A great place to launch a small boat for a big adventure.
- Name: Davis Bayou
- In brief: This National Park Service campground is the gateway to the offshore Mississippi islands.
- Where: Davis Bayou is on the Mississippi coast just east of Ocean Springs, a friendly little art-oriented town between Pascagoula and Biloxi. Map and Chart.
- Fees: Launch fee: $3.00. Camping fee: $16.00/night–includes water, electricity, picnic table, and grill.
- Weather at the base camp.
- Ramp: double, well-maintained, with docks on each side. Not for deep draft boats. The channel may be difficult for boats that draw over two feet.
- Camping: Yes. 57 tent and RV sites. No primitive camping on the mainland, but allowed on the offshore islands.
Maybe I shouldn’t write a destination piece on a place I haven’t actually sailed yet, but yesterday Nancy and I drove over to scout out launching sites for our cruise to the offshore Mississippi islands, planned for April, and we were completely smitten by this National Park Service campground and boat launch.
The campground itself was completely packed with snowbirds in large RVs and travel trailers– I only saw a couple of tents in the whole campground, and there were no sites available. But probably this situation changes in the summertime, to some extent. No reservations are accepted, so it’s first-come, first-served.
The Davis Bayou acreage was hard-hit by Hurricane Katrina– many trees are down in the surrounding woods and marshes, but the park has returned to its former glory in most respects.
The boat launch facilities are fine for small boat sailors. The channel winds through salt marshes out to the wide-open Mississippi Sound, and on the other side of that expanse of blue water are the wonderful islands of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. The channel is not deep, but that just means that you aren’t as likely to be run over by a shrimper or charter boat on your way.
Better yet, your vehicle and trailer can be left overnight near the ramp. I spoke to one of the park’s law enforcement rangers, and he told me that in the time he’s been there, there’s only been one car broken into at the ramp, which is deep inside the boundaries of the park, at the end of a road that is closed at night. My feeling is that this is an unusually safe place to leave a trailer and vehicle.
In addition to the wonderful sailing between the mainland and the islands, there are vast salt marshes that can be explored by small boat, and within a day’s sail you can reach a number of intriguing destinations. To the east is a wild coastline of swamps and scrub, cut by countless creeks and small waterways, and dotted with small marshy islands rarely visited. This is a wilderness accessible only by very shallow draft boats– in many places there is less than a foot of water, but if you can get there, you’ll be in a real jungle– one of the few left in the United States. To the north is the Pascagoula River, with hundreds of miles of waterways cut into the delta. The Pascagoula has the distinction of being among the last free-flowing rivers left in the lower 48 states– there are no dams on the river or on its major tributaries.
There’s a fine cruising guide to this area written by Scott B. Williams, which details many of the area attractions for cruisers.
Though Mississippi doesn’t usually play a large part in the sun and sand dreams of landlocked sailors, it’s truly astonishing how much this short coastline has to offer the small boat sailor. Unspoiled white sand beaches can be found on uninhabited islands far enough from the mainland to keep casual tourists away, the area is rich with history, and the vast salt marshes and wild swampy forests that fringe the mainland contribute to the abundant sea life. Restaurants, fish camps, inns, and seafood markets can be found tucked into the most unlikely places, and the area has always attracted the eccentric and the artistic.
It’s attracted me, too, and I can’t wait to explore this great cruising ground.