Gulf Islands Wilderness emerges from the depths of the Gulf of Mexico as dynamic ropes of white sand originating from the Appalachian Mountains. Horn and Petit Bois Islands, together known as Gulf Islands Wilderness, are recognized as a place of solitude, self-reliance and refuge from modern-day civilization. The wilderness islands are undeveloped, wild coastal landscapes where modern human impacts are very subtle. Gulf Islands Wilderness is part of the American wilderness legacy.
Powerful oceanic and meteorological forces continue to shape these wilderness islands. Expertly adapted wildlife and plant species are part of an intricately connected tapestry of the wilderness islands, encompassing rolling dunes, dense maritime forests, and distinctive wetlands. This ever-changing landscape is habitat for a diverse community of life, including sea oats, live oaks, saw palmetto, prickly pear cactus, southeastern snowy plover, southern bald eagle, American alligator, ghost crab, and three species of snakes, to name a few. All manner of sea life surround the wilderness islands with Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, moon jelly, Portuguese man-o-war, Kemp's ridley. From the early rays of light to star-studded night sky, refuge is discovered as a place to not look at nature but to look from nature.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Gulf Islands Wilderness.
Gulf Islands Wilderness lies approximately 10 miles off the Mississippi mainland coast, as part of the last surviving portions of an ecological continuum of long, narrow barrier islands that once extended from Cape Cod to Mexico. The wilderness islands are surrounded by the Mississippi Sound to the north and the expanse of the Gulf of Mexico to the south.
Gulf Islands Wilderness are dynamic coastal features within a larger barrier island ecosystem of the Gulf Islands National Seashore that is migrating westward. Petit Bois Island is roughly 6 miles long and the eastern-most barrier island in the Mississippi District of the national seashore. West of Petit Bois Island is Horn Island, separated by Sand Island and Pascagoula shipping channel. Horn Island is the largest island, about 13 miles long, in the Mississippi District.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.
Gulf Islands Wilderness is accessible via watercraft vessel (i.e. motorboats, sailboats, kayak), primarily private motorboat. Numerous charter boat services are permitted throughout the national seashore to transport passengers on a "for hire" basis. Please check the park website for more information. There are no bridges connecting the mainland to the barrier islands.
The Gulf Islands Wilderness provides many recreational opportunities. Visitors to the wilderness will enjoy a preserved natural area, clean water and habitat for a variety of plants and wildlife including rare and endangered species.
Visitors can also enjoy rewarding recreational activities like hiking, backpacking, wilderness camping, bird watching, fishing, swimming, snorkeling, sunbathing, photography, and stargazing. Surf fishing is a popular activity among visitors with the potential to catch mackerel, red drum, and sea trout. A saltwater fishing license is required and temporary licenses are available.
No motorized vessels are allowed on the interior ponds and lagoons of the islands and restrictions on navigation are enforced for critical seagrass habitat protection.
Wilderness camping is available year-round and for groups over 10 individuals a permit is required. Late fall through early spring offer the best time to camp to avoid the harsh summer conditions as well as mosquitoes and gnats. Campfires are permitted below the extreme high tide line. Drift-wood is available for this purpose, however dead and down wood from the island's interior should not be used as this decaying organic matter nourishes the maritime forest. Fires should be extinguished with water.
The wilderness areas and the adjacent waters are designated as Pack It In and Pack It Out areas. Do not litter, dispose of human waste properly, and carry out all your trash with you. Consider also carrying out additional trash in your vicinity as marine debris and litter are a major issue for this coastal landscape.
Safety and Current Conditions
As you plan for your visit, consider the weather and marine weather forecasts, tide conditions, and familiarize yourself with the lay of the land.
While in Gulf Islands Wilderness, be aware of poison ivy, changing weather conditions, sun stroke, heat exposure, cold exposure, ocean conditions, rip currents, and small craft warning. Swimming is at your own risk. Never swim by yourself; beware of signs of hypothermia and exertion, and always be wary of the weather.
Be sure to visit the Davis Bayou Visitor Center in Ocean Springs, Mississippi to speak with Park Rangers to better orient and prepare you for your trip. For more information, please visit the park's website at http://www.nps.gov/guis
Want to Volunteer for Wilderness?
Citizens who volunteer their time to steward our wilderness areas are an essential part of wilderness management. Contact the following groups to inquire about volunteer opportunities.