Last Revision April 14, 2013

Copyright © Bob Marsh. Permission from author required for any reproduction of this Guide except for personal non-commercial use.

MISSISSIPPI BARRIER ISLANDS

A Guide for Kayakers, Hikers, Campers, and Naturalists

 

                                                                                                 TABLE OF CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION

HORN ISLAND

    Horn Destinations     

    Launch Points to Horn 

    Map of Horn 

    Horn Island - Past    

CAT ISLAND

    Cat Destinations

    Launch Points to Cat

    Map of Cat

    Cat Island - Past

PETIT BOIS ISLAND

    Petit Bois Destinations

    Launch Points to Petit Bois

    Map of Petit Bois

    Petit Bois - Past

SHIP ISLAND

    Ship Destinations

    Launch Points to Ship

    Map of Ship

    Ship Island - Past

ISLE OF CAPRICE (THE ISLAND THAT WAS)

THE FUTURE OF THE BARRIER ISLANDS

WEATHER AND WATER ISSUES

CAMPING GEAR

THINGS TO KNOW 

REFERENCES

       

INTRODUCTION

A visit to the Mississippi Barrier Islands is like visiting another world, a world that is geographically nearby but isolated and protected from man's abusive influence. The  islands are natural wildernesses that offer undisturbed peace, vibrant beauty, and safe refuge, a world altogether different from the one to which we are so accustomed. The Mississippi barrier Islands offer some of the best wilderness camping in the country.

The barrier islands are both geologically and ecologically unique. They are historically significant with interesting pasts.  The barrier islands separate the Mississippi Sound from the Gulf of Mexico and consist of fine quartz sand which geologists say originated in the Appalachian Mountains, carried to sea by rivers and streams and deposited and shaped by ocean currents and winds over a very long time. Hurricanes routinely reshape and modify the Barriers, generally with negative impacts. The barriers are fragile and are constantly changing. They provide an ideal environment for a wide variety of plant and animal life and serve as a refuge for resident and migrating birds.

Petit Bois, Horn, East and West Ship Islands, and Cat make up the Mississippi Barrier Islands. All of these except a portion Cat, is within the Gulf Islands National Seashore created in 1971 and are under the management of the National Park Service. Except for Cat, the islands are essentially pure sand, shaped into dune covered stretches and wide sparkling beaches. The magnificent wilderness beauty and wildlife make the Mississippi Barriers a preferred year-round destination for boaters, fishermen, and nature enthusiasts. They offer particularly unique destinations for campers, hikers and kayakers. Paddling to one of the barriers is a trip unlike any ordinary paddle trip. It is a paddling adventure. There are a number of issues that a paddler should be aware of in planning a trip to the islands. This Guide addresses those issues as well as providing specific information that would be valuable to those who are interested in solitude, camping, hiking, photography, or nature. This Guide is also a resource for term papers.

The purpose of this Guide is to provide both general and specific information for planning a trip to Horn Island with an emphasis on practical and useful. For the paddler, this Guide includes launch points from the mainland, preferred routes, preferred destinations, and specific descriptions of what to expect when you arrive at the islands. It contains tips and advice on all aspects of completing a safe paddle or camping trip. GPS coordinates and references are provided for convenience within the document and are also listed in the reference section.  

HORN ISLAND

Horn Island, the largest of the Mississippi barriers, is long and slender, extending east and west. The east end is about 8 miles south of Pascagoula MS and the west end is about 9 miles south of Ocean Springs MS. Petit Bois Island is roughly 5 miles to the east and East Ship Island is about 6 miles to the west. Horn has beautiful white sand beaches and dunes, pines and live oak trees, numerous marshes, ponds and lagoons in the interior, abundant wildlife, and world class fishing. It is 12 miles long and about two thirds of a mile wide. Horn Island serves as a refuge and rookery for a wide variety of sea birds and migratory birds, including ospreys and bald eagles. For approximately four months in the spring, a significant portion of Horn is off limits to visitors for the protection of the nesting birds. During this time there are places along the north shoreline where boats are not allowed within 500 feet. Although the gulf side is available for camping year round, it's another issue to actually get there unless you approach the island from the Gulf side. With a consistent north wind to keep the surf calm, access on the gulf side is easily accomplished by both power boats and kayakers. However, paddling in the open Gulf should not be attempted except by experienced paddlers because the water and surf conditions change quickly. The recommendations in this Guide require no open Gulf paddling.

HORN DESTINATIONS

The island interior has numerous lagoons, marshes and ponds which make hiking across the island rather difficult. There are several locations where one can hike across the island from beach to beach. Camping on the north shore is limited in the spring during osprey nesting, but is entirely adequate. From about March through June, the selection of a camp site is governed by the location of the off-limits areas for bird nesting. Keep in mind, too, that Horn is just too big to experience in just a few days. A typical venue for a 3 to 4 day trip is to establish a base camp then paddle or hike to other destinations for exploring. If you stay for an extended time, you'll probably want to relocate your base camp at least once. If you want to camp on the Gulf beach, you can pack your gear across one of the cross island trails, or camp near the east or west ends of the island. If  you hike across Horn, one of the shorter cross island trails would be less effort. The cross island trails are discussed later in this Guide. For an extended visit, it's probably best to simply relocate your base camp. Hopefully, this Guide will provide adequate information so you can plan your trip without any second guessing. All GPS coordinates are provided in different formats for your convenience.

 

Horn West tip:

30 14.4575 N

88 46.4 N

Horn East tip:   

30 13.3962 N

 88 35.3 W

Ospreys, also called fish hawks, are large birds with a wingspan reaching six feet. They are white underneath, have brown wings and upper body and a white head with a speckled brown necklace. They build very visible large nests in the tops of the live and dead pine trees using sticks and small branches. The nests are usually re-used by the same pair each year. The common use of DDT many years ago almost destroyed the osprey population but with the elimination of DDT, they are rebuilding in numbers. In 2009,  a total of 71 osprey nests were confirmed on all of the Mississippi Barrier Islands. Most of these were on Horn. Of the 71 nests, 42 were active and 23 nests produced a total of 32 fledglings. This rate of productivity is similar to past rates. Ospreys are easily frightened into flight by intruders and without the parents to shade the nest from the sun, the eggs and chicks will quickly die. Osprey nests on Horn are routinely inventoried by the NPS to determine which areas will be posted. For about four months in the spring during the osprey nesting season, practically any area with a significant stand of live or dead pine trees is posted. Even so, there are other areas that are adequate to camp and to explore. Type “osprey” in the search field at the top right corner of this web page to get to the current map of the closed areas. http://www.nps.gov/guis/planyourvisit/things2know.htm  During the osprey nesting season, you can walk the shoreline adjacent to the posted areas but camping and all other activities are prohibited. Power boats are not allowed within 500 feet of the posted area. There are no fixed dates for the osprey areas to be closed but it's generally from March through June. The NPS office at Davis Bayou can tell you if the signs are in place. When the signs are not in place, the entire island is open for exploring, but camping is not allowed on top of the dunes or past the fist dunes along the north beach. Campfires are allowed only below the high tide line and never in a wooded area. The NPS says that it is illegal to come within 300 yards of a nest at any time on the year. Because of the location of some nests, it is impossible to follow this rule to the letter. For example, there is an osprey nest within 300 yards of the West Cross Island trail on the Sound side, a trail that the NPS maintains for visitors to use. 

The gulf shore beach, which is almost a quarter mile wide, extends the full length of Horn and is typical of the white sand beaches for which the Gulf and the Barrier Islands are famous. None of the gulf-side beach is routinely posted providing 12 miles of camping and hiking area. There is an old wooden ship wreck on the Gulf beach opposite the Ranger house which has been surveyed by the University of West Florida Archeological Department. According to Ranger Moore, It was determined that because of the combination of fasteners used, (wooden trammels and iron spikes)  that the wreck was originally constructed between 1800 and 1850. Ranger Moore reports that the NPS currently has no plans to further excavate or stabilize the wreck. It is available for visitors to observe and photograph but the immediate area is protected by law and any disturbance will be prosecuted.

Be aware that least terns nest on the ground and it is possible that some portions of the beach could be off limits in the future. If so, the posted areas will be clearly marked and most likely will be located on the low sand spits on the far east and/or west ends of the island. Both ends of Horn are available for camping and these locations provide access to both beaches without a long hike across the island.

Horn can be easily crossed from beach to beach in six places. Three of these crossings are accessible at all times of the year and have not been 'off-limits" for bird nesting in recent years. These are the West Cross Island Trail (WCIT), The Pier Trail, and Thru Gap (aka Waters' Crossing). Three additional crossings, Zeke's Trail, Walter Anderson Trail, and the East Cross Island trail (ECIT), in recent years have been available only outside of the nesting season. The only official trails that are referred to in NPS literature and are maintained for pedestrian traffic are the WCIT and the Pier Trail. All other crossings are unofficial and are not maintained. The map of Horn Island included in this document shows the destination reference points, the trails, and other features, referred to in this guide.

A Note to Hikers: The entire island, both beaches, all six cross island trails, and the interior are open for hiking when the ospreys are not nesting. During the nesting season both beaches and three of the cross island trails are available for hiking. The interior is generally inaccessible except at the cross island trails. Keep in mind that there are three tidal outlets on the Sound side that you'll have to cross when hiking the north beach. Depending on the tide stage and wind conditions, the water in these outlets may be anywhere from ankle deep to knee deep. The three outlets connect Big Lagoon, Ranger Pond, and Thru Lagoon to the Sound and are shown on the Horn Island map below. The total distance around the perimeter of Horn is about 22 miles. Horn Island is essentially 100% sand so all hiking will be on sand, some compacted nicely and some not!

West Cross Island Trail

Gulf Islands National Seashore superintendent Dan Brown announced on August 20, 2012 that approximately 30 acres of Horn Island around the Chimney area and Big Lagoon will be closed to the public because of the discovery of asbestos materials and possibly mustard gas. Asbestos materials were found on the ground and a preliminary test indicated the possible presence of a chemical agent known commonly as mustard gas. Archived documents indicate that empty mustard gas containers may have been disposed of in Big Lagoon. The area will be closed indefinitely.

