a trip in the future, take a day and explore the Gulf Coast’s best kept secret—Ship Island, Mississippi.
Located just an hour’s drive from New Orleans along I-10, Mississippi’s Gulf Coast is known as the secret coast, and it is definitely an underrated gem. Great seafood, music, and casinos are what it’s known for—but it’s also got a beautiful beach as well. Because the Mississippi Rover empties into the Gulf of Mexico here, the water tends to be more silty and doesn’t have the turquoise blue hue that you see further east in the beaches of Florida’s Gulf coast. The water here is much calmer and more of a green color. This area between the mainland and the barrier islands is called the Mississippi Sound. To see waves and clear blue water, you can take a boat out to the barrier islands which face the Gulf of Mexico.
Many of the islands are only reachable via private boat. However, there is a public ferry to Ship Island. Ship Island is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. As it is protected land and part of the national parks service, there is no development other than the restrooms and snack shop. So you’ve got a pristine, natural beach to relax in for the day. While there, you can also visit Fort Massachusetts, a historic fort built in the nineteenth century. When we visited, the fort was closed due to COVID-19, so we weren’t able to enter it on this visit but I look forward to seeing the inside once it is reopened.
Ship Island Excursions runs the ferry from the Gulfport marina to Ship Island. Currently, Ship Island Excursions is limiting capacity on its ferries due to the pandemic so I highly recommend booking in advance. We booked tickets the day before and there were only three tickets left when I purchased mine for the following day. You can book tickets online here.
The ferry runs from March-October out of Gulfport, Mississippi. During the summer schedule, there are two out-going ferries each morning. One at 9:00 am and one at noon. Coming back in the afternoon you can catch either the 2:30 ferry or one at 5:00.
In the spring and fall, there is usually only one outgoing ferry each morning on weekdays, but on weekends it runs the full schedule. The ferry ride out to the island takes just under an hour. You can usually spot some dolphins along the way!
The ferry drops you off on the side of the island facing the Mississippi Sound. There is a boardwalk you take to reach the beach on the other side. While not an incredibly long walk, in the summer heat it can be a challenge if you’ve got a lot to carry. The boardwalk is about half a mile long.
There is a snack bar selling concessions on the island, but my favorite thing to do is to pack a picnic. Just remember to pack out anything that you bring in. There are garbage cans located in the picnic pavilions. Umbrellas and chairs are available to rent on the beach as well for $25 for a set of two chairs and umbrella. You can also bring your own, but keep in mind space on the ferry may be limited and you’ll have to carry everything you pack from one side of the island to the other. I’ve brought folding beach chairs with backpack straps with no problems.
Other than the picnic pavilions and umbrellas, there is zero shade on the island to make sure to bring plenty of sunscreen and to stay hydrated.
No problems finding enough space for social distancing here–with limited capacity and wide open beaches, its easy to find yourself a secluded spot.
Tip: Be sure to check the weather before booking your ferry ticket. Unless canceled by the operator due to bad weather, your ticket is non refundable. There’s not much to do on the island other than enjoy the beach, so it wouldn’t be the most fun place to be stuck in a rainstorm.
If you live in the Gulf Coast and are looking for a great day trip or you’re planning your travels to this beautiful part of the USA, put Ship Island, Mississippi on your list. Walking along the beach, it feels like you’ve found your own private island. Much of the Gulf Coast is highly developed with hotels and condos lining its shores, making natural beaches like the one on Ship Island such a beautiful treasure of pristine natural beauty.