Mississippi has two dozen state parks, Louisiana around 20. How many have you been to?
I figure I’ve visited over half of Mississippi parks and three-quarters of Louisiana’s. But then, exploring outdoor destinations is part of my job.
The reason I bring this up is that we’re in the midst of the bleak midwinter, which is a perfect time to plan vacation getaways for later in the year. And state parks are a good place to go.
Most of us, I daresay, typically look for destinations in faraway places — until, that is, you start getting tired of long-distance travel and start getting more curious about what we have here in Mississippi and neighboring Louisiana.
State parks are probably the premier outdoor venue since they have both campgrounds and cabins. (Other destinations include state fishing lakes, Pat Harrison Waterway District parks, national forests and U.S. Corps of Engineers campgrounds, not necessarily in that order.)
In a way, Mississippi’s state parks are all the same: pine trees, lake, campgrounds, cabins, a lodge. They’re scattered all over the state so everybody will have access to one. In Louisiana you can substitute cypress trees for pine.
But in another way, each park is unique, with its own history, special features and topography, not to mention various nearby attractions.
In Mississippi, Buccaneer is on the coast, Clark Creek is known for its waterfalls, Great River Road is on the Mississippi River, J.P. Coleman and Pickwick are at the edge of the Appalachians, Paul B. Johnson and Roosevelt are near national forests, while George P. Cossar, Hugh White and John W. Kyle are located on huge reservoirs.
In Louisiana, Lake Bistineau and Chicot span large cypress swamps, Lake Bruin is on a Mississippi River oxbow, North and South Toledo Bend provide access to a giant reservoir, Cypremort Point and Grand Isle are on the coast, Tickfaw and Bogue Chitto border scenic rivers, while Fairview-Riverside and Fontaine-bleau access Lake Pontchartrain.
You don’t really go to state parks for high adventure, but rather for a peaceful reconnect with nature. But sometimes you get a bit of adventure anyway.
When Angelyn and I camped on the beach at Grand Isle State Park at Christmas 2001, a blue norther was blowing in, so we pitched the tent back in a wax myrtle thicket. We built a fire at the edge of the thicket and sat beside it looking out over the ocean as the clouds soared past the moon, while in our little thicket all was peace and quiet.
Some folks who had pitched a big tent on the open beach had to abandon it in the middle of the night, and next day we found it collapsed in the sand.
At Chemin-a-Haut near Bastrop, La., I paddled down Bayou Bartholomew and up Bayou Chemin-a-Haut to find some of the most impressive cypress trees anywhere. One tree was so big I could back my 17-foot canoe halfway into its hollow trunk.
Mostly, though, when I think of state parks, I picture canoeing quiet lakes, hiking a nature trail through dense forest, and turning my internal clock off.
But parks also offer proximity to other interesting locations.
Roosevelt State Park is east of Jackson, which has plenty of restaurants and shopping (think Bass Pro Shop). Clarkco is near Meridian, home of the Jimmie Rodgers Museum (Father of Country Music).
Then there’s J.P. Coleman, located on the Tennessee River and not far from the town of Corinth, which features bluegrass “pickin’ on the square” every Thursday night plus lots of Civil War history.
Or Lake Claiborne in north Louisiana, which is near Arcadia, home of “Bonnie & Clyde Trade Days” and not too far from the Bonnie & Clyde Museum.
So many choices, and all relatively close to home.