The entrance to the West Cross Island Trail is not readily apparent and during osprey nesting it is sandwiched between two adjacent posted areas both fully signed. Although the trail is marginally identified, it is open to the public and is shown on the current NPS map showing the posted areas (see URL listed above for map of Osprey closings during the spring of each year) and leads about a half mile through a wooded area to the gulf beach. There is a white PVC pipe stuck vertically in the sand just east of the trail path several hundred feet from the beach on the Sound side but is not readily apparent from the beach.  Someone has hung a large colored rope in a dead tree near the beach, which is quite visible, and probably will serve as a marker for several years until the tree falls down. There is also an osprey nest near the beach on the west side of the trail entrance. A picture of the rope marker and the PVC pipe are included in the Horn Gallery. There is no marker on the gulf side. The trail follows a sand ridge running across the island and at the approach to the gulf beach, the sand ridge drops into a small marsh area with a small path through the marsh to the beach. When the area is posted, camping on the sound side opposite this trail is not allowed. The closest camping location to this trail on the Sound side, during the nesting season, is about a quarter mile east of the trail head on the tip of the minor peninsula that is the north-most point of Horn. Locals and this Guide refer to this northern most point as the Chimney. This name refers to the remains of the brick chimney that was associated with the incinerator built by the Army in 1944 in support of chemical warfare experiments. (See Horn Island - Past, below.) The foundation of the incinerator and the remains of the chimney are still visible but with portions becoming submerged due to erosion of the beach.  The area of Big Lagoon is an excellent camp area and is another half mile further east of the Chimney. Park regulations allow only transient traffic on the WCIT, and visitors should not stray outside the boundaries of the trail.  Excessive noise or lingering human presence on the interior portions of the trail may disturb nesting pairs and cause unsuccessful hatching or fledging. As long as boats are not left inside the boundaries of a closure, kayakers may leave their boats on the north side rather than portage them across the island at the West Cross Island Trail or any other part of the island that you choose to cross. The NPS says that any property left unattended for an extended period of time is considered to be abandoned and the owner is subject to a fine. However, the NPS has not defined what is an "extended period of time". 

 

Horn, West Cross Island Trailhead:

30 14.947 N

88 43.304 W

Horn, The Chimney:                                

30 15.120 N

88 43.071 W

Horn, Big Lagoon:                                

30 15.063 N

88 42.692 N

                                                      

88 42 41.50 W        

    

Pier Crossing

About five miles east of the Chimney is a substantial concrete pier which survived Katrina and was built to replace the original pier that was destroyed in 1998 by Hurricane Georges. The pier is reserved for US government vessels only, but the trail that leads to the Gulf side is accessible to visitors. Both the pier and the trail are visible on satellite image web sites. This area is not within the Wilderness area of Horn (discussed below). The trail leads across the island and passes the site of the NPS ranger residence. Since the early 1970's a residence had been occupied by an assigned park ranger until it was destroyed in August 2005 by Hurricane Katrina. NPS Ranger Ben Moore was the Horn Island ranger for many years and has recently retired. The ranger residence was rebuilt in 2009 with three self contained apartments and two guest rooms, all with separate entrances onto a nice covered porch area. Ranger, Ronda Harper,  is now the resident ranger on Horn Island. Ronda was assigned to Horn and moved into the residence in the summer of 2010. Ranger Ronda is a true professional and is dedicated to the mission and objectives of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and the Park Service. 

Near the residence is a landmark of some distinction, a water well, dug circa 1940 by the US Army, previously the only source of fresh water on the island. Walter Anderson, the artist, naturalist, potter, and poet, visited this area frequently on his trips to Horn and called it Rabbit Springs, aptly named because of the rabbits whose many descendants are still there today. During Walter Anderson's time the well apparently was an artesian well enclosed in a small spring house. But because of the lowering of the water table, this well is no longer free flowing. At some point after 1965 a pump was added, probably when the ranger station was constructed and electricity was available. Pre Katrina, a faucet and water hose provided water to visitors. Post Katrina, the well remained enclosed in a small locked pump house until the construction of the new ranger residence. The water is now running again and Ranger Moore will allow emergency access. But because of the sulphur taste, it's much preferred to take your own water supply. There is a faucet on the north end of the residence and one at the well. Immediately adjacent to the ranger house there is a microwave/radio tower owned by the Mississippi National Guard. Katrina put it out of service and it remained non-functional until the electric supply was restored in the spring of 2010. The NPS was attempting to get it removed but apparently without luck. It is now being used by at least two Mississippi State agencies, including the Department of Marine Resources.

The trail continues on through the woods, partially through a marsh area, for half a mile to the broad white sands of the Gulf. If the pier area is your destination, the tower is visible from several miles off shore and can serve as a visual guide.

East of the pier by 1.3 miles and about 700 feet from shore is an abandoned barge in the Sound that has been there for decades and is about rusted away. It's in shallow water but it does attract fish.

 

Horn, Pier and Trail Crossing:

 30 14.26 N

 88 40.033 N

Horn, barge:

 30 14.11 N

 88 38.7 N

Thru Gap and Waters' House Crossing

East of the pier by 2.7 miles is a fairly wide open area allowing easy cross island access to the Gulf beach. Walter Anderson named this Thru Gap. Mr. Anderson spent weeks on end at all times of the year observing, drawing, painting, and marveling in the pristine beauty of Horn. He named the lagoons and even individual sand dunes and camped both summer and winter a short distance west of Thru Gap in an area that is now within the spring osprey nesting zone. Anderson also referred to this crossing as Waters' House Crossing. The sound side of this crossing is easily identified by a single tall living pine tree, Thru Gap Pine, on top of a high dune which can be seen from several miles out in the Sound. It is about 1900 feet from the Sound's waters edge to the Gulf's waters edge through the Gap. Just behind the dunes on the Sound side is the west end of a long interior lagoon, named Thru Lagoon by Mr. Anderson. This lagoon appears on the NPS maps as Waters' Pond. This lagoon currently connects to several other lagoons and eventually connects to the Sound with a tidal outlet about a mile west of Thru Gap. Hurricanes have a way of changing geography, and in the future, Thru Lagoon may become isolated from the Sound. Thru Lagoon does not appear to have as high a salt content as Big Lagoon. The ponds that are isolated from the Sound have low salt content. The lagoons and the ponds are the favorite hang-outs for alligators and nutria.
 

Horn, Thru Gap Crossing:

30 13.787 N

 88 37.413 W

Zeke's Trail

April Newlin, author of Horn of Plenty, Seasons in an Island Wilderness, (see references), is responsible for the naming of this trail. Some years ago a very large alligator which the Park rangers referred to as Zeke, lived in one of the interior ponds near the gulf beach just west of the Chimney. On one of her trips to Horn, Ms Newlin and her husband camped in the Chimney area and explored the western end of the island. During their stay, they explored Zekes' pond and found a sand ridge trail meandering across the island and ending in the vicinity of Zeke's pond. Incidentally, they did not find Zeke. The access to Zeke's Trail from both the sound side and the gulf side is disguised with marsh grass, but once past the grass the trail is a wide broad meadow with little vegetation and no trees. This is an area that very few visitors ever explore and it is off-limits during the nesting season.

 

Horn, Zeke's Trail, Sound Side

30 14.745 N

88 43.75 W

Walter Anderson Trail

Walter Anderson had a favorite camping area during his Horn years from 1948 to his death in 1965. He chose an area that was generally protected from the weather with high dunes and trees, with easy access to both beaches, and near several interior lagoons. From this location he could observe the marvels and mysteries of the wilderness flora and fauna that he so loved to paint and draw. This site served as a base camp from which he could explore the entire island.  Immediately west of his camp hidden by dunes along the north beach is a low sand ridge running diagonally across the island which he used for access to the gulf beach. This crossing has a fine crop of prickly-pear cactus, so be careful where you step.  Anderson's summer and winter camp sites are about 200 yards east of this trail on the Sound side. The NPS has marked his camp locations with tagged metal fence posts. This area, including the crossing, are off-limits during the nesting season. The Anderson Trail is referred to by Rangers Moore and Harper as the Triple Trunk Tree Trail, because of an unusually shaped tree on the Sound side marking the entrance to the trail.

 

Horn, Anderson Trail, Sound Side

30 13.983 N

88 39.283 W

East Cross Island Trail

East of Thru Gap there is approximately a mile of water front that is available for camping all year. This area is duneless and treeless from beach to beach. Walter Anderson named this area of the island, the Flats. A steel hulled shrimp boat, the Arcturus, drug anchor in the Gulf and beached itself opposite the Flats sometime about the early 1970s. Since then the Flats have been known as Arcturus Flats. At the far east end of the Flats there is one area about three quarters of a mile wide that is usually posted for osprey nesting which includes the East Cross Island Trail (ECIT). This trail has somewhat lost its distinction now because hurricane damage has removed much of the vegetation and killed so many trees that access across the island is now available in several places immediately to the east of the East Cross Island Trail. This area too, is included in the posted area. Even so, this is of no great significance because this posted area is within a half mile of the east tip where access to the Gulf is totally unobstructed. The east tip, like the west tip, lacks dunes and trees, and is available for camping year round.

At low tide, there is a visible ship wreck in the Gulf about 300 feet offshore very near the East Cross Island Trail.

 

Horn, East Cross Island Trail:

30 13.646 N

88 36.545 W

 

Wreck in Gulf opposite ECIT 30 13.33 N 88 36.433 W

LAUNCH POINTS TO HORN

For kayakers, your desired destination on Horn can determine your launch point from the mainland. There are several launch sites available to start a trip to Horn, all with advantages and disadvantages. The cities of Pascagoula, Gautier (Go-Shey), and Ocean Springs are all within a few hours paddle time. The Mississippi coast is a popular place for all types of boating recreation and there are numerous boat ramps and marinas in the area. Two preferred launch points and two secondary launch sites are discussed below.

Pascagoula City Public Boat Ramp

The Pascagoula Public Ramp is the best launch point to reach the eastern reaches of Horn. This ramp is at the west end of Beach Boulevard and is convenient to I-10 and US 90. You will launch into Lake Yazoo, paddle a short distance southwest to the main Pascagoula shipping channel, then south along the east side of Singing River Island, then straight to Round Island. From Round, it's about 4.5 more miles to Horn. This is a nine mile total paddle with the added advantage of having Round Island as a rest stop at the half-way point. The Round Island route also is advantageous in the case of marginal weather. You can use Round as a place to pause, either wait there for improved weather, camp there overnight, rest, or turn around and go back. This is a good route option for lesser experienced open water paddlers or under-confident paddlers.

The Pascagoula public ramp handles a good deal of boat traffic. There's a small beach area just west of the concrete ramps that you can drive right up to and unload next to the water. The power boats don't use this spot so it's almost always available. There is a large parking area that is police patrolled and it is safe to leave vehicles there for an extended period. There are numerous motels and camp sites available in the Pascagoula area should you need to need to spend the night prior or after your Horn trip. Mainland camping suggestions are provided below.

Driving Directions: From the west on I-10, take Exit 57 South and drive 2.75 miles to US 90. Turn left on US 90 and drive east for 10 miles into Pascagoula. Just after you cross the bridge into Pascagoula, turn right onto Pascagoula Street and go 2 miles to Beach Blvd. Turn right and in about a minute, you'll see the ramp area.

