Mississippi's Family Getaways

Mississippi's Family Getaways

Summer's upon us, so it's time to plan your vacation. Here are some ideas for combining angling with family fun! (June 2007)

Photo by Bill Banaszewski.

As the days get longer and the temperatures begin to heat up, many Mississippians are looking forward to getting outside and enjoying the summer. And with the kids out of school, why not make this year's summer vacation an angling adventure they won't soon forget?

Despite their fascination with high-tech gadgets and cell phones, most kids in today's fast-paced modern world still have a blast catching a stringer of bluegills, paddling a canoe, or taking in the naturally beautiful sights and sounds on a hike through the heart of Mississippi. No matter where you live in the Magnolia State, there are numerous places to take the family and enjoy these simple activities that forge family bonds and nurture a love for the outdoors that will last a lifetime. And best of all, you won't have to wear the numbers off your credit card in order to find a great spot where your family can enjoy an unforgettable outdoor vacation.

From oxbow lakes and coastal marshes to giant manmade reservoirs, fishing is by far one of the most popular outdoor activities in Mississippi. And with 24 state parks scattered throughout the state, a great family fishing vacation is literally just down the road.

From the Appalachian Mountain foothill country in Tishomingo State Park to the Mississippi River bluffs in the Vicksburg National Military Park or the sandy beaches of the Gulf Shores National Seashore's Horn Island, Mississippi has plenty to offer. One of the great attractions of the Mississippi's state parks is that each is unique. And for those wishing to combine education and adventure with a multitude of outdoor activities, there is no better place than one of these facilities.

In order to help launch this year's summer vacation season, I've selected the top three Mississippi family fishing getaways for the corresponding months of June, July, and August. I've chosen these locations because they're kid-friendly, with plenty of room and opportunity for young anglers to experience the joy of fishing along with a wide variety of other activities and attractions sure to appeal to the entire family. Each of these state parks is family oriented and a great place for a weekend or a week-long summer vacation. So let's get started!

JUNE

Trace State Park

Pontotoc County is home to 600-acre Trace Lake. This is a top quality recreational lake that has gained a reputation as one of Mississippi's finest fishing hotspots. Located 10 miles east of Pontotoc and nine miles west of Tupelo off State Highway 6, Trace State Park offers a quiet, natural retreat. Yet, it is also only minutes away from Tupelo, one of Mississippi's fastest-growing cities and the birthplace of the King of Rock 'n' Roll, Elvis Presley.

Trace State Park holds a high ranking on the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks' listing of the state's Best Bream Lakes. However don't overlook the quality largemouth bass, catfish, and crappie that call this lake home. And this June the fishing should be spectacular.

Last summer, the lake level was drastically lowered to allow repair work to be done on the dam. During this period, dense vegetation quickly took over the former lakebed. Once the winter rains refilled the lake to its normal capacity, this same vegetation became home to a smorgasbord of creatures that the fish in the lake have been feasting on. In addition to an abundant food supply, a load of pea gravel was spread in key locations around the lake offering the bream an irresistible choice of top notch spawning beds.

Trace Lake is divided into two sections, with one side allowing both fishing and skiing, and the other open to fishing only. The portion of the lake that offers just fishing is covered with submerged timber in the form of standing stumps and fallen logs. However, anglers with good depthfinders can locate brushpiles and submerged Christmas trees that are sure to hold an abundance of fish in the portion of the lake open to skiing.

If a mess of catfish is what you prefer, then get the grease hot, because those whiskerfish are plentiful in Trace Lake. Just remember that, as is the case with the other state fishing lakes and state park lakes, the fishing methods are restricted to a single hook and line -- trotlines and jugs are not allowed. But according to some of the locals, a single hook baited with beef liver is all you need to catch enough fat channel cats to feed the entire family.

The fishing is productive whether you prefer to be on the water or perched on the shoreline. But if you get a hankering to wet a hook in the deeper waters filled with structure, then you will be pleased to discover that fishing boats are available for rental and ramps are provided for those who wish to launch their own boats.

A Mississippi fishing license is required for all persons ages 16 through 64. All out-of-state anglers 16 and older are required to have a Mississippi fishing license. Licenses may be purchased during office hours at the park office.

