A Guide to the Mississippi Barrier Islands, LA

For those seeking solitude, the Mississippi Barrier Islands offer an isolated oasis undisturbed by the happenings along the neighboring Louisiana coast. Both geographically and ecologically unique, the islands are comprised of a fine quartz sand that it is believed to have originated high atop the Appalachian Mountains.

Today they play host to a vibrant wilderness that attracts adventure seekers year round.

Visiting New Orleans and looking for inspiration for an adventurous day trip? From your base at one of the many cheap hotels in New Orleans, the Islands are accessible in a little over two hours.

Here’s our guide to the Mississippi Barrier Islands.


The most easily accessible and thus most popular of the Mississippi Barrier Islands, Ship Island boasts a rich maritime history. The only deep water port between Mobile and the Mississippi River, this island hosted early explorers and acted as a base for Union forces during the American Civil War. For a historical detour, join one of the National Park Service’s seasonal tours of Fort Massachusetts. For excellent swimming, shelling, and hiking, as well as a picturesque boardwalk that extends one-third of a mile across the island, Ship offers an idyllic island escape.


Less than a mile in width at its widest point, Horn Island boasts long stretches of gorgeous beach and majestic sand dunes blanketed in sea oats. Spot alligators, pelicans, other migratory birds, and a vast array of wildlife while hiking through the island’s interior. A series of inland lagoons make for a picture perfect visit.


Now part of the Gulf Island National Seashore, Cat Island was once known for harboring pirates, smugglers, and bootleggers. It gets its name from 17th century French explorers who mistook the island’s native raccoon population for cats and referred to the island as “Isle Aux Chats“ (the island of cats). Its inland bayous and marshes are home to alligators, and the island’s wilderness habitats provide refuge to migratory birds. Visitors can camp on the east beach, hike through the designated National Park, and kayak along the shore.


Meaning “little woods,” Petit Bois is a favorite with visitors who enjoy swimming, fishing, hiking, and bird watching amid the undulating dune landscape. There are no facilities on Petit Bois, so take everything you’ll need for your excursion, and leave nothing behind when you leave.


Although not a barrier island since Deer Island was once part of the mainland, this marshy spit of land is designated as a Mississippi Coastal Preserve and is known as a rookery for the great blue heron. Visitors can enjoy the picturesque stretch of beach, search for ancient Native American arrowheads, fish the coastal waters, or paddle along the shoreline.

With their swathes of wilderness habitats and pristine sandy shores shaped by ocean currents and violent weather patterns, the Mississippi Barrier Islands are the ideal day trip destination for those visiting New Orleans.

NB: All of these islands are accessible by private and charter boats. A passenger ferry operates services to Ship Island. Check the seasonal schedule before you go.