From the east on I-10, just after crossing the state line you can take the first exit (#75) or the second exit (#69). Follow US 90 into Pascagoula and turn left on Market Street. Go south to Beach Blvd, then west to the ramp.

 

Pascagoula Boat Ramp:

30 20.73 N

88 33.717 W

Fontainebleau Point aka Belle Fontaine Point

Fontainebleau is a small community on US 90 half-way between Ocean Springs, MS and Gautier, MS. Directly south of Fontainebleau the mainland extends into the MS Sound providing the closest launch point to Horn Island. The launch point is at a small public beach immediately opposite the St. Andrews golf course on Belle Fontaine Drive. This location is also known as Belle Fontaine Point (sometimes spelled Bellefontaine and pronounced 'Bell Fountain' by the locals). From this beach to the nearest point on Horn Island is 6.25 miles, almost due south. There is no parking area and vehicles have to be parked off the traveled surface along Belle Fontaine Drive which is a fairly narrow paved road which continues west along the beach front for another couple of miles. This is a residential area without much vehicle traffic. All of the houses here were destroyed by Katrina and, although recovery has been slow, houses are now being rebuilt. The beach area here is referred to by the locals as Fontainebleau Beach and is the only natural beach of any size in Mississippi. The 28 mile long beach adjacent to Hwy 90 from Biloxi to Pass Christian is a man-made beach.

Driving Directions: From US 90 at the intersection of MS 57, go south .3 miles and turn right on Old Spanish Trail. Go a short distance and turn left on Hammill Farm Road which continues south one mile and dead ends into Fontainebleau Road. Turn left on Fontainebleau and after a short distance it turns south onto Belle Fontaine Drive. Go 1.26 miles and you'll come to a five-way intersection with North Street, Main Street, and Elm Street. Take Main Street and follow it through a residential area. As Main Street approaches the beach, it turns west and the name changes to Belle Fontaine Drive. The launch site is a short distance on the left. The closest Horn destination from this site is The Chimney, 6.25 miles distant at a bearing of 186 degrees.

 

Belle Fontaine Point:

30 20.574 N

88 42.435 W

Shepard State Park in Gautier, MS

This is a very nice 400 acre Sate Park managed by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks with RV camping, a recreation area and a public ramp providing access to the Pascagoula River and the Sound. The park's primitive camping area has been closed since Katrina but tent camping is allowed on the 26 RV sites. The number of tents on any one site is limited depending on tent size. Park sites 1, 2, and 3 provide the best wooded privacy and are isolated from the other campers. There is a small Park fee and it's a good idea to call in advance about camping. The launch ramp is about a half mile from the camp area and connects to a tidal marsh area with a channel that meanders east one mile to the Pascagoula River. This ramp also provides good access to the tidal delta area of the lower Pascagoula River. The closest point on Horn Island from the Shepard State Park ramp is the east third of the island but with a minimum total paddle distance of 11 miles. Unless you prefer a long paddle, this is a nice park to camp at overnight and then launch from one of the two launch points discussed above. http://mississippistateparks.reserveamerica.com/camping/Shepard/r/campgroundDetails.do?contractCode=MS&parkId=156849&topTabIndex=CampingSpot

Shepard State Park Phone: 228-497-2244

Driving Directions: From the intersection of MS 57 and US 90 go east 4.5 miles and turn south on Ladner Drive. Go south for 1 mile and turn left onto Graveline Road. Follow Graveline for 1.4 miles and see the Park entrance on the left.

From the east, follow US 90 for 5 miles from the bridge at Pascagoula and see Ladner Drive on the left when you reach Gautier. Then follow Ladner and Graveline Road as in the previous paragraph. There are two bridges over the Pascagoula River; the one referenced above is the one over the main channel as you exit downtown Pascagoula on US 90.

Gulf Islands Park at Davis Bayou in Ocean Springs

The Gulf Islands National Seashore Park includes parts of Santa Rosa Island and Perdido Key in Florida, Petit Bois, Horn, Ship, and parts of Cat Island in Mississippi. The Mississippi Visitors Center and Park is located in Ocean Springs, at Davis Bayou. The park offers 51 RV camp sites (very nice but rather close together), an area for group tent camping, a recreation area, fishing, hiking and boat ramps. RV sites are available on a first come basis and group camping is by reservation only. Check the Park web site for additional details, park rules and fee schedule. The Davis Bayou Park provides paddle access to the back bay of Biloxi, Deer Island, and to Horn Island but the minimum paddle distance to the western end of Horn is 12 miles. Walter Anderson lived in Ocean Springs and would sail and row a wooden skiff along the shoreline the 7.5 miles from Ocean Springs to Fontainebleau Point and then sail or row due south to Horn. He crossed the 6 miles of the Sound to Horn in about 6 hours on a good day. http://www.nps.gov/guis/planyourvisit/davis-bayou-area.htm

Gulf Islands National Seashore Park Campground, Ocean Springs - (228) 875-3962

Gulf Islands National Seashore Park office, Ocean Springs - (228) 875-9057 Ext 100 (8:30 to 4:30 daily)
 

Driving Directions: Driving from the west on US 90 from Biloxi, 3.9 miles from the end of the long bridge over Biloxi Bay, look for the Park entrance on the right. It is clearly signed. Follow the Park Road to the Davis Bayou campground area. From the east, the Park entrance is on the left 3.6 miles west of the MS 57 and US 90 intersection.
 

Entrance to Davis Bayou and GINS Park on Hwy 90:

30 24.719 N

88 46.767 W

Other Launch Points

Although the launch points discussed above appear to be the most practical for a Horn Island Paddle adventure, if you prefer, there are numerous commercial marinas scattered throughout the Biloxi, Ocean Springs, Gautier, and Pascagoula area. Currently, there are no publicly accessible launch points closer to Horn than the Pascagoula public ramp and the Belle Fontaine Point launch sites. Information on the commercial sites is not included in this Guide.

The restoration of the beach front along Beach Boulevard in Pascagoula was completed in 2010 and is an alternate launch point for east Horn and Petit Bois. Parking is somewhat restricted along this beach front because of the rsidential area but the beach is suitable for launching. This new launch point is discussed in the Petit Bois section below.
 

MAP OF HORN ISLAND

 

HORN ISLAND - PAST

Although Horn can be enjoyed without knowing anything of its history, a little knowledge about its past will make your visit far more interesting. Horn's recorded history is relatively simple and relatively recent. It has been both loved and abused by the public and the government.

The French explored the gulf coast in the late 1600's and early 1700's claiming the lands and islands for France. In 1699, Bienville, a “King's Lieutenant”, lead excursions along the coast to befriend the Indians and explore the coast and islands in the area of present day Biloxi. Horn got its name when a French sailor allegedly lost his powder horn on the island. Why this event was of enough significance to name an island, no one knows for sure, but it then began to appear on the French charts as Horn Island. For his loyal service to France, the French king gave Horn Island to Bienville in 1717 and renamed it Isle a Bienville. But the new name didn't last and it was soon replaced on the charts with Horn, which has stuck to this day.

The presence of arrow heads and Indian artifacts on Horn is evidence of the presence of Native Americans, probably the Biloxi tribe. It is not known if they were permanent residents or just hunting parties.

A family by the name of Waters moved onto Horn in about 1845 and lived there until 1920. Not much is known about the Waters except they built a cabin and raised a few cows and hogs. The home site has long disappeared and the original Mr. Waters was buried on the island. In about 1874 a lighthouse was built on the east end of Horn. In 1906 a hurricane destroyed the lighthouse and killed the lighthouse keeper and his family. In the late 1800's Horn was semi commercialized with pleasure boat trips out of Pascagoula. During this time Horn was also the objective for hunters and fishermen. Alligators were hunted for skins and a leather company out of New Orleans made a major reduction in the gator population at that time. A glass company, also from New Orleans, mined the pure quartz sand on the island for making glass until the practice was prohibited. A few small cabins were constructed on the island during the 1800s..

Horn Island was bought by the US Army in March 1943 for use as a chemical warfare testing site in support of the US Bio-weapons Program headquartered at Camp Detrick, Maryland. One of the initial objectives was to study the use of insects as carriers of biological weapons. Botulin and ricin were tested as bio-weapons. The army built several buildings, a 7.5 mile long narrow gauge railroad, and an incinerator with a brick chimney. Tests ended at Horn in 1945 and the program was transferred to Utah over concerns that the tests on Horn were too close to human populations. When the facility was closed in 1946, the living quarters, laboratory and railroad were removed. Shortly afterwards a hurricane destroyed the incinerator and toppled most of the chimney. The last dozen or so feet of the original chimney remained until about 2004 when it too collapsed into the sand. The remains of the incinerator are still visible at the location on the island called “The Chimney”. The laboratory structure is reported to have been located just west of the Chimney. The railroad ran from the Incinerator/Laboratory area along the dunes on the north shore to a barracks area which was located near Rabbit Springs.

It was in the late 1940's that Walter Anderson started visiting the Barrier Islands. But with Horn being a secret military post, Anderson had to go elsewhere. His preferred location then was Chandelier Island, 15 miles SSW of Horn. At least once, on his way to Chandelier, he was rescued and then arrested by the Army when his boat capsized at Horn. When the Army vacated Horn, public access was restored and Anderson then frequented Horn regularly, but continued to visit Chandelier on occasion.

In 1958, Petit Bois Island and a part of Horn Island were made a wildlife refuge under the control of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. At that time, a portion of Horn remained under private ownership. The F&WS built a cabin on the island near Rabbit Springs. This cabin was the original ranger quarters and was nicknamed “The Horn Island Hilton”.

In 1971, The Gulf Island National Seashore was created by congress at which time all of Horn, East and West Ship, and Petit Bois Islands were designated a national park under the management of the National Park Service. In 1978, Horn and Petit Bois were designated as Wilderness, but it wasn't as easy as this sentence makes it appear. The battle to designate Horn and Petit Bois as Wilderness began years prior to 1978 when the Park Service proposed a commercialization of Horn. The NPS wanted to build a boat dock in Big Lagoon, develop 100 acres for camping in the center of the island, and pave three cross-island access routes. Fortunately, there were a few private citizens who opposed the plan and organized the opposition to fight it. The “Citizens Wilderness Plan” was lead by Dr. Donald Bradburn, a physician, naturist, and photographer. Dr. Bradburn had visited and photographed Horn many times, knew the value of Horn as a natural wilderness, and was passionate in his fight. The NPS conducted a public hearing on December 3, 1974 at which time representatives from both sides presented their case. The U.S. Congress was responsible for the final decision. Congress ultimately approved the Wilderness designation in 1978. Dr. Donald Bradburn is essentially responsible for preserving Horn in its natural state but he gives much credit to Ernie Dickerman, of the Wilderness Society based in Washington DC. There is one small catch to the Wilderness designation. The area of the ranger station and all of the land below the high tide line are not a part of the Wilderness. This loophole allows the Park Service to maintain the pier and to drive 4-wheelers along the beach. It also explains why the radio tower, although non-functioning, still exists.

