When the votes were tallied in this year’s BACKPACKER Reader Ratings poll (“The Best Backpacking in America,”), the outcome included a happy coincidence. You picked the Black Creek National Recreation Trail as Mississippi’s best hiking destination, a place I’d just visited.
For those who have yet to discover this southern gem, take my word for it: The Black Creek Trail is worth your time. The 41-mile path can be as wild as a feral hog, yet it’s only a stone’s throw from New Orleans, Biloxi, and Mobile.
The hikers-only trail follows Black Creek, a Wild and Scenic canoeing mecca (best paddled in fall and spring), through the coastal plains of DeSoto National Forest. The low-country hiking won’t tax you with any serious ups and downs, but there are other challenges. Just try to track all the wildlife in the creek bottoms, piney uplands, oxbow lakes, and swamps. Each zone has unique plants and critters, including longleaf pines, lush hardwoods, beavers, blue herons, red foxes, and wood ducks.
The best section of trail is the 10-mile segment that snakes through the 5,000-acre Black Creek Wilderness. From the segment’s start at MS 29, I hiked through a sun-dappled canopy of lodgepole pines, magnolias, oaks, and dogwoods (good fall colors and great spring flowers), then rambled for several miles across shallow drainages and modest ridges. Good backcountry campsites abound. Choose between hardwood stands and piney uplands.
After crossing Beaverdam Creek via the MS 29 bridge, I descended into the Black Creek floodplain. Here, the trail follows a Native American travel corridor used for thousands of years. Ascending from the floodplain to the top of multicolored bluffs, I watched the creek morph from wide placid stream to narrow frenetic chute and back again. Creekside hiking provides a great opportunity to keep an eye out for wildlife, or just to find a cozy sandbar, close your eyes, and listen to all the critters around you.