De Soto National Forest

De Soto National Forest


Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southern Region

802,944 acres (518,587 federal/ 284,357 other)



All six National Forests in Mississippi are managed as one administrative unit, with De Soto National Forest being the southernmost of them.  This sandy stretch of forest near the Gulf Coast has some of the last longleaf pine savannahs remaining in North America, providing habitat for multiple species of carnivorous plants.  De Soto National Forest also contains Mississippi’s sole National Wild and Scenic River and its only two designated Wilderness areas: Black Creek and Leaf. 


Turkey Fork Recreation Area, Airey Lake, Big Biloxi Recreation Area, Ashe Nursery, Buttercup Flats, Bethel ATV Trail, Rattlesnake Bay ATV Trail, Longleaf Horse Trail, Black Creek National Recreation Trail, Tuxachanie National Recreation Trail, Bigfoot Horse Trail, General Jackson Interpretive Trail

Must-Do Activity

There are several boat launches along Black Creek that also provide access to the 41-mile Black Creek National Recreation Trail that follows its course, which was partially closed during our visit to Fairly Bridge Landing.  The National Forest boasts the 69-mile-long Bethel ATV Trail, as well as routes specifically designed for mountain bikers and horseback riders.

Best Trail

Tuxachanie National Recreation Trail runs 12 miles through the National Forest with its western trailhead easily accessible right on busy Highway 49.  This first four miles of this sandy trail follows an old logging railroad that once led to the abandoned sawmill town of Howison.  Interpretive signs explain how sap was collected from longleaf pine trees, then cooked down in kilns to produce turpentine and rosin.  Near the far eastern end of the trail is a lakeside World War II Prisoner of War camp (see Camping below).

Watchable Wildlife

De Soto National Forest has a wide variety of habitats, from sandy pine ridges to flooded tupelo-baldcypress swamps.  White-tailed deer and American alligators are two of the most common types of wildlife.  Wet pine savannahs support rare animal species, like gopher frogs and gopher tortoises, as well as unique orchids and pitcher plants (especially at Buttercup Flats). 

Instagram-worthy Photo

Concrete ammunition bunkers are the only visible remains of the World War II Prisoner of War camp on the Tuxachanie National Recreation Trail.

Peak Season

Spring and fall



Road Conditions

The major highways through the National Forest are paved and even the unpaved roads are flat, packed sand, especially around the World War II Prisoner of War camp.


Developed campgrounds are found at Turkey Creek and Big Boloxi Recreation Areas.  There is free dispersed camping allowed at the far eastern end of the Tuxachanie National Recreation Trail, where a lakeside World War II Prisoner of War camp is also reachable by County Road 402.  Be aware that warning signs suggested the pond there has alligators.

Wilderness Areas

Black Creek Wilderness

Leaf Wilderness

Related Sites

Bienville National Forest (Mississippi)

Apalachicola National Forest (Florida)

Gulf Islands National Seashore (Florida)

Nearest National Park

Hot Springs

Conifer Tree Species

baldcypress, loblolly pine, longleaf pine, shortleaf pine

Flowering Tree Species

white oak, southern red oak, willow oak, overcup oak, blackjack oak, laurel oak, shagbark hickory, winged elm, black gum, tupelo gum, sweetgum, red maple, flowering dogwood, tulip-poplar, mountain-laurel, sweet bay, southern magnolia, black cherry, loblolly bay, American holly, yaupon holly, dahoon holly, black titi

Explore More – Why does yaupon holly have to descriptive Latin binomial of Ilex vomitoria?

Learn more about this and the 154 other National Forests in our new guidebook Out in the Woods

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2 thoughts on “De Soto National Forest”

  1. That’s so interesting about the WWII POW camp. It’s amazing to me how many camps, of different sorts, that there are. We have quite a few in Canada also, one at Neys Provincial Park in Ontario for example, and it’s set on Lake Superior.

    Liked by 1 person

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