Red Wolves once freely roamed the entire eastern United States and were the top predator in the southeast. They were considered a nuisance and a threat to livestock and were reduced to near extinction. They were declared endangered in 1973 at which time the remaining 17 wild Red Wolves were captured to begin a captive breeding program. This program was successful and plans were developed to reintroduce the Red Wolf to the wild on the mainland. The Red Wolf was declared extinct in the wild in 1980. There were ongoing Federal programs to increase the Red Wolf population and one of these programs included Horn Island. In 1989 a pair of wolves was placed on Horn, shortly thereafter a second pair was introduced. Because of the rabbit population the wolves thrived on Horn. It is interesting to note that during the experiment on Horn, three of the cross island trails were routinely raked clean and then after about 24 hours the wolf footprints in the sand were inventoried to keep up with the population. In 1998 the Horn wolves were relocated to North Carolina because of the increasing contact with humans on Horn.

 

CAT ISLAND

Cat Island is the western most of the Mississippi barrier islands and is different in several ways from the other barriers. It has a unique "T" shape arising in combination of the facts that Cat was originally a part of the Mississippi River delta and the natural westward drift of replenishing sand from the east. Natural erosion is taking its toll. The National Park Service purchased the west half and the south-most tip of Cat in 2002 and this property is now within the Gulf Islands National Seashore.  None of Cat has been designated as wilderness. The east beach was purchased by BP Oil Company from the Boddie family in 2011. The remaining portions of Cat are privately owned. The NPS apparently has an agreement with the private property owners to eventually buy the remaining part of Cat except for 150 acres. During the 2013 legislative session, Mississippi authorized funding to buy a portion of Cat. It is not clear what portion the State of Mississippi is targeting to buy.

Cat is 8 miles from the Mississippi coast, is roughly 5 miles east to west and the east beach is about 3.5 miles long. A significant portion of the South Point that was purchased by the NPS was washed away by Katrina in 2005. A couple of sand islands that were once a part of the South Point remain above sea level. Habitats include saltwater marsh, ephemeral saltwater marsh, freshwater marsh, palmetto-slash pine forest, and live oak stands. The east beach area, now owned by BP, is similar in geography as the other barrier islands. However the western portion of Cat is generally flat, covered in pines, oaks, palmetto, and other vegetation. This area has several lagoons which make crossing the island a bit  difficult. However it is fairly easy to explore the interior.

It is said that 17th Century French explorers mistook the many raccoons on the island as cats and referred to the island as "Isle Aux Chats", the island of cats. That name stuck and the masked-face striped-tail descendents of the 17th century coons on Cat are probably still snickering. Cat Island contains a great diversity of vegetation and wildlife. The only warm blooded animals on Cat, that I am aware of, are raccoons and nutria. Katrina removed the few rabbits that were living there and the deer disappeared years ago.  Gators thrive in the lagoons and Cat appears to have a much greater diversity of birds than any of the other barrier islands.  

CAT DESTINATIONS

The National Park area on the west end extends eastward from the point by approximately 2.7 miles. The boundary is marked on Old Turpentine Road.  I have not been able to find a legal description of the Park property to establish accurate GPS coordinates and identify the boundary, but working from NPS maps, the boundary on the north and south shores and on the South Point are approximately at the coordinates shown below and as shown on the attached Map of Cat Island. The approximate boundary of the BP purchase is also shown on the map but should be considered inaccurate. 

 

GINS E boundary north shore, Cat

30 13.810 N

89 06.275 W

GINS E boundary south shore, Cat                   

30 13.305 N

89 06.275 W

GINS N boundary South Point, Cat                              

30 12 828 N

89 05.1 W   

GINS, Old Turpentine Rd Boundary

30 13.537 N

89 6.275 W

I have talked with a BP representative and was told that camping on the east beach is allowed. The north shore of Cat, except for the North Bayou area, has a pretty white beach suitable for camping. Although the Boddie family has not posted signs everywhere, you should respect their private ownership. In Mississippi, private property is considered "posted" even without signs and you will be trespassing if you go anywhere on Cat that is not within the Gulf Islands National Seashore or the BP beach.  

West Point

The very far west tip is an excellent open camping area with spectacular sunset views. From here, you can hike along the south shore and north shore of the entire length of the Park, in some places with moderate difficulty. The south shore generally has a nice sand beach that sits back from the immediate shoreline of muck and hard clay mud. Cat has marshy areas, ponds, lagoons, and in places, very dense vegetation. Cat is about two-thirds of a mile wide at the GINS Park boundary and tapers smaller toward the west point.  It is easy to hike along the north shoreline. The mosquitoes of Cat Island seem to be particularly aggressive.

 

Cat, West Point

30 13.78 N  

89 8.917 W  

North Shore

The north shore along the park has a narrow white sand beach and many tree stumps and roots where the soil has been eroded. Camping is adequate in many places along the north shore beach, but in warm weather there is significant exposure to the biting bugs lurking in the adjacent undergrowth and woods. The length of the north shore owned by the NPS, approximately 2.7 miles, is a nice white sand beach suitable for camping almost anywhere. A good place to camp is near the remains of an old pier which allows access to a north/south trail which leads across the island to the Old Turpentine Road which runs east and west and is the location of several historical sites. Some of the historical sites are shown on the map and are described in the historical paragraph below. Camping on the north shore also allows access to the remains of the Juan de Cuevas home site. Juan and Marie Cuevas lived and raised a large family on the island from 1794 to 1849. The structure burned in 1931.  The park area can be easily explored on foot from this location via the north/south trail aka Spencer Ave, which connects with the Old Turpentine Road.. Access to the east beach from this location is not possible because of the private property.

 

Cat, old pier

30 13.84 N

89 07.0 W

Cat, trail head, Spencer Ave.               

30 13.804 N

89 06.905 W

Cat, Cuevas home site                              

30 13.86 N 

89 07.19 W

 

Goose Point (aka South Point)  

The portions of the South Point in the GINS that remain after Katrina are treeless sand spits with some marsh grass beds along the east side. This area offers open sand beach camping. The South Point is a popular destination for day campers and surf fishermen. It's primary advantages are the absence of the biting bugs, usually a nice breeze, and access to excellent surf fishing. The primary disadvantage is the weekend crowds during the summer months.

 

Cat, north point

30  14.95 N

89  04.034 W

Cat, south point                              

30 12.267 N

89 5.5 W    

LAUNCH POINTS TO CAT

Launching to Cat is easy.  popular launch point to paddle to the north shore or to the east beach is from the marina in Long Beach. From the marina, it is 8 miles to North Point and 8 miles to Cat's West tip. However, any location along Hwy 90 between Pass Christian and Gulfport provides good paddle access to Cat. Highway 90 has numerous roadside pullovers along the beach which are safe to leave vehicles parked overnight. The closest launch area to the west tip of Cat is along Hwy 90 in Long Beach near where White Harbor Road intersects with Hwy 90. This about 2.5 miles west of the Long Beach Marina. The distance to the West tip of Cat from anywhere along Hwy 90 within a half mile or so of this location is just over 7 miles. The only disadvantage to launching from anywhere along Hwy 90 is the beach is really wide and it's an effort to get gear and kayaks to the water.

 

White Harbor Rd. at Hwy 90:

30 19.946 N

89 11.0257 W

 

MAP OF CAT ISLAND

CAT ISLAND - PAST

Cat Island, The History of a Mississippi Gulf Coast Barrier Island, by John Cuevas, is an excellent historical reference for cat Island.

Like all of the Mississippi barrier islands, it can be assumed that Native Americans were present on the island probably for hunting and food gathering. In the case of Cat, no artifacts or other visible evidence have been found because the island has been so disturbed by violent storms and hurricanes in the past.

The Spanish were the first to explore Cat back in the 16th century. Tradition has it that pirates frequented the island before the French arrival in 1699. Pierre LeMoyne D’Iberville and his men anchored four vessels near Ship Island and used this as a base to explore the Mississippi and Alabama coast and barrier islands. At that time Petit Bois Island was a part of Dauphin Island. Between 1754 and 1757 Swiss mercenaries were positioned on Cat by the French to watch for British naval vessels. Late in the 18th century control of the area, including the barrier islands, was held intermittently by either the Spanish, the British or the French. In 1781, Juan de Cuevas of Biloxi received the island by way of a Spanish land grant. When the US government took control of the territory from Spain, they began issuing patents confirming the title to lands given to US citizens by the old European grants. Cat Island was unique and did not fall under the government guidelines because it was not for a parcel of land like the other grants, but rather it was for an island, and no survey was ever done. A congressional act of May 28, 1830 stated that if a grant did not include survey points delineating the grant, the government would only issue a patent for 1280 acres max. Since Juan’s grant did not include such a survey or even a written explanation, the government followed the letter of the law and issued a patent confirming only 1280 acres or (the western end) approximately one half of Cat Island to Juan de Cuevas. This is what has been reported over the years. What has not been reported is how the government realized its mistake and later corrected the error by court order.

After the island was sold by Cuevas in 1837, and later resold several times to several other individuals, the question of whether the deeds were valid was contested in court. Since the government had only issued a patent to Cuevas for half of the island that would make all subsequent deeds invalid. Upon investigation, the court ruled that the original Spanish grant was for the entire island, and the government corrected the mistake by issuing a second patent in 1911 for the remaining 1409 acres of the island. With the issuance of the two patents, the US government finally acknowledged that the Spanish grant of 1781 intended to make Juan de Cuevas the sole owner of all of Cat Island.

In 1810 the area was joined to the Union as part of the Republic of West Florida and became a part of the State of Mississippi when the state was admitted to the Union in December 1817. The British occupied Ship and Cat Islands in 1814 en route to New Orleans in the War of 1812, and then stopped there again after losing the Battle of New Orleans in early 1815. Cat Island gained a reputation for harboring pirates, bootleggers, and smugglers from the early 1800s through the 1920s. The large cove just west of Goose Point is named Smugglers Cove. During the Civil war a sawmill and kilns for manufacturing charcoal were constructed. A quarantine station to control yellow fever was built and operated from 1896-1898. Until the 1920s, the island produced lumber and turpentine at various times and supported hunting and fishing.

