WHY VISIT MISSISSIPPI
Mississippi serves up a veritable feast of hearty food, outdoor adventure, and fascinating history. Running deep like the Mississippi River, the state’s narrative has been shaped by American Indians, European traders, and pioneer settlers, whose tales of triumph and toil litter the Natchez Trace Parkway, a fascinating heritage route between Natchez and Nashville.
Vicksburg also delivers a huge slice of history. A key battleground during the American Civil War (1861-1865), the conflict is commemorated with memorials and monuments at the Vicksburg National Military Park. Meanwhile, the Mississippi Freedom Trail pays poignant tribute to the racial strife that erupted here during the 1960s, when the state was a major player in the Civil Rights movement.
The architecture is no less dramatic. From 19th-century antebellum plantations to the eccentric Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art, the state abounds with eye-catching design. But nothing beats Mississippi’s stunning landscapes, which have inspired a wealth of artistic talent, from William Faulkner and Eudora Welty to Elvis Presley and BB King. The arts scene still thrives, with indie film festivals, honky tonks, and Pulitzer Prize-winning authors lending the state a creative vibe.
Outdoor enthusiasts are well catered for in Mississippi: its balmy climate and vast wilderness are ripe for adventure. Bike a section of the 4,800km (3,000-mile) Mississippi River Trail, which scythes through 10 states, cycle through the Appalachian foothills on the Tanglefoot Trail, or set up camp in one of the state’s six national forests.
Mississippi’s culinary offerings also deserve exploration. State specialties range from fresh-from-the-Gulf shrimp and Delta hot tamales to super-sweet slices of Mississippi mud pie. You’ll want seconds – and we’re not just talking about the food.
WHAT TO SEE IN MISSISSIPPI
- Natchez Trace Parkway: the best way to experience the countryside of Mississippi is to drive the Natchez Trace Parkway. This national scenic byway runs for 444 miles along an ancient Native American trail with dozens of historic markers, sites, and pullouts to break up the trip. Just as enjoyable is the Great River Road National Scenic Byway that runs along the banks of the Mississippi River. Combine them to create a truly memorable week-long cruise through the best this state has to offer.
- Jackson: Mississippi’s capitol is a useful base for exploring this corner of the state. It has some of the best cultural institutes in Mississippi, most of which trace the Civil Rights Movement or the rich literary traditions that grew here. Check out the Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center to learn about African American struggles or the Eudora Welty House and Garden to see where the famous author lived and wrote. Downtown Jackson is blessed with many historic buildings and homes such as the Governor’s Mansion and the State Capitol.
- Natchez: the state’s original capitol is arguably the most charming town in Mississippi. It boasts more antebellum homes than anywhere else in America, many of which sit on the bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. The Natchez Spring Pilgrimage is the best time to tour these historic houses as dozens of them are open to the public in March and April. While the antebellum scenery is a highlight, Natchez is simply a great town to hang out in and soak up the lazy river atmosphere. It’s also the beginning of the beautiful Natchez Trace Parkway drive.
- Vicksburg National Military Park: one of America’s oldest national parks is also the site of one of the most important fights of the US Civil War. Begin at the visitor’s center, which has a museum-quality exhibit of weapons, uniforms, and other artifacts from both sides of the conflict as well as a film that sets the backdrop for the battlefield. You can drive through the park and stop at major sites along the 16-mile route. In addition, there are miles of excellent biking and walking paths to create a well-rounded outing.
- Oxford: the charming university town of Oxford is home to Ole Miss, the state’s best-known institution of higher learning, sports, and partying. Besides the energy the students bring to this quiet little haven, Oxford has lots to enchant visitors around its 150-year-old town square and a myriad of historic buildings that branch off of it. For a small town, Oxford has a fantastic dining scene, great bars, and art galleries, and plenty to do that warrants a couple of days to properly enjoy it.
- Gulf Coast Casinos: in addition to the history and nature on Mississippi’s doorstep, it is also home to more than a dozen casinos. The Gulf Coast between Biloxi and Gulfport has 11 quality casinos, each with a full array of table games, slots, entertainment, and restaurants. You can also find casinos on the state’s Native American reservations like the Choctaw on the Pearl River or the Isle of Capri in Natchez. They’re invariably located next to or even on the Mississippi River, creating a truly unique environment for a night of gambling fun.
- Gulf Islands National Seashore: it may come as a shocker, but Mississippi has some of the prettiest beaches in America. The Gulf Islands National Seashore offers a protected environment to stroll miles of white sand on these barrier islands that stretch from Mississippi all the way to Florida. Vehicles are not allowed on the Mississippi section, which makes the quiet undeveloped scene all the better. There are plenty of beach resorts and amenities around Gulfport and US Highway 90 to choose from.
WHEN TO GO TO MISSISSIPPI
The best period to visit Mississippi is from April to June.
Mississippi’s climate is warm and humid year round throughout most of the state. In the far northern region, it gets a bit cooler than in the south, while the Gulf Coast enjoys very balmy winters. That’s not to say the weather is pleasant. There are a couple of windows in comfortable conditions, but most of the time it is either hot and humid or rainy. Winters in Mississippi are quite pleasant, though it tends to get even more precipitation. The average weather in January is 48°F, though the Gulf Coast is typically in the low 60s °F.
