Hiking as a form of outdoor recreation in Mississippi is an enjoyable and increasingly popular pastime, largely because of the state’s varying terrain, numerous public lands, relatively mild climate, and long-standing tradition of engagement in outdoor recreation by its citizens.
While outdoor recreational activities such as hunting, fishing, boating, and picnicking have long been popular with Mississippians, they have been somewhat slower than residents of other states to develop interests in more adventurous and physically challenging outdoor activities (often called outdoor pursuits). Evidence indicates that variables such as age, income, and regional residency may affect Mississippians’ interest in hiking. In a 2004 study, residents of rural areas of the state rarely cited hiking among their favorite activities. Yet according to the National Sporting Goods Association, an estimated 638,000 Mississippians aged seven years or older hiked at least twice in 2006. Within the same demographic group, 169,000 persons reported having backpacked two or more times during that same year. Both of these statistics place Mississippi above the national average for participation in these outdoor pursuits.
Mississippi has extensive public and private lands suitable for hiking. One of the state’s most widely used resources is the Natchez Trace, which not only provides a contemporary resource for hikers but represents a historical artifact of one of the state’s very first trails. Native Americans used the Natchez Trace as a corridor for foot travel throughout present-day Mississippi, northern Alabama, and Tennessee. By the early nineteenth century this trail was also an important overland return route for travelers who had journeyed downriver on boats through the Tennessee, Cumberland, and Ohio River Valleys. Today the National Park Service manages the 444-mile Natchez Trace corridor, and it serves as a central artery that connects many excellent public hiking trails. From Donivan Slough in northern Mississippi to Bullen Creek near the southern terminus, the Natchez Trace offers a number of short nature trails and day hikes that can be completed in less than an hour as well as longer and more challenging routes. Hiking trails at another National Park Service site, Vicksburg National Military Park, include Trek Hike and Al Scheller Scout Trail. The Scheller Trail was originally designed as a compass course, and its 12.5 miles of footpaths feature rugged terrain, steep elevation changes, and stream crossings.
Other federal resources within the state include extensive US Army Corps of Engineers holdings and the 1.2 million acres of land located in Mississippi’s six national forests. Trails at Holly Springs National Forest’s Upper Sardis Wildlife Management Area, for example, were built with volunteer assistance and are open for hiking and other nonmotorized activities. In De Soto National Forest hikers can enjoy the Tuxachanie Trail and Black Creek Wilderness Trail.
Most of Mississippi’s twenty-two state parks and other state lands offer hiking and walking trails. Parks notable for their trails include Tishomingo State Park and Wall Doxey State Park in northern Mississippi, Great River Road State Park in the Delta, and Paul B. Johnson State Park in the south.
Many local and community trails exist throughout the state, and special events and festivals often feature planned hikes. The trail through Bailey’s Woods to William Faulkner’s Rowan Oak estate has been used for guided nature hikes during Oxford’s Double Decker Festival, and Rolling Fork’s Great Delta Bear Affair regularly features both general nature hikes and birding tours.
Mississippians also enjoy hiking on private lands, as many large farms and woodlots offer opportunities for families and friends to walk familiar terrain. In addition, nonprofit organizations such as Audubon Mississippi and the Nature Conservancy both offer guided hikes and allow hikers to explore on their own. The Strawberry Plains Audubon Center near Holly Springs has fifteen miles of hiking trails within its twenty-five hundred acres.
As long as humans have lived in Mississippi, they have hiked, first as a principal means of travel and now primarily for recreation. This activity remains an important part of Mississippi’s culture.
- Mississippi Development Authority—Tourism Division, “Mississippi Adventure Guide” (2005)
- National Park Service website, www.nps.gov
- David M. Zuefle, “Environmental Knowledge and Attitudes of North Mississippi Residents” presentation to the University of Mississippi Faculty Research Program (November 2004)