Cat Island Lighthouse: Because of the shipping traffic in the Mississippi Sound between Mobile and New Orleans, Congress authorized the construction of a lighthouse on Cat Island on the far western point on land purchased from Juan Cuevas. The lighthouse was formally accepted in June of 1831. But the tower was not immediately lit because of a shortage of whale oil. Once lit, the light was visible from over 12 miles distance.

In 1846, a lighthouse inspector found that the tower bricks had been laid directly on the sand base with no foundation and the base of the tower had begun to wash. A hurricane in 1846 cut a channel between the lighthouse and the mainland and by 1851, the structure stood only a few feet from the water. In 1855, another hurricane demolished the Keeper’s house and severely damaged the lighthouse.

 In 1856, Congress appropriated funds to relocate the tower but the money was used instead to buy a new lens and a new lantern. In September, 1860, another storm damaged the structure and the new keeper’s house. 

During the Civil War the Confederate States Light House Bureau maintained the tower and paid the Keeper until July 1861. The brick tower survived the Civil War but with several large holes in the structure and serious foundation problems. In 1868, the Light-House Board decided to replace the old brick tower using a screwpile foundation. In July 1871, the new prefabricated lighthouse arrived and was mounted upon 5 screwpiles. It was twice the height of the old brick lighthouse. The light was formally lit in December , 1871.

  
The lighthouse was declared to no longer be needed and was discontinued in September, 1937. The then  owner of the island, Nathan Boddie, bought the lighthouse from the government as war surplus in 1950. It burned down in October 1961.

Dog Training on Cat Island: During 1942-43 the U. S. Army’s Quartermaster Corps selected and trained approximately 400 dogs from across the United States to become sentry, mine, scout, or messenger dogs for use in tropical and subtropical combat areas in the Pacific. The Cat Island War Dog Reception and Training Center included officers’ quarters, barracks, a mess hall, dog kennels, a veterinarian hospital, and a barbershop. During that time a secret mission to train dogs to locate and attack enemy soldiers was also conducted on the island. Twenty-five Niesei soldiers, second generation Japanese Americans from Hawaii, were stationed on Ship Island and transported by boat to Cat Island where they worked for several months in secret with select dogs. It was believed that the dogs could be trained to identify persons of Japanese descent by odor. But the dogs could not and this activity was discontinued.

PETIT BOIS ISLAND

Petit Bois is the second largest Mississippi barrier island in terms of land size and is the east-most barrier island, just one mile west of the state line. Petit Bois is a slender crescent shaped island 6 miles long, measured along its center, and is one mile wide at its widest point near the east end. Petit Bois, like the other barriers, has had a tumultuous geologic history, as described below.  Also like the other barriers, Petit Bois got its name from the early French explorers who named it "Little Woods" for the small stand of slash pine trees on the east end at its widest width. Unfortunately, Katrina decimated the trees that previously had managed to survive the routine lashing of prior hurricanes. Approximately 99% of the trees have died as a result of Katrina.

Petit Bois was made a part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore in 1971 and was designated as wilderness in 1978. Petit Bois probably has had the least human encroachment than any of the other barrier islands. There have been no long term human residents and no special government projects or construction as have occurred elsewhere.

Petit Bois consists of sandy beaches backed up by dunes with an interior of pond and lagoon complexes, and grass covered flats. In general, Petit Bois has large expanses that are just above sea level. A hurricane surge of just a few feet would easily cover much of the island with water. Sand dunes on the Sound side are of varying heights, most in the range of 5 to about 7 ft. The Gulf beach is very wide and for the most part is only about 3' above sea level. There are dunes along the back side of the Gulf beach, many in the range of 15 to 20'. Most all of the dunes have an excellent stand of sea oats. The interior of the island between the protective dunes is a series of dense grass flats and brackish ponds. The western half of the island is predominately grass and sea oats. Current Satellite photos of Petit Bois show a large lagoon on the east end with a tidal outlet into the Sound. Apparently these photos are out of date because there is no lagoon on the east end. Where the lagoon is shown on the satellite photos is now a sand flat just above sea level. The only currently functioning tidal outlet is associated with the lagoon that is immediately east of the area on the map (shown below) that is indicated as the best place to cross over to the Gulf side. The Sound side has a shallow sandy bottom with numerous seagrass beds. The gulf beach is typical of the barrier islands with sparkling white quartz sand up to 500 feet wide. The island provides excellent feeding, resting and wintering habitat for numerous types of  migrant and wintering waterfowl species, such as the brown pelican and cormorants. Least bitterns, mottled ducks, clapper rails, common moorhens, the least tern, the sandwich tern, the black skimmer, the Louisiana heron and the osprey are common breeders.

PETIT BOIS DESTINATIONS

Although almost all of the slash pines have died, there is still enough structure left standing for the ospreys to nest. Petit Bois' "Little Woods" area was previously placed off limits for the nesting season but because of decreasing trees and declining birds, apparently it no longer qualifies as a major nesting site and it has not been placed off-limits in recent years. In the spring of 2011, there were two ospreys and a single nest.  

Sand Island (Spoil Island) and Petit Bois' west tip are the closest paddle destinations from the nearest launch points. Both of these sites are broad treeless grass and shrub covered area. The Horn Island Pass is immediately adjacent to the west tip, the water is deep, and fishing is generally good. The best camping area on the Sound side is near the center of the island just east of the area indicated on the map as a good place to cross over to the gulf side. The vegetation and ponds in the interior make it difficult to easily walk across the island except for the area indicated, which is generally free of shrubs and grass.

 

Sand Island w/o Petit Bois

30 13.367 N

88  31.167 W

Petit Bois, west point               

30 12.901 N  

88  8.917 W 

 

LAUNCH POINTS TO PETIT BOIS

Although the closest point on the mainland to Petit Bois is a little over 7 miles as the crow flies, there are no accessible places to launch in this area. The mainland at that location is occupied by the Chevron Oil Refinery and a large tidal marsh surrounding Bangs Lake. The closest accessible launch point is the Pascagoula public beach. The beach is a mile and a half long and 200 feet wide, from the west end of Beach Boulevard to the City Pier. The beach at City Pier is the closest launch point to Petit Bois Island but there is very limited parking in this predominately residential area The City Pier is about a mile closer to Petit Bois than the Pascagoula public boat ramp and is worth the effort to unload gear, then find a place to park and walk back to the beach. It's about 9 miles from the City Pier to the west tip of Petit Bois and it is about 10 miles from the public boat ramp. Round Island is too far west to use as a rest stop for the paddle to Petit Bois unless you want to add about 3 miles to the total distance. The best alternate launch point to Petit Bois, and my personal preference, is the Pascagoula public boat ramp which has easy access to the water and ample parking.

 

Pascagoula Public Pier

30 20.592 N

88 32.017 W

 

Pascagoula Boat Ramp:

30 20.73 N

88 33.717 W

 

MAP OF PETIT BOIS

PETIT BOIS - PAST

Petit Bois does not have as extensive a history involving humans and the government as do the other barrier islands. But it does have a very interesting geologic past. It is thought that Dauphin Island in Alabama and the Mississippi barrier islands came into being roughly 3 to 6 thousand years ago, created by wind and wave action moving and shifting the quartz sand that was being deposited into the gulf by rivers and streams. It is estimated that the mean sea level was about 3 to 5 feet lower than it is now. Early Spanish and French maps show Petit Bois  was originally a part of Dauphin Island. With the slow westward drift of these islands and the constant battering of hurricanes, it is believed that Petit Bois was separated from Dauphin by a hurricane in 1717. French cartographer and geographer, Jean Baptiste Bourguignon d'Anville, official map maker to King Louis XV, drew a map of the Louisiana Territory in 1732 showing Petit Bois as a separate island. As recent as 1848, Petit Bois extended about 7 miles east of the Alabama-Mississippi state line and was located in both states. There was significant change from 1848 to 1965 with the eastern end of the island rapidly eroding, due to the effects of hurricanes and natural shoreline movement, until it had lost half of its land area and was 1/2 mile west of the Mississippi state line. At the same time, the west end of the island moved westward by 4 miles. During this westward drift, the lateral wave action caused the west end to rotate slightly clockwise.

In 1958, Petit Bois Island and a part of Horn Island were made a wildlife refuge under the control of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 1971, The Gulf Island National Seashore was created by congress at which time all of Horn, East and West Ship, and Petit Bois Islands were designated a national park under the management of the National Park Service. In 1978, Horn and Petit Bois were designated as Wilderness.

In the 1900's developers had plans to convert Petit Bois into a resort area, but fortunately, the government was successful in purchasing the entire island and preserving its natural state.  In 1971, The Gulf Island National Seashore was created by congress at which time all of Horn, East and West Ship, and Petit Bois Islands were designated a national park under the management of the National Park Service. In 1978, Horn and Petit Bois were designated as Wilderness.  

SHIP ISLAND

Hurricanes have repeatedly split Ship Island into West Ship and East Ship for centuries. In every case, time and the relentless action of winds and waves and an adequate supply of sand, have rebuilt the damage. Hurricane Betsy in 1965 cut the island in two and recovery was progressing when Hurricane Camille sliced it in two again. Hurricane Katrina widened the Camille Cut in 2005 to over 3 miles. Erosion of the north shore has also been substantial and has undermined historic Fort Massachusetts. In the Fall of 2011, a $300 million, 30-month project to restore the storm-severed Ship Islands back into one island began as thousands of cubic yards of sand per day was being pumped onto the the north shore. This $6 million north shore project is part of a three-phase project that will see 13 million cubic yards of sand fill the three-mile Camille Cut. Rejoining the islands is the second phase of the project. The third phase is to place about 5.4 million cubic yards of sand on the southern shoreline of East Ship Island. Phase one is complete and phase two is now underway. The restoration of Ship is shown in this ffigure:

West Ship Island has over 60,000 visitors each year.  Conde Nast magazine, in 2001, recognized Ship's beaches as among the best in the nation. The National Park Service maintains picnic pavilions, showers, restrooms, and a concession stand, as well as beach chairs and umbrellas through contract with the ferry boat service. The pier and facilities are on the north side of the island near Fort Massachusetts. It's about a third of a mile walk to the sparkling sands and crystal waters of the gulf. No overnight stays are allowed on West Ship. Camping is allowed on East Ship.

Ship Island has a rich and interesting heritage stretching back for centuries. Possibly the greatest historical event was when Ship was made a part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore in 1971, for it now will be preserved in its natural state for us and future generations to enjoy. 