A very reasonable Fishing Entrance fee allows access to the lake. This fee is $5 for persons ages 16 through 64 or $3 for those who are disabled or age 65 and older. Another option is the $10 Launching/Fishing Entrance permit, which includes the fishing fee for up to two people and the entrance fee for up to four people. This permit is reduced to $7 for persons who are disabled or age 65 or older.

But don't think for a minute that great fishing is all that's available at Trace State Park. The park offers a multitude of unique recreational opportunities that are certain to appeal to everyone in your family. Whether it's the six air-conditioned cabins featuring outdoor grills and back porches overlooking Trace Lake, the 52 sites available for RV camping featuring picnic tables, grills, electrical and water hookups, or the 10 shaded sites along the lake available for primitive camping, Trace State Park has your camping needs covered. There are the 25 miles of trails that can be used by ATVs, motorcycles and mountain bikes. Helmets are required for ATVs and motorcycles. In addition, portions of the park's trails are set aside for horseback riding. Just as there are facilities for overnight people visitors, the park offers a barn with stalls for the horses as well.

If a mess of catfish is what you prefer, then get the grease hot, because those whiskerfish are plentiful in Trace Lake.

Some of the other attractions that add to Trace State Park's appeal are 25 picnic sites featuring tables and barbeque grills located throughout the park, many affording views of Trace Lake. Then there is Old Warrior Run, the first North Mississippi long arm cours

e, offering 18 holes of disc golf excitement. But, let's not forget the elaborate playground equipment the park built just for the little kids.

"No other facility in Mississippi offers the spectrum of opportunities we have here at Trace State Park," said park manager Donald Campbell. "Once people visit here and have an enjoyable stay, they return again and again. There are very few times when there are not visitors in the campground or anglers on the lake. And I can't remember a weekend in recent history when the trails were not being used."

If you want to combine education with adventure, there are a number of attractions located within a short drive of Trace State Park. In nearby Tupelo you can visit the Natchez Trace Parkway Headquarters, the birthplace of Elvis Presley, the Tupelo National Battlefield, the Vanity Fair Outlet Mall, and the Barnes Crossing Outlet Mall. Maybe William Faulkner's birthplace in New Albany or Brice's Crossroads Civil War Museum and Battlefield near Baldwyn would better suite you fancy. If so, you won't want to miss the 143rd anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Brice's Crossroads to be held June 9-10, 2007.

If you would rather get a little wild, then perhaps you should check out the Tupelo Buffalo Park and Zoo and take the tour on their Monster Bison Bus. With one of the largest buffalo herds east of the Mississippi River, you can view these impressive animals up close and personal. Along with Big John the buffalo, you can also see exotic animals like Sal the tiger, Patches the giraffe, and many more.

To learn more about Trace State Park and the opportunities that abound there, call (662) 489-2958.

JULY

Natchez State Park

Thanks to Hurricane Katrina wreaking havoc on the state parks along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I have selected Natchez State Park as my top choice for a family fishing vacation in South Mississippi. Natchez State Park is located just 10 miles north of historic Natchez, the oldest settlement on the Mississippi River. Prior to the Civil War more than half of the millionaires in the entire United States lived in Natchez, constructing elegant mansions unrivaled in size and elegance by any in the nation. Most of these splendid antebellum homes were spared during the Civil War, and many are now open for tours.

However, Natchez State Park is also famous in it's own right. The largest bass in Mississippi history -- a largemouth weighing 18.15 pounds -- was caught in Natchez Lake in 1992. Ever since, park's lake has become a hotspot for bass fishermen attempting to break the old record.

Known primarily for its giant Florida-strain largemouth bass, this 230-acre lake is also well stocked with catfish and bream. With a wide variety of structure available, from flooded creek channels and brush piles to submerged timber and abundant shoreline vegetation, bass anglers have a vast array of cover at which to cast a lure.

Although Natchez Lake isn't very large, a boat is necessary to reach most of the prime fishing spots. The lake has an excellent launch for anyone desiring to bring a boat. However, nice stringers of bream and catfish can be caught by fishing from the pier or along the shoreline.

