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Gulf Islands National Seashore

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Gulf Islands National Seashore Overview

The Gulf Islands National Seashore is a wild 150-mile stretch of barrier islands and coastal mainland in Mississippi and Florida. The warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico nourish 11 separate units that include bayou, salt marsh, live oak and southern magnolia forest, and snow-white beaches.

Kayaking and canoeing is an immensely popular way to explore this water wilderness. Four out of the five Mississippi regions are barrier islands: Horn Island, Petit Bois Island, East Ship Island, and West Ship Island. The fifth Mississippi region, the Davis Bayou, is on the mainland and just begs for exploration by paddle.

The western extremities of Florida's panhandle include four 19th century forts built to defend Pensacola Bay. Fort Pickens, the largest, was built in 1829 and completed in 1834. The other forts include Fort McRee on Foster's Bank, Fort Barrancas, and Advanced Redoubt on the mainland. These forts were built as part of a fortification effort to protect all major American harbors after the War of 1812.

Camp on a Wilderness Island
Horn and Petit Bois are wilderness islands, with the 14-mile Horn Island offering better hiking and a greater diversity of terrain. Conditions on the island are rugged: A dense maritime forest of slash pine and saw palmetto will test your mettle as you explore the island's interior of ponds and lagoons, where the occasional alligator and cottonmouth basks in the sun. The island's barren edges are ideal for camping because you will find far fewer mosquitoes than farther inland, and you can also fish off the beach for mullet, flounder, speckled sea trout, bull reds, and Spanish mackerel.

Explore the Naval Live Oaks
Walk the beaches and nature trails of the secluded Santa Rosa peninsula, which is sheltered from the Gulf of Mexico by a barrier island. Explore a medieval forest of 50-foot live oaks as Spanish moss drips from crooked branches and olive-green elliptical leaves. As the heaviest of all oaks (a cubic foot can weigh 75 pounds), the wood's resistance to disease and decay made it ideal for shipbuilding and was well established in America by 1700. Early famous live oak vessels include the Hancock, an American revolutionary privateer, and the USS Constitution and Constellation, built in the 1790's.

Kayak Mississippi Bayou
Life on the bayou is sweet and slow, and what better way to experience it than paddling a kayak across its java-colored waters? Davis Bayou is an aquatic wilderness where you can gently stroke your way past alligators, snakes, turtles, frogs, and all sorts of mud-loving critters. Located on the Mississippi mainland, the Davis Bayou consists of 400 acres of salt marsh, bayous, and maritime forest. It is located off Highway 90 in Ocean Springs.

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