SHIP DESTINATIONS

West Ship is primarily a tourist destination. Private boats and visitors are allowed only during daylight hours. West Ship is the only barrier island that has a ferry service to transport visitors. They operate different schedules in the spring, summer, and fall and they do not operate during winter months. Check their webpage http://www.msshipisland.com/ for current schedules. Needless to say, West Ship does not offer solitude during the tourist season. Tours of historic Fort Massachusetts are also offered during the tourist season. There is one very small area one third of a mile east of Fort Massachusetts around a USCG tower that is posted for bird nesting during the spring. West Ship is about 3 miles long and 0.4 miles wide with beautiful beaches and inviting surf. 

 

Ship Island Pier

30  12.7666 N

88  58.288 W

East Ship is 1.3 miles long by 0.25 miles wide. There is one fairly large tidal lagoon near the center of the island which is included in the area that is placed off limits for bird nesting in the spring. The best camping location during the nesting season is the west tip. Otherwise, the best camping destination is near the lagoon in the center of the island. 

 

East Ship, west tip

30 14.086 N

88  53.445 W

East Ship, middle lagoon               

30 12.901 N  

88  53.253 W 

LAUNCH POINTS TO SHIP

US Highway 90 between Gulfport and Biloxi offers numerous beachside parking areas for launching kayaks. Practically any place along Hwy 90  is suitable. The closest launch to the Ship Island pier is from the beach near the intersection of Cowan Rd and Hwy 90. The distance to the pier from this point is slightly over 12 miles. The closest launch to East Ship, a 10.6 mile paddle, is from the Biloxi Beach at the lighthouse on Hwy 90.

 

Hwy 90 @ Cowan Road in Biloxi

30 22.96 N

89  01.602 W

Biloxi Lighthouse             

30 23.6583 N  

88 54.076 W

MAP OF SHIP ISLAND

SHIP ISLAND - PAST

The French found Ship Island to be an excellent anchorage and used the island as a base for visiting the gulf coast area and Louisiana in the early 1700s.  Ship offered the only deep water port between Mobile and the Mississippi river. It was the French who named the island "Isle des Vasseaux", Ship Island. In 1814, 10,000 British troops and 60 ships anchored off Ship Island an their way to attack New Orleans, then stopped again in 1815 after losing "The Battle of New Orleans".  In an effort to protect the US territories from sea attacks, the US congress authorized a series of forts to be built. A masonry fort on Ship was begun in 1859, but it was not complete when taken over by Confederate forces in 1861. Union troops soon recaptured the island, and they used the area as a staging ground for their own attack on New Orleans in 1862. When Mississippi seceded in January 1861, the brick walls of the fort had been built six to eight feet above the sand. Units of the Mississippi militia captured the island and reinforced it with sandbags and timbers. Canons were placed on the sand outside the fort. In July of 1861, Union forces aboard the USS Massachusetts approached the island and a brief exchange of cannon fire ensued. There were no injuries and little damage. The Massachusetts retreated and the Confederates declared the skirmish a victory, but by September of 1861, they had left the island.  This was the only combat ever to occur at Ship Island. A large force of Union soldiers soon occupied Ship and work continued on the fort. It was they who named it "Fort Massachusetts". The fort has actually never been officially named. It was during the civil war that it was referred to as Fort Massachusetts, in honor of the Union ship and the name was carried forward and is the "unofficial" name of the island.

There are 153 Confederate prisoners of war and 260 Union soldiers who died because of poor sanitation, crowded conditions and yellow fever, and were buried on Ship Island . In 1870, the military post on Ship was closed because the invention of rifle-barreled cannons allowed enemy ships to fire with deadly accuracy from two miles out. The fort was obsolete. Over the years, Fort Massachusetts has remained virtually the same as when originally constructed. It was built near the middle of the island but erosion of the north beach now has the structure very near to the edge of the Sound. During March, 1974, approximately 500,000 cubic yards of material from maintenance dredging of Ship Island Pass was used to construct an artificial beach to protect Fort Massachusetts.

Ship Island lighthouse: A forty-five foot tall brick lighthouse tower was constructed in 1853 and was lit on Christmas Day the same year. When the confederates abandoned the Island in 1861, they took the lighthouse lens and set the tower structure on fire. Restoration work soon began and the light was reactivated on November 14, 1862 and served throughout the remainder of the Civil War. The brick structure was judged to be unsafe in 1886 and a square, wooden open-frame structure was built. The original brick tower collapsed in 1901 and the rubble was used to shore up the foundation of the new lighthouse. Keepers were employed to man the lighthouse until 1947, when the station was automated. In 1959, the Coast Guard granted Mr. Philip M. Duvic a special-use permit for the lighthouse. Mr. Duvic constructed a kitchen and bathroom in the bottom floor, a sleeping area for women in the second floor, and a men's sleep area on the third, and a honeymoon suite on the top. 

The Coast Guard put the lighthouse up for sale in 1965 with the stipulation that the owner must remove the lighthouse within 90 days. Mr. Duvic was the sole bidder, and new owner, for $250. However, he was never forced to remove the structure and he continued to use it as a resort. On August 17, 1969, Hurricane Camille struck the Mississippi Gulf Coast with winds over 200 miles per hour. Ship Island was cut in two, creating West and East Ship Island. The hurricane severely damaged the lighthouse, and Mr. Duvic, whose home on the mainland was destroyed by the hurricane, decided not to repair the lighthouse.

A modern steel skeleton tower was built next to the wooden tower in 1971 but the following year, campers lit a campfire near the lighthouse. Winds spread the fire to the lighthouse, which was a total loss. A group of citizens, known as Friends of Gulf Islands National Seashore, was formed in 1999 to rebuild the lighthouse. The U.S. Forest Service provided the massive 64-foot long and 12-inch wide corner beams, along with other lumber needed for the project. In 2000, the U.S. Navy Seabees built the framework for the replica lighthouse on a pier in Gulfport, then barged it to the island and completed the tower on the foundation of the 1886 lighthouse. The lighthouse replica stood until 2005, when Hurricane Katrina destroyed the tower and most of the Mississippi gulf coast. You just can't lick Mother Nature.

The Ferry service to West Ship was started in 1926 by a Croatian emigrant. Peter Skrmetta. His son, Captain Pete still pilots to boats at age 73. He has several sons who plan to continue the family tradition. Members of the family manage the island's concessions and beach services. The excursion fleet has two aluminum 340 passenger vessels and a wooden vessel. The wooden boat, a family heirloom, was constructed by the original Captain Pete in 1937. A photograph of a bikini-clad Jane Mansfield posing with Captain Pete is now displayed on the ferry dock, along with one of a young Elvis Presley, who rode the ferry in 1956.

ISLE OF CAPRICE (THE ISLAND THAT WAS)

Just about centered between Horn Island and East Ship Island there once was another island. It is said that the Native Americans living on the coast told tales about an island that would appear for many years then disappear for many years. Dog Island was shown of nautical charts at least in the mid 1800s and was listed as a military reservation. Further, it is known to have disappeared by 1859 just prior to the Civil War. It reappeared in about 1890 and then disappeared again by 1930. It was originally charted as Dog Keys, but locals refer to it as Dog Island. Allegedly, it got its name when a boater found a lone dog on the island apparently having been blown there by a hurricane. Current nautical charts show a large area of very shallow water where the island once was. The boat pass on the west end of Horn Island is named Dog Keys Pass.

From 1920 to 1933, prohibition was in force throughout the United States. No whiskey was legally available anywhere on the mainland US. A group of three entrepreneurs on the Mississippi coast decided that Dog Keys, where the rules of prohibition did not apply, would make a great place for attracting money. They wanted to build a "Monte Carlo of the South". They bought the island from the government and renamed it Caprice. At that time Caprice was about 3.5 miles long and 400 yards wide. They built a pier, a water well, cabanas, and a gambling and dance hall with a grand opening on May 30, 1926. It is rumored that guests were told to bring their bathing suit and their wallets!  Four excursion boats a day began the 90-minute run from the mainland to Caprice for a ticket costing 75 cents. People came by the droves.

 A New Orleans newspaper reported that there were thick carpets on the floor, lush divans along the wall and deep cushioned, mahogany colored and cane-bottom stools for the gamblers. A roulette table, two craps tables, a bird cage and a Faro table comprised the gambling paraphernalia. It was an atmosphere of quiet luxury. Of course a money changer was standing nearby with a big roll of bills. Swimming races from the mainland to Caprice were sponsored. The first winner, in 1927, a young man from Memphis, swam the 12 miles in 5 hours and 56 minutes.

But alas, the island was only about 3 feet above sea level and the next hurricane split the island in  two and destroyed everything. By 1930, Dog Keys had once again disappeared beneath the waves. The only reminder was the artesian well pipe sticking above the water still gushing what the fishermen called "sweet water".  It too has long since disappeared.

 WEATHER AND WATER ISSUES

Marine and Weather Forecasts

The single most critical issue in planning a paddle to the Barrier Islands is water conditions. Weather drives the state of the water in the Mississippi Sound which can change from smooth to rough in far less time than it takes to paddle out to an island. The National Weather Service provides marine forecasts for the Gulf by zones covering out to 20 nautical miles. For shipping interests, the NWS also produces marine forecasts out to 60 nautical miles. These forecasts are general and cover geographic zones of the Gulf for the next week. For example, all of the Mississippi Barrier Island area is included in the NWS forecast for Pascagoula to the SW pass of the Mississippi River in Louisiana. There is also a coastal marine forecast for the area from Pensacola, FL to Pascagoula, MS.

Pascagoula to SW Pass 20 NM: http://www.wunderground.com/MAR/GM/555.html

Pensacola to Pascagoula 20 NM: http://www.wunderground.com/MAR/GM/650.html

Pascagoula to SW Pass 60 NM: http://www.wunderground.com/MAR/GM/575.html?MR=1

These web sites are useful for general weather information and forecasts:

http://www.srh.noaa.gov

http://weather.com

http://www.wunderground.com

The above websites are keyed to ZIP codes. The following ZIP codes will be useful:

 

Dauphin Island, AL 36528
Pascagoula, MS  39567
Ocean Springs, MS 39564
Biloxi, MS 39530
Gulfport, MS 39501
Long Beach, MS 39560
Pass Christian, MS 39571

The closest weather sea buoy is Buoy 42007 located in the Gulf of Mexico 22 NM SSE of Biloxi. Data for this location, including wind, wave, air and water temperature data, are available at the NOAA web site. http://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/station_page.php?station=42007

There is a NOAA weather monitoring station on the east end of Petit Bois and another one in the Sound near West Ship Island. Wind speed and direction, air temperatures and barometric pressure are available from these stations.

Petit Bois monitor:    http://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/station_page.php?station=ptbm6

West Ship monitor:    http://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/station_page.php?station=gpom6

Although WeatherUnderground allows you to input a zip code for a local forecast, the forecast is the same as the NWS NOAA forecast covering a large area and is actually not a specific local forecast. All URLs occurring within this Guide are included in a single listing at the end of this document along with other references for easy printing.

