Best Nature Trails on the Mississippi Gulf Coast

By Mark W. LaSalle, Phd.

It is always risky to choose the best of anything, including places where nature is seen at its best.

For those of us who frequent those “best” places, we are picky in how we define them as such. For the purpose of this list, the number and quality of the habitats present and the associated biodiversity are primary factors. Here are four of what I and other local naturalists consider to be the best places to see quality habitats and the highest levels of biodiversity in coastal Mississippi.

The Fontainebleau Trail is part of the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge, located in east Ocean Springs. Hikers encounter multiple habitats along either of the two main loops (0.5-mile Green Loop and 1.6-mile Red Loop). Beginning in a Southern Mixed Hardwood Forest, the trail passes through Longleaf Forest, Bayhead Swamps, and Wet Pine Savannas, with elevated scenic views of Davis Bayou and its brackish Tidal Marshes. The high biodiversity found here is driven by periodic prescribed burns that maintain the upland Longleaf Forest and Wet Pine Savannas as open grasslands under a canopy of Longleaf Pine. Wet Pine Savannas are the most biologically diverse habitat in North America, with more than 350 species of plants, including numerous carnivorous species, terrestrial orchids, and numerous fire-adapted grasses, sedges and flowering plants. Access to this and the Dees trail mentioned next are both free.