Ship Island Adventure

Historic Barrier Island  Offers Family Fun in the Sun

In South Mississippi, people don’t need to travel far to find beaches, which stretch along 26 miles of coastline. However, some folks just want to get away.

  If so, visit Ship Island. Part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, Ship Island sits about 11 miles off the mainland between Gulfport and Biloxi. It makes a slight crescent for about seven miles and measures roughly three-quarters of a mile at its widest point. The entire island covers less than two square miles.

   Reachable only by boat, Ship Island offers some of the most pristine sugar sand beaches along the Gulf Coast. People can take private vessels across Mississippi Sound to spend a family fun day on the island or board a cruise to it. From the beaches or boats, people commonly spot dolphins, various sea birds, possibly sea turtles and other creatures.

  Visitors can enjoy the beaches on the Mississippi Sound side or the Gulf side. The cruise boats dock at a pier next to old Fort Massachusetts. Generally, the Sound side, or north shore facing the mainland, attracts fewer people and the waters remain more calm and better protected by the island. From the boat dock near the fort, people can walk a few hundred yards along a wooden boardwalk to reach the gulf side. Few trees grow on the sandy island so visitors find little shade. 

  On either side, visitors can swim, snorkel, picnic or just enjoy sunning themselves while listening to the seabirds squawk or surf crash against the shore. Many people like to fish the beaches on either side. While wading the shallow waters, anglers might catch speckled trout, redfish, black drum, sheepshead, flounder, Spanish mackerel and many other species. Most of the people congregate at either end of the boardwalk. To find a quiet spot, anglers might want to walk a short distance from the swimmers and people playing along the beaches.

  History buffs definitely want to tour Fort Massachusetts. Now a national historical site, the masonry fortification dates to the Civil War. The U.S. Army began constructing a fort on the northwest, or harbor side, of the island in 1859. When the Civil War started two years later, Confederate troops seized the unfinished fort. They later exchanged cannon fire with the U.S.S. Massachusetts. After the Confederates abandoned it, Union forces occupied the island and named the fort after the warship.

  Long before the Civil War, Pierre Le Moyne D’Iberville, the French explorer who built Fort Maurepas in what is now Ocean Springs, landed on Ship Island in 1699. The French noted it’s excellent deep anchorage on the north side of the island and dubbed it Ile aux Vaisseaux. The French used the island as a base to explore the northern Gulf of Mexico. Smugglers and pirates also used the island as a base and a place to store stored ill-gotten goods. 

  During the War of 1812, the British Navy anchored a fleet of 50 warships at Ship Island and used it as their base to invade Louisiana. The large, powerful ships could not navigate the shallow coastal bayous and marshes and therefore played no part in the Battle of New Orleans. Consequently, General Andrew Jackson defeated the British and kept the Mississippi River in American hands. 

  For more information about visiting Ship Island, see

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