The marine forecasts give a “protected waters” forecast and refer to water conditions as smooth, light-chop, moderate-chop, chop, or rough, very rough, and extremely rough. It is a bit of a mystery how to apply these forecasts to Horn because 6 miles out from the mainland is much less protected than near shore and it could be expected that water conditions there will be different. As a general rule, although the Sound falls within the protected category, you should consider the open Sound as the worst case of the forecast. In the Sound, “choppy” means consistent swells of at least 1 to 2 feet with embedded small disorganized wavelets and infrequent small whitecaps. These are safe conditions with a spray-skirted or sit-on-top kayak but not a good idea for a canoe for two reasons. First, even without whitecaps, there is almost always an errant wave larger than average and an open canoe is vulnerable to these waves. Second, wind accompanies non-smooth seas and wind can be a difficult obstacle with a canoe in open water. A swamped canoe loaded with gear in choppy water a mile from shore most likely can't be recovered. There are those who have paddled to Horn in canoes but it is best to do so with smooth to light chop waters. If you live on the coast, you'll be familiar with the local conditions and can anticipate the safety of paddling in a canoe and can do so on short notice. If you're traveling some distance to the coast, a kayak is the preferred boat. Otherwise you could be disappointed. Whatever the water conditions, don't take any risks and always be prepared to wait for better conditions. The following is my personal interpretation of what protected waters forecast terminology means in terms of water conditions and winds. There probably is an official definition of what these terms mean but I haven't been able to find it yet. In the meantime, my interpretations which are loosely coupled to the Beaufort wind force scale are reasonably accurate.

Smooth: Wind speed up to about 1 mph. Wave height is negligible. Calm waters, or ripples and very small wavelets

Light Chop: Wind speed up to about 3 mph. Wave height up to 6 inches. Ripples with the appearance of scales are formed.

Choppy: Wind Speed up to about 7 mph. Wave height about 1 ft. Small imbedded wavelets, crests have smooth glassy look but dot not break or foam.

Rough: Wind speed up to about 12 mph. Wave height about 2 ft. Larger imbedded wavelets, crests mostly glass like with some whitecaps.

Very Rough: Wind speed up to about 18 mph. Wave height 3 to 5 ft. Imbedded waves with frequent whitecaps and infrequent breakers.

Extremely Rough: Winds greater than about 20 mph. Wave height 5 ft and more. Waves become longer between crests, frequent breakers with foam and spray. Small craft advisory usually issued.

There are no weather data stations on any of the Barrier Islands but temperatures there will be consistent with the weather data records of Pascagoula, Ocean Springs and Long Beach. The average high temperature on the Barrier Islands is about 90F occurring in July and the average low is about 40F in January. Much higher and lower temperatures do occur (probably on your trip). Rainfall is somewhat consistent over the entire year with the most, about 8”, in July and the least, about 5”, in October.

Tides and Wind

It will be a rare occurrence if the winds are at your back while paddling both to and from the islands. The average kayak or canoe paddle time to cover a windless 8 miles in smooth water is about 3 hours. A strong headwind can stretch an expected 3 hour paddle time to over 5 hours with a kayak. A steady headwind of 15 to 20 mph can impede your forward speed by up to 3 mph. You should monitor the marine forecasts days in advance of your trip and it's a good idea to take a weather or VHF marine radio with you on the trip to monitor the forecast return conditions.

Tides and tidal currents are usually of minimum effect on paddling in the Sound. Normal tides at the Barriers have a diurnal range of about 1.5 ft and there are periods when the actual range between high and low tides is only a few inches. Tidal currents in Horn Island Pass, between Horn and Petit Bois, flood north and ebb south, averaging about 1.5 mph at full flow. The protected areas of the Sound also have tidal flow. Tides and currents are affected by the wind and a strong east wind with a rising tide creates stronger currents within the Sound. Whenever the weather and sea conditions are such to allow safe paddling, you can generally discount any significant effects of tides and currents. It's next to impossible to paddle 6 miles in a perfectly straight line anyway. Use the ZIP codes provided above with this URL to obtain tide data: http://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/

Water and weather conditions for paddling are more predictable from about April to October when thunderstorms are prevalent and usually pass through and out of the area within hours. The prevailing winds along the coast are southeasterly to southwesterly but exceptions occur during the colder months when cold fronts pass through causing strong on-shore winds with high waves. After the cold front passes there is usually a period of strong northwest to northeast winds. In warm weather, isolated thunder storms are easy to see from the mainland and such storms usually involve lightning. If there are isolated lightning storms in the area, monitor their progress, determine which direction they're moving, and wait for safe clearance. If possible, monitoring local radar is quite helpful. In the colder months, weather fronts with winds and rain may linger for days on end making for some very choppy to rough seas. A good radar loop mosaic of the mid-south region is: http://radar.weather.gov/ridge/Conus/southmissvly_loop.php

A good radar loop of the local coast area is: http://www.findlocalweather.com/radar_loop/ms/pascagoula.html

In reasonably calm seas an experienced kayaker could paddle alone to any of the islands with little risk. However, for safety, it's a good idea for 3 or more to paddle as a group with at least one paddler with a GPS designated as the lead. With the destination coordinates as a waypoint in the GPS, just follow the leader. You can also navigate successfully with a simple compass by doing some homework before the trip to determine your bearing from launch to destination, and return bearing. The “Ruler” tool in Google Earth automatically computes the heading (bearing) from one location to another. Or you can use the coordinates provided in this Guide to compute heading with the calculator on this web page: http://www.anycalculator.com/longitude.htm

Whatever the navigation device, everyone should stay reasonably close together for mutual assistance in case of an event, such as a lost or broken paddle, power boat intrusion, swamped kayak, or limited visibility caused by fog or rain. Remember that all routes to any of the islands cross the intercoastal waterway within the Sound. A common error with a group paddle is to become separated. The objective is to paddle the least distance and, although you can see the island, it's a common mistake without a GPS or compass to visually target the wrong landing site and increase your paddle distance significantly. The satellite images of Horn available on the internet are extremely useful but always seem to understate the reality of its actual size.

Hypothermia

The issue of water safety is not complete without a discussion of hypothermia. Hypothermia is an abnormally low body temperature which can occur very quickly if one falls into cold water. Wet, wind, and exhaustion exacerbates hypothermia. Loss of body heat takes place many times faster in cold water than in cold air. Normal body temperature ranges between 97.2°F and 99.5°F and a body temperature just a few degrees lower than this will cause bodily functions to slow down. If the body temperature drops too low and stays low for more than a few hours, organs can be damaged and death may occur. You can expect temperatures in the Sound to vary between about 55F and 85F depending on the month. Water temperatures are usually in the range of 55F to 60F from December to February, above 70F from April to October, and above 80F between June and September. A water temperature of 60F to 70F can cause loss of consciousness or total exhaustion in 2 to 7 hours and death within 40 hours if not treated. The treatment for hypothermia is to remove the person from the cold water and get him/her dry and warm. This can be rather difficult operating from kayaks in the middle of the Sound. In the months with water temperatures below 70F, it is recommended that the Round Island route be used to paddle to Horn. In the event of a capsize with recovery, a wet cold paddler will have the minimum distance to paddle to safety and a warm fire.

Scroll down on this web page to get a map of water temperatures: http://www.wunderground.com/MAR/GM/655.html

The Dauphin Island data on this web page is the closest water temperature data available to Horn. However, the water temperatures throughout the Sound are generally within a degree or two of the Dauphin temperature. http://www.nodc.noaa.gov/dsdt/cwtg/egof.html

Marine Charts

Although not a critical factor, knowledge of water depth is helpful, particularly if you plan to fish or snorkel. The Mississippi Sound contains much mud from river sediment and the water can be rather murky at times. The Sound is not very deep except for the east/west intercoastal channel which is about 15' deep. Although the Sound has a mud bottom, the beach on the north side of Horn is sand and the water remains shallow for a good distance into the Sound. The depth on the Gulf side drops off fairly quickly to depths of over 20 feet. Power boat fishermen generally fish on the Gulf side and in and around Dog Key's Pass off the west tip of Horn. The water clarity next to the Sound side of Horn is usually silty in the cod months and generally clear in the summer months. The Gulf side is clearer than the north side but it, too, will silt up with larger waves. Excellent NOAA marine charts are available to view on-line at:  

Scroll down on this web page to charts 11373, 11374, and 11375.

http://www.charts.noaa.gov/OnLineViewer/GulfCoastViewerTable.shtml

CAMPING GEAR

What gear to take and what to leave behind. Gear can become a real hassle and the right choices are necessary for the circumstances. For example, a kayak has limited space compared to a charter boat. In selecting the gear you will also need to consider whether you'll be camping at the destination or if you plan to hike into or across the island to the Gulf side to camp. You may not want to spend a good while making trips back and forth packing heavy and bulky gear to the camp site. This sample gear list may help you with the gear choices.
 

THINGS TO KNOW

In addition to the advice and recommendations discussed above, there are a number of general items of a practical nature that would be beneficial to know in planning an island trip.

Transportation to the Barrier Islands

Thousands of visitors enjoy the beauty of the Islands every year. A good many of these employ the services of the Ship Island Excursion ferry boat service out of Gulf Port and are limited to exploring West Ship Island. Many others visit the islands in private vessels, and only a few experience the adventure of paddling out in a kayak. The National Park Service maintains a list of approved charter boat services that offer transportation to any of the islands. This list is available at:http://www.nps.gov/guis/planyourvisit/transportation-to-wilderness-islands.htm

I have used Capt Tom Becker of T&D Charters out of Biloxi for the last several years for transportation to Petit Bois and to Horn. Capt Tom can carry up to 18 people and charges the same as the smaller boats that can carry only 4 people. He also tows a smaller flat bottom boat which he uses to put his guests right on the beach without getting wet. This is a real advantage when the water is cold.

There are also several outdoor hiking and kayaking groups and clubs, and professional services that organize and/or sponsor visits to the Islands. One commercial service that has been consistent and reliable for many years is Canoe and Trails Adventures out of New Orleans. Byron Almquist, owner, has personally led over 25 camping trips to Horn Island. Although he sponsors several outdoor hiking, camping, and paddling events during the year, his signature wilderness event is an annual New Year's multi-day wilderness camping trip to Horn. Details at: http://www.canoeandtrail.com/

National Park Service Rules for Visiting the Barrier Islands

Primitive camping is allowed but there are Park Service rules, summarized below, which must be followed.

Groups of 11 or more must receive a free permit at least 7 days in advance.

Camping is not allowed on or beyond the sand dunes of the shore.

