Have you ever wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life? Dreamed of spending a day on a private uninhabited island overflowing with pristine beaches? You can find this and more during an excursion to West Ship Island, located twelve miles off the Mississippi coast. Teeming with natural beauty, this island offers a peaceful retreat from the cares of the world.
To Get There:
West Ship Island, a branch of the National Park Service’s Gulf Island Natural Seashore, is only accessible by private boat or a seasonal passenger ferry which runs from mid-March until late October. Private boats are welcome to dock at West Ship Island year round during daylight hours. The seasonal passenger ferry leaves daily from Gulf Port, Mississippi. Tickets can be purchased in advance online or at the dock on the day of the excursion. Once the ticket is purchased there is no further admission charge to the island.
History of West Ship Island
The island has a long and storied past with countries from around the world claiming possession. Originally claimed by the French when discovered by explorer Pierre de Moyne d’Iberville in 1699, the island was officially christened Ile aux Vaisseaux (French for “Ship Island”) in 1702. The island served as an important port for French immigration to the new world for several years but was later ceded to England in 1763. England held the island for twenty years and then gifted it to Spain in 1783. Spain held the island until it was claimed by the United States in 1810. The island was reclaimed by the British during the War of 1812 as a base for the British Navy.
Claimed once again by the US Government, the army began construction of a fort in 1859. Building on the fort continued until the Civil War when the island was captured by the Confederates and the fort renamed “Fort Twigg.” In 1861, after a brief battle, the Union army recaptured the fort from the Confederates who were grateful to escape the heat, humidity, and insects. Work resumed on the Fort, which was later used for a Confederate prison and a garrison for a group of African- American soldiers. Construction was halted for the second time in 1866.
Over the years the island served as the country’s first quarantine station and as an anti-submarine beach patrol by the Coast Guard during World War II. The island was split into two sections, West Ship Island and East Ship Island, by Hurricane Camille in 1969. The land was dedicated as part of the National Sea Shore in the early 1970’s.
Things To Do On West Ship Island:
1. Fort Massachusetts- Open seasonally, the fort holds artifacts of the islands’ history. Free guided tours are given by Park Rangers and are available most days.
2. Picnicking- A Covered Picnic area is available along with restroom and showers, which are open seasonally. A snack bar is open seasonally, but it is probably best to pack snacks and a lunch and leave the cooler in a shady spot on the pavilion while exploring the rest of the island.
3. The Beach- A beautiful beach surrounds the island. You can walk along the shore, play with the kids, or rest and relax. The beach near the boat dock is an excellent place for spotting marine life, such as stingrays, dolphins, jellyfish, and fish.
4. Swimming- A designated swim area is available although life guards might not always be on duty.
5. Wildlife Viewing- The island is perfect for bird watching. You can find a guide of birds you might see in the area and pictures of the birds in this free guide. A free guide to the botanical life in the area is also available.
Things To Know Before You Go:
* The Mississippi Sun is hot! Pack plenty of water and liquids to stay hydrated.
* Be sure to pack sunscreen and bug spray.
* Coolers are allowed and there is a covered picnic area available.
* Pets are permitted If on leashes of six feet or less but are not allowed on the North or South beaches, in the fort or in pavilions or rest rooms. To be honest, this is one time it’s best not to take a pet as they would be in the sun for the entire day.
* Be aware there is no way to leave the island except during scheduled ferry departure times. Plan accordingly and be back to the boat dock in enough time to make the ferry.
Whether you plan to spend a day with family, commune with nature, or spend a romantic afternoon, West Ship Island provides it all in a beautiful natural setting. No wonder it’s the most visited of the Mississippi areas in the Gulf Islands National Seashore.
Have you visited West Ship Island? How did you spend your day? What wildlife did you see?
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