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There are tons of exciting destinations in Mississippi, where you can enjoy an incredibly warm welcome and have the chance to sample delicious southern home-cooked meals, fantastic blues tunes, the powdery shores of the Gulf Coast and a whole lot more. These eight places are some of the very best this “Hospitality State,” as it’s often called, has to offer.
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Most people are under the impression that New Orleans gave birth to the legendary celebration known as Mardi Gras, but it was actually Biloxi. This “playground of the south” sits on the Mississippi Gulf and offers tons of fun things to do, offering easy access to the gorgeous Gulf Coast beaches with sugary white sands and all sorts of outdoor recreational opportunities. Those who are looking for excitement can hit the casinos that line Beach Boulevard as well as enjoy the hopping nightlife found in everything from beachside bars and nightclubs to juke joints and cocktail lounges. The city offers a wealth of activities day and night, including historic attractions. It’s also home to art galleries, museums and the picturesque Biloxi lighthouse, one of the city’s most revered landmarks and one of the first cast-iron lighthouses built in the South.
The Battle of Vicksburg was pivotal to the Civil War. During this battle a 47-day siege ultimately gave way to the surrender of the city, giving the Union total control of the Mississippi River. The Vicksburg National Military Park commemorates this important event in U.S. history, as well as the soldiers who gave their lives during the campaign. Whether you’re a history enthusiast or not, this national treasure is a fascinating national treasure that will give you a greater appreciation for the country, and those courageous people who fought during the Civil War. The visitor center offers a short orientation film on the park’s history as well as an outdoor display that features a cannon, historic monuments and the fortification exhibit.
More than 1,300 historical monuments and markers are within the park’s boundaries, as well as the Vicksburg National Cemetery, which serves as the resting place for more than 18,000 souls, two-thirds of which are unidentified.
If peace and tranquility are what you’re after, plan on visiting Deer Island. It was purchased just a little over a decade ago by the state government and is the closest barrier island to the Mississippi shores at just a quarter-mile from the hustle and bustle of Biloxi. As you take a stroll along the beach, it’s hard to fathom that the city is merely a short jaunt away as there are few signs of the modern world here. Among the few are harsh reminders of the natural disasters that have occurred here, like the battered ship beached by a hurricane. Here, ospreys soar overhead and dive down to catch the mullet swimming in the Gulf, while dolphins can be seen playing and feeding in the waters. The 400-acre island is home to 10 different types of endangered species, and since it’s so close to the mainland, all you need is a canoe, kayak, paddleboard or a small boat to get there.
The Windsor Ruins offer a glimpse into the years gone by, unlike few other tourist attractions. Built in the mid-1800s by a wealthy plantation owner, Smith Daniel, it’s seen slavery, war and disaster. When it was completed in 1861, it was a sprawling four-story Greek Revival mansion that overlooked the Mississippi River, but Daniel, who was born in 1826, the son of an Indian fighter turned farmer and rich landowner, died just a few weeks after moving in. The mansion was used as a Union hospital and observation post during the Civil War, which spared it from being burned by Union troops – and, legend has it that Mark Twain watched the river from a roof observatory. But in 1890, during a house party, one of the guests was said to have left a lighted cigar on the upper balcony, which resulted in Windsor burning to the ground. All was destroyed, except the iron stairs, balustrades and 23 of the columns.
Fans of Elvis Presley won’t want to miss visiting Elvis Presley’s birthplace. The “King” was born in Tupelo on January 8, 1935, and most fans visit Graceland, the site of his death in Memphis. For years there was really nothing to see here except the tiny home he was born in, which could easily be seen just by peeking through the screen door. Today, you can take a tour and see the “Walk of Life”, a concrete pathway that surrounds the home that denotes each year of Elvis’ life, as well as a museum that features some of the personal collections of Elvis’ longtime friend, Janelle McComb. The site also includes the church where Elvis learned to love gospel music, a gift shop with unique souvenirs and a statue of the legend himself at the age of 13, the year his family packed up and left for Memphis.
Located in the foothills of the Appalachians, Tishomingo State Park offers scenic beauty along with a rich Native American history. It was believed to have been inhabited by Paleo Indians, with archaeological surveys indicating that they lived here as early as 7,000 B.C. It’s also home to giant rock formations with moss-filled crevices found nowhere else in the state, as well as colorful wildflowers and imposing ferns that brighten the landscape. In addition to walking in the footsteps of Native Americans and soaking up the beautiful scenery, visitors can enjoy outstanding birdwatching, fishing, hiking, picnicking and camping. There are tent sites as well as cabins, and other facilities include a swimming pool, canoe rental, disc golf and playing fields.
The Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge is a 48,000-acre nature reserve home to a wide array of the state’s native wildlife, along with magnificent natural beauty. It’s one of the best spots in Mississippi for bird watching, as a feeding area for migratory species, though the opportunity exists all year round. Every year, usually in October, bald eagles find refuge here, catching fish on Bluff Lake and nesting in the trees. The refuge also offers a chance to see alligators in their natural habitat and enjoy nearly fishing as well as hiking on a number of trails and boardwalks. The refuge also hosts a visitor center with maps and information, as well as special events and activities like canoe days and a fishing derby.
Mississippi is home to the only Petrified Forest in the eastern United States. Located near the town of Flora, it’s nearly 35 million years old and privately owned, though open to the public for visits. The trees, that are believed to have been maple and fir trees that were washed here by an ancient river channel, eventually becoming petrified with the passage of time. At the end of the walking trail that traverses through the site is a museum which exhibits an extensive collection of fossils, rocks and minerals as well as whale bones, turtle shells and even dinosaur footprints.
If you want to take a scenic drive through the state, there is no better place to do it than along the 444-mile Natchez Trace Parkway. Along the way, you’ll take in the magnificent scenery and gorgeous landscapes where Native Americans once settled some 10,000 years ago. The Old Trace played an important role in U.S. history, used not only by Native Americans but by future presidents too. Inside Natchez Trace Parkway National Park, visitors can enjoy hiking, biking, horseback riding and camping. At mile marker 122 is the Cypress Swamp, where you can follow a self-guided half-mile trail on a boardwalk through the swamp, watching for the turtles and alligators that are often seeing soaking up the sun.