Most young anglers prefer a bucket of crickets and a cane pole to the finest rod and reel bass combo on the market. There is just something uniquely exciting about watching a red and white bobber disappear below the surface as a fish tries to escape with your bait.

Natchez State Park offers everything a vacationing family requires. Ten lakeside, air-conditioned cabins equipped with bed and bath linens and basic kitchen necessities are available for those who want to feel like they are at home. Then there are 50 sites available for RV camping, featuring picnic tables, grills, and electrical and water hook-ups. Finally, for those who really want to rough it, a wooded area near the developed RV campground features eight sites suitable for tent camping. Picnic tables and bathhouses with showers are located near the primitive camping area.

A picturesque picnic area overlooking a stately southern pecan grove is located just a half-mile from Natchez Lake. Ten picnic sites feature tables and grills. Not far away is a playground for the kids and a scenic nature trail for the entire family to enjoy.

A number of historic attractions are located a short distance from Natchez State Park. Some of the more interesting ones are Natchez Under-the-Hill, Emerald Mound, the start of the Natchez Trace Parkway, Grand Village of the Natchez Indians, Old South Winery, the Mississippi River, historic Jefferson College, and a multitude of antebellum homes. And since you're going to be in the area, a few other fascinating attractions that you don't want to pass up are just a short drive north of the park near Port Gibson. Those are Grand Gulf State Military Monument, Grand Gulf Nuclear Station, First Presbyterian Church, (the church with the 12-foot tall gold hand on top of the steeple), and Windsor Ruins.

For more information about Natchez State Park and what it has to offer, contact the park office at (601) 442-2658.

AUGUST

Roosevelt State Park

My final choice -- and one of my favorites -- is Roosevelt State Park. Conveniently located between Meridian and Jackson on U.S. Interstate 20 at Morton, Roosevelt offers an abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities wrapped in a picturesque setting. The park's scenic overlook provides a panoramic view of the Bienville National Forest.

The largest bass in Mississippi history -- a largemouth weighing 18.15 pounds -- was caught in Natchez Lake in 1992.

Shadow Lake is the centerpiece of Roosevelt State Park. Although it isn't one of the largest state-operated lakes at 160 acres, what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in opportunities for fishing. Bass and catfish are popular targets, but the bream are what Shadow Lake is best known for. Unlike many of the state park lakes, Shadow offers excellent shoreline fishing around much of the lake. However, a launch is available for those who prefer to fish by boat.

Roosevelt State Park is one of the most family oriented state parks in Mississippi, when you look at it from the standpoint of all-around outdoor fun and the wide selection of activities and facilities available.

The lodging options available at Roosevelt are a perfect example. The park features a 20-unit Motel Lodge, with one unit handicap accessible. Each of these units is furnished with bed and bath linens, basic kitchen equipment, TV and telephone. Then there are the 15 cabins with similar furnishings and all affording beautiful views of Shadow Lake. All cabins are air-conditioned, feature screened-in porches and accommodate four to 12 people. Or if you need something larger, the park's eight air-conditioned dormitory-style cabins accommodate 16 persons each. Additionally, 109 sites are available for RV camping, featuring picnic tables and grills. All sites include electrical and water hookups, with 81 of those also having sewer hook-ups. Finally, a scenic wooded area on the upper end of Shadow Lake is available for tent camping.

Roosevelt provides a number of other activities that are certain to appeal to the whole family. The Visitor's Center houses the park office, a video game room, and a souvenir shop, featuring a variety of Mississippi gift items. The adjoining swimming pool is open for two sessions per day. Twenty picnic sites complete with grills are located throughout the park, many affording beautiful lakeside views. Four nature trails wind through the park, providing an unobstructed view of native trees, flowers, and wildlife. Two lighted tennis courts and a lighted softball field are available to guests at Roosevelt. Water skiing is permitted on Shadow Lake from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. Like most state parks, playground equipment is also available at Roosevelt.

To find out more about everything Roosevelt State Park has to offer, call the park office at (601) 732-6316.

Find more about Mississippi fishing and hunting at: MississippiGameandFish.com

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