Summer is the least comfortable time of year. Between June and August expect daytime highs in the mid-90s°F coupled with oppressively humid conditions. May and September are slightly cooler in the upper 80s °F, but the humidity levels remain high. Summer is also when thunderstorms strike with frequency throughout the state, particularly in the southern region. Mississippi gets an average of 27 tornadoes each year, mostly hitting in the late spring and summer, while in August and September the chances increase for deadly hurricanes. Be sure and keep track of the weather forecast if you are visiting any time between March and October.
WHAT TO DO IN MISSISSIPPI
Eat the best meal of your life in a gas station
If you roll up to a Mississippi gas station and find more people inside eating than outside pumping gas, you should probably stop and order one of whatever they’re having. The state does gas station gastronomy better than any in America, whether you’re trying fried chicken on a stick from the 4 Corners Chevron in Oxford or smoked ribs from Market Café at the Fleetway in Gluckstadt. The best barbecue in the state is at Hog Heaven, conveniently located at a Chevron in Fleetwood. Their rib sandwiches draw crowds from many miles away. Not much of it is anything we’d describe as “healthy,” but if you want to put yourself in the Magnolia State state of mind, that’s kinda the idea.
Following is a list of typical festivals and celebrations of Mississippi.
- Gulfport Memorial Day Blowout: nearly everyone gets a long weekend each May for Memorial Day, and the seaside town of Gulfport goes out of its way to put on an extra special show for bikers. Spanning four days, this wild event attracts thousands of cyclists for a series of races, tattoo competitions, music, and general mayhem.
- Country Cajun Crawfish Festival: one of Mississippi’s culinary specialties gets it own special event every April in Gulfport. The Mississippi Coast Coliseum is held over two consecutive weekends as people descend on the Gulf in droves to chow down on crawfish in its many incarnations. Besides the food, this family-friendly festival serves up carnival rides, live entertainment, concerts, and games.
- Biloxi Seafood Festival: one of the pleasures of any trip to Mississippi’s Gulf Coast is its fantastically fresh seafood. In September, the port city of Biloxi makes an effort to celebrate this tradition with its annual Seafood Fest. Enjoy local specialties like soft crab cakes, shrimp, and crawfish pie along with entertainment like a fishing competition and fun for the kids.
- Mississippi Delta Blues & Heritage Festival: the state is famous for its Blues, and this annual musical extravaganza in Greenville’s Freedom Village is the highlight of the calendar. For several days in September thousands of Delta, Blues lovers pack into the Juke House Stage to see one virtuoso after another. Gospel fans are also taken care of on the dedicated Gospel Stage that showcases some of the state’s finest singing voices.
- Cruisin’ the Coast: motorheads get the own special day each October along the Gulf Coast. This hugely popular car show lures thousands of enthusiasts to Biloxi for the big mass cruise along the coast to Gulfport. The theme is vintage, so expect at least 4,000 classic vehicles from the 1950s and ‘60s showing off their treasures. Drag races, live music, and another fun round off the weekend.
- Mississippi State Fair: American state fairs are always an exciting event, especially if you are a family with kids. Mississippi takes place in October at the Jackson Fairgrounds just outside the capital. Though agricultural and livestock shows are a centerpiece, there are also loads of tasty food, live music, and carnival rides to ensure a festive atmosphere. Music is a highlight with three tents featuring gospel, blues, folk, and rock bands from across the state.
HOW TO REACH AND TRAVEL THROUGH MISSISSIPPI
One thing for sure about traveling in Mississippi is that you will need your own car if you want to see or do anything at all. There simply aren’t any other transportation options to get between towns or even within the towns of this largely rural state.
You’ll be glad you rented a car in Mississippi. With four major interstates and some of the nicest scenic byways in the country, getting from Point A to Point B is the best part. All the major car rental companies are on-site at the airports in Jackson and Gulfport, as well as the downtown areas of popular tourist towns such as Oxford and Natchez. Weekly rates are quite reasonable when you factor in touring the pretty countryside or Gulf coast.
There are three Amtrak lines that run through parts of Mississippi. While the train is certainly the slowest means of transportation in the state, it’s easily the most scenic and relaxing. Fares are comparable to domestic flights, but if time is not an issue you will get to see parts of the Mississippi River valley that few others do. The City of New Orleans line runs north to south stopping in Greenwood, Yazoo City, Jackson, Brookhaven, and McComb, while the Sunset Limited makes a stop in Biloxi, and the Crescent line stops in Meridian and Hattiesburg. The train isn’t really useful for traveling within the state, but it’s a fun way to get around.
The Greyhound bus is far more comprehensive if you need a cheap way to get to Mississippi or move between towns on a limited budget. The Delta Bus Line is another good option for travel within Mississippi only. The problem with the buses is they often stop on the outskirts of small towns and have fairly limited timetables.
Main airports are:
GENERAL INFORMATION ON MISSISSIPPI
health tips & vaccination: none
local currency: US Dollar
local time zone: GMT-6 (-5)
electricity: type A and type B (120V – 60 Hz)
WHAT TO DO IN MISSISSIPPI
Typical food in Mississippi
- Fried chicken
- Bleck-eyed peas
- Turnip greens
- Gumbo: meat or shellfish stock stew with vegetables
Souvenirs from Mississippi