Gulf Islands National Seashore (Mississippi) | THE ISLANDS

Ship Island Beach, Gulf Islands National Seashore

Ship Island Beach, Gulf Islands National Seashore

There are five islands within the Mississippi unit of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, and all are open to the public: Ship Island, Horn Island, West Petit Bois Island (formerly known as Sand Island), and Petit Bois Island, plus the western half and the southern tip of Cat Island, which was added to the National Seashore in 2002. Only Ship Island has a public ferry service; visits to all other islands require that you have your own boat. Backcountry camping is currently allowed on all islands except for Ship Island and Cat Island.

I can’t imagine anyone visiting the islands for any other reason than going to the beach (or camping on the beach), for besides the west end of Ship Island—which has a military fort on it—all are without attractions or amenities. The interiors are mainly tall grass and dunes. I only visited Ship Island, but I can tell you it had the softest sand I have ever felt, and I can only assume the other islands are similar. I was fixated with taking handfuls of sand and rubbing it between my palms, for it was like butter. I’ve never felt sand like that.

Marsh grass covers much of islands at the Mississippi unit of Gulf Islands National Seashore

Marsh grass covers much of islands at the Mississippi unit of Gulf Islands National Seashore

Dunes on Ship Island are typical of the other island dunes at Gulf Islands National Seashore

Dunes on Ship Island are typical of the other island dunes at Gulf Islands National Seashore

Other than common sense, which not everyone has, there are a few rules about day trips to the islands.

  • During bird nesting season, some areas of the islands will be closed. Keep out of these areas.
  • There are no garbage cans on the islands. You must bring all trash back with you.
  • Human waste must be buried at least six inches deep in the sand and away from trails and fresh water sources. Toilet paper must be packed out as garbage.
  • No pets are allowed on Horn or Petit Bois islands.
  • The pier at Horn Island is closed to the public.
  • When using the pier at the west end of Ship Island, private boats must dock on the beach side of the boat hoist. The end of the pier is used by the ferry.
  • At all islands you must anchor offshore and either wade, swim, or use a dinghy to reach the island. You cannot run your boat up on the beach. Also, you cannot anchor in sea grass.
  • The only designated trails are on Horn Island. When on this island you must stay on the trails when walking around, other than when on the beach.
  • No generators or motorized equipment is allowed on the islands.
  • Only the western half and southern tip of Cat Island are owned by the National Park Service. The rest is still private land, so mind landowner privacy.

The following satellite views of the islands are provided so that you can get an idea of which ones have the best beaches. The tops of the photos point back towards the mainland; the bottom is the Gulf of Mexico. In all cases, the best beaches are on the Gulf side, but most likely you’ll want to anchor your boat on the bay side where the seas are much calmer. Most islands are no more than a quarter mile or so across.

Islands are shown as they are positioned in the Gulf from west to east.

Cat Island

Cat Island

Ship Island

Ship Island

Horn Island

Horn Island

West Petit Bois Island (Left) and Petit Bois (right)

West Petit Bois Island (Left) and Petit Bois (right)

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Last updated on April 30, 2022
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