Gulf Islands National Seashore (Mississippi) | SHIP ISLAND

Satellite view of Ship Island

Satellite view of Ship Island


Ship Island Ferry

The Beach

Fort Massachusetts


Ship Island is the most visited island in the Mississippi unit of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. This has nothing to do with it being better than the other four islands in the park, it’s just that this is the only island that can be reached by public ferry service. Visiting any of the other islands requires that you have your own boat (private boats are welcome here as well). Because of the increased number of tourists, the west end of Ship Island has amenities not found on the other islands. A covered picnic pavilion, snack bar and store, and restrooms with showers make a visit to the island as convenient as stepping out onto the crowded beach in front of your hotel room, only here you are on one of the rare, undeveloped beaches in the United States. Other than the small tourist facility area, Ship Island is as pristine today as it was a thousand years ago.

A visit to Ship Island is first and foremost a trip to the beach. There is a mid-1800s military fort on the island, Fort Massachusetts, but it is rather small and won’t take up much more than a half hour of your time, even if you are a huge military buff. There are no trees on the island, so to escape from the sun you have the choices of a beach umbrella (bring your own or rent one), the picnic pavilion, or hide somewhere inside the fort.

Ship Island Beach, Gulf Islands National Seashore in Mississippi

Ship Island Beach, Gulf Islands National Seashore in Mississippi

Up until 1969 when Hurricane Camille hit, Ship Island was one island. The hurricane blew a channel between the west and east ends, creating West Ship Island and East Ship Island. All of the barrier islands are essentially giant sandbars, not solid earth, which is why they are always changing. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina wrecked further havoc, not only destroying all of the beach-related amenities, but also the Ship Island Lighthouse. It was not the original lighthouse, but a replica of a second generation, 1886 lighthouse that had caught fire and burned down in 1972 due to careless campers. It took nearly thirty years for funds to be raised, but the replica was standing on the 1889 foundation by 2000. Formal dedication came in 2004; the next year it was gone.

In early 2019, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers joined East and West Ship islands together with a long sand bar to form one island once again. The island was also widened in front of Fort Massachusetts to keep it from falling into the sea. Prior to the widening, the waves were practically lapping at the fort walls.

Fort Massachusetts in 2016, Gulf Islands National Seashore

Fort Massachusetts in 2016, Gulf Islands National Seashore

Fort Massachusetts in 2022, Gulf Islands National Seashore

Fort Massachusetts in 2022, Gulf Islands National Seashore

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Last updated on April 29, 2022
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