Southern Comfort: Mississippi Gulf Coast Family Camping Itinerary
By Joe Laing, El Monte RV Rentals
There’s something about the Southern coast that brings families together. Maybe it’s the feeling of being so small in the face of swirling surf, or perhaps it’s the draw of a supper table laden with fresh offerings. But more than anything, I think it’s the slower pace that encourages folks to take time to get to know one another.
And one of the best places to experience such southern comfort is along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where the sun shines year-round and the ocean breezes blow soft. Bound by the east-west corridor of Interstate-10, this sublime subtropical destination is easy to reach by road and, with excellent RV campgrounds and resorts here and there along the way, makes a primo getaway for your road-trip gang. So if you’re looking for a family vacation that brings you all closer and gets you out into nature, hurry up and head south; the sooner you get there, the faster you can take it easy together.
There are several family-friendly stops in Mississippi from Moss Point to Bay St. Louis that will keep parents and kids in sunny spirits. Here, we’ve compiled a seven-day itinerary that features the area’s top camping spots and outdoor sites, from the Alabama border to the Louisiana line.
Moss Point, Mississippi
DURATION: 2 days, 2 nights
HOME BASE: Situated 10 miles up the road, Shepard State Park is rich with white oaks, large magnolias, and romantic legends of settlers and Indians. You’ll also find 28 camping sites with full hook-ups, picnic tables, and grills.
PLAN: When you first arrive, before heading to the park to set up camp, stop at the Pascagoula River Audubon Center, which is situated along one of the last free-flowing river systems in the country. Visitors learn conservation techniques, participate in nature-based programs, and discover environmentally friendly concepts—a perfect way to begin a week of outdoor activity.
On your second day along the Gulf, begin by heading east on Highway 90 to the family-owned Gulf Coast Gator Ranch, home to some of the largest captive alligators. Following a stroll over winding wetlands boardwalks, brave visitors can hand-feed the beasts and adventurous spirits can board a high-speed airboat for a ride through the swamplands.
In the afternoon, cruise over to the interpretive center at Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve & Coastal Resource Center, where you can go wild for the remainder of the day. Keep an eye out for river otters and bottlenose dolphins, go birding, spot bugs and butterflies, or simply take a hike. This is a great spot to burn off any residual energy before bunking down.
Ocean Springs, Mississippi
DURATION: 2 days, 1 night
HOME BASE: In addition to 51 sites with electric and water hook-ups, Davis Bayou Camping, tucked inside the Gulf Island National Seashore, offers fishing, hiking, biking, birding, and more.
PLAN: In the morning, make the half-hour drive west on Highway 90 to the campsite and get situated. From the Davis Bayou area, you can pedal the 15.5-mile Live Oaks Bicycle Route, marked by green and white signs, into the town of Ocean Springs (a brochure with the trail map can be obtained though the Ocean Springs Chamber of Commerce). If you’ve got the wherewithal, make the journey past the marina and across the Biloxi Bay Bridge, which boasts a wide, ocean-side bike lane that gives breathtaking views of the coast and barrier islands.
The following morning, catch the Ship Island Excursions passenger ferry over to Ship Island and Fort Massachusetts. Once you’ve hit the beautiful beach, spend the day touring the 19th-century fort, which was constructed to defend the natural harbor on the north side of the island; you can explore on your own or with a guided tour. On most days, the ferry returns to the mainland at 2:30, giving you plenty of time to head out of Ocean Springs for the next leg.
Biloxi & Gulfport, Mississippi
DURATION: 2 days, 2 nights
HOME BASE: Located across the street from the beaches at Biloxi, Cajun RV Park makes a great hub. Stay in one of the park’s 130 RV sites and cool off in the swimming pool.
PLAN: If you wake before sunrise, cross the street for a beautiful view of the day breaking over the Gulf, and take a deep breath of fresh air, because for the next two days, you have no schedule. With its sugar-sand beaches, the Gulf Coast invites you to simply relax together. The Highway 90 strip from Biloxi to Gulfport boasts a handful of rental companies that offer chairs and umbrellas for the sun-worshipers and jet skis for the thrill-seekers. If you want a planned activity, board a boats charter that carries passengers to the region’s five barrier islands. At the close of the second day, drive across the award-winning Bay St. Louis Bridge (newly built after being destroyed in Hurricane Katrina) for your final night on the Gulf.
Bay St. Louis, Mississippi
DURATION: 1 day, 2 nights
HOME BASE: With its gorgeous waterfront vistas, Buccaneer State Park in nearby Waveland, Mississippi, is an ideal place to finish your stay. Since Katrina, the park has been reconstructed with 206 premium campsites and full amenities.
PLAN: Make a splash with a pristine paddle on Gulf Coast waters. At Bay Breeze Bike and Kayak Rentals, you’ll be equipped with everything you need for a DIY exploration of the shoreline. (If you’d rather take a guided trip, try Wolf River Canoe & Kayak over the bridge in Long Beach. After a long day on the water, you’ll want to rest up for the trip home. And on your way out of town, drive through downtown to admire the wooden angels that sculptor Dayle K. Lewis carved from live oaks damaged during Hurricane Katrina.