Litter must be removed from the site.

No glass is allowed at the camp site.

Campfires are permitted only on the beach below the high-tide level.

Cut no firewood. (There is plenty of drift and windfall wood.)

Pets are not allowed.

Mississippi fishing regulations apply.

Do not feed, capture, or harm wildlife and do not remove plants.

Observe Closure and Posted signs.

Firearms are prohibited.

Mississippi state laws are enforced.

Leave no Trace.

A copy of the Wilderness Permit required for 11 or more people is HERE. Note: If you download the permit from the Park website, note that the emergency numbers shown on their form are incorrect. The correct number for the Coast Guard is 228-864-5522 and the correct number for reaching the Park dispatch is 228-875-3962.

Cell Phone Service

Cell phone service is available on all of the barrier islands from cell towers along the mainland coast. Depending on your provider, service may be marginal in places but moving around or perching on top of a dune usually resolves weak signals.

Insects

Biting insects are the bane of the barriers and their numbers and their appetites are huge. Mosquitoes, no-see-ums, and deer flies are the worst. The bugs are most active in warm and hot weather from early spring to late fall, but mosquitoes can be a mild nuisance even in winter on warm days. The bugs are worse near trees and vegetation, mostly at night. A stiff northerly breeze does help to keep the bugs off the north beaches. They are also less of a nuisance on the gulf beaches. During bug season, many campers elect to camp on the tips of the islands away from trees and vegetation just to escape the onslaught. Take a high-percentage DEET product. With no winds, even the island tips are subject to mosquitoes. A mosquito head-net is a practical item to take but is not always needed. A can of household bug spray is really nice to have in the evening when you crawl into your tent, zip up the flap, and find the bugs waiting for you.

Fresh Water

A general rule of thumb is to take a gallon of water for every 24 hours you'll be on the trip and to take one extra gallon in case your return is delayed because of weather.  In cold months I find that half that amount of water is more than adequate. The water well on Horn near the new ranger residence is functioning and is available for emergencies only. The Horn Island well water is a bit sulphur tasting and it is recommended that you take your own supply. 

Float Plan

For paddlers, it's a good idea to prepare a float plan to give to each participant, to leave with family or friends, and take on the trip. The plan is a simple schedule of the trip, with launch point, meeting times, expected return time, a list of participants with their appropriate phones numbers, and emergency phone numbers, including the US Coast Guard. You should include your itinerary for the trip, where you plan to camp and where you plan to depart from on the return. It's not likely, but if the Coast Guard becomes involved, they like to have GPS coordinates. It's best to be prepared with good information because, for example, a medical condition might occur where time is of the essence and a return paddle for someone is out of the question.

US Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Center, New Orleans 24/7 – (504)589-6225

Coast Guard, Gulfport - (228) 864-5522

Coast Guard, Marine VHF radio channel 16

Dial 911

Fish Crows and Other Critters

Be forewarned that the barrier islands have thieves. They are masters at quickly ripping open an exposed bag of trail mix or even flying off with whatever goodies they can carry in their beaks. You'll usually see them immediately upon your arrival, sitting and cawing from a tree-top, beautifully innocent looking with friendly brown eyes and iridescent black plumage They are just waiting for you to set up camp or to turn your back to an opened kayak hatch. Anything left exposed at any time during daylight is a target for their pirating. Fish crows are shore birds and are a smaller version of the American Crow that inhabits the mainland. They will steal eggs from other bird nests and will harass gulls and terns to make them drop their catch. They are omnivorous and will eat most anything containing protein. They are particularly fond of apples left unattended. I heard a story recently about raccoons dragging a small backpack behind a dune, ripping it open and absconding with the food contents.

The boat-tailed Grackle is almost as brazen as the fish crow and will steal most any loose food items. They too, will sit in a tree top waiting for you to move away from the camp/picnic area so they can grab a morsel.

Horn critters include the native mammals,  rice rats, raccoons, otter, and possibly muskrat. Non-native mammals include eastern cottontail rabbit, nutria, and black rats. Snakes also reside on Horn include the speckled king snake, salt marsh snakes, and cottonmouth.

THE FUTURE OF THE BARRIER ISLANDS

The Mississippi barrier islands are moving! Petit Bois, Horn, Ship, and to a lesser extent, Cat, consists solely of quartz sand that eons ago were solid rock in the Appalachian Mountains. As the rocks tumble and crack in the mountain streams, the fine granules of quartz are carried to the Gulf by coastal river systems. Once in the Gulf, the sand is moved westward by natural longshore currents set up by the prevailing southeasterly winds. Winds from the southeast cause waves to break at an angle to the beach and with each wave a tiny amount of sand is moved to the west. The result is that the east tip of the islands are slowly eroding and the west tips are slowly building up. The geologists say that the westward drift of Petit Bois and Horn amounts to approximately one mile every hundred years. Nautical charts produced in the early 1800's indicate that Horn has moved westward by two miles in less than 200 years. At the same time, the north beaches of the islands lack a supply of sand and are being eroded by the tides and currents, causing the islands to get thinner. There are other forces at work that shape the islands. Sand from the beach is blown into dunes by the wind, hopefully to be held in place by vegetation. Hurricanes unleash massive and sudden amounts of wind and water energy that can significantly change the geology. Ship Island was cut in two in the 1700's and was restored by the natural sand drift. It was cut in two again in 1965 and was in the process of rebuilding when Camille made a major cut in 1969. The Camille cut will take a long time to recover. Because of the rapid erosion and drift, many references consistently overstate the dimensions of the islands. For example, many references report Horn as being 14 miles long and one mile wide. Actually, Horn is now less than 12 miles long and about 2/3rds of a mile at its widest. Hurricane Katrina removed significant vegetation from Petit Bois and Horn, removing about 250 acres on Horn alone. Several studies have been completed in the last few years assessing the damage done by Katrina. There was significant changes to dune heights and reduction in land size. Just a few weeks before  Walter Anderson died of lung cancer in the fall of 1965, he weathered Hurricane Betsy while on Horn where he recorded in his log, “The Great Leveler has been over it”.

One thing is certain for the barrier islands' future. There will be another hurricane.

The westward drift of Petit Bois' west tip was eliminated by the routine dredging of Horn Island Pass. The shipping channel is adjacent to the west tip and the sands drifts into the channel where it is removed, rather than building up the tip. With continued dredging, Petit Bois will ultimately disappear. Perhaps the spoil island being created on the west side of the shipping channel will pick up the westward drift using the sand from Petit Bois. I think the island should be named West Petit Bois and nourished with the dredged sand. Discounting any major changes caused by hurricanes, it is projected that, except for Cat, the islands will continue their westward drifts for centuries. Hopefully during that time, new islands will develop in the east and continue the eons long process. Although Cat collects some of the sand from the east, its basic makeup is from the Mississippi River delta. The river delta at one time extended all the way to Cat and the Chandelier Islands. Erosion has broken up the delta leaving many separate small islands. It is thought that Cat will eventually just disappear beneath the sea from the erosion.

The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers in 2009 issued a draft proposal to spend $477 million for a barrier island restoration project involving Petit Bois, Horn and Ship Islands. The proposal is unique in that instead of pumping sand directly on the islands (renourishment), the scheme is to pump sand into the natural longshore currents and let the restoration occur naturally over a long time period. This proposal is currently working its way through the federal bureaucracy. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded a contract in the spring of 2011 to a contractor to proceed with a modeling study for this proposal.

The information in this Guide comes from published literature, web page references, personal experience, and the National park Service.

Outside References and additional Reading

The first four references are “must read” for anyone seriously interested in the barrier islands. Anderson's Horn Island Logs contain a wealth of information about the flora and fauna as it existed in 1948 to 1965. Newlin's Horn of Plenty is an account of her several visits to Horn during the four seasons of the year laced with her detailed observations of nature. Williams' Exploring Coastal Mississippi contains excellent advice for the kayaker interested in paddling the Sound and visiting the barrier islands. Cuevas' Cat island, The History of a Mississippi Gulf Coast Barrier Island is very comprehensive and an excellent read.

It is the author's intention to keep these links updated but there is no guarantee that the web references listed below are viable.

  1. Walter Anderson, The Horn Island Logs of Walter Inglis Anderson, ed., Redding S. Sugg, Jr., ISBN 0-87805-168-6

  2. April Newlin, Horn of Plenty, Seasons in an Island Wilderness, ISBN 1-57806-681-6

  3. Scott B. Williams, Exploring Coastal Mississippi, A Guide to the Marine Waters and Islands, ISBN 1-57806-424-4

  4. John Cuevas, Cat Island, The History of a Mississippi Gulf Coast Barrier Island, ISBN 978-0-7864-6328-2

  5. Historical Changes in the Mississippi – Alabama Barrier Islands and the Roles of Extreme Storms, Sea Level, and Human Activities, http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2007/1161/OFR-2007-1161-screen.pdf

  6. National Park Service, Mississippi Island Camping, http://www.nps.gov/guis/planyourvisit/island-camping.htm

  7. Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, Horn Island, http://www.dmr.state.ms.us/Coastal-Ecology/GEMS/Horn-Island.htm

  8. Walter Anderson Museum of Art, Beverly Alexander, Horn Island Project, http://www.walterandersonmuseum.org/hi_edu/HIcurriculum.LowRes.pdf

  9. NPS, Osprey Nesting Season at Gulf Islands National Seashore, http://www.nps.gov/guis/parknews/osprey-nesting-season-at-gulf-islands-national-seashore.htm

  10. NPS and US Fish and Wildlife, Red Wolf Propagation on Horn Island Mississippi, http://redwolfssp.org/web/tech_reports/tech_report_06.pdf

  11. Average Weather for Ocean Springs, MS , http://www.weather.com/weather/wxclimatology/monthly/graph/39564

  12. US Fish and Wildlife Service, Red Wolf Recovery Project, http://www.fws.gov/redwolf/index.html

  13. National Parks Conservation Association, Red Wolf, http://www.npca.org/wildlife_protection/wildlife_facts/redwolf.html

  14. History of Ship Island: http://www.msshipisland.com/Ship_Island_History.html

  15. http://www.nature.nps.gov/GEOLOGY/inventory/publications/s_summaries/GUIS_GRE_scoping_summary_2007-0302.pdf

  16. Dauphin Island Foundation, a History of Dauphin Island under Five Flags:    http://difoundation.org/history.htm

Useful US Postal Service Zip Codes

Dauphin Island, AL

36528

Pascagoula, MS

39567

Ocean Springs, MS

39564

Biloxi, MS

39530

Gulfport, MS

39501

Long Beach, MS

39560

Pass Christian, MS

39571

copyright © Bob Marsh. Permission from author required for any reproduction of this Guide

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