|Tuxachanie National Recreation Trail, a 11.9 mile hiking trail in the Desoto National Forest in southeast Mississippi|
The Tuxachanie National Recreation Trail, a 12-mile hiking trail in the De Soto National Forest north of Gulfport, MS, does not make a good first impression. At least it doesn't when a hike starts at the western trail head off U.S 49.
(The pond is well-known for its population of insect eating pitcher plants.)
But soon, very soon, the vista from the trail begins to improve. White diamond blazes suddenly veer to the south taking the trail over a low rutted ridge and east to a stretch of beech and magnolia hardwood forest flanking a small creek. Coming just after the one-mile marker,this pretty grove offers deep shade, a good thing when the sun is out and the air is hot.
The five miles or so of the trail from the western trailhead at US 49 to Airey Lake, is the most popular section of the trail. Mile posts ever mile mark the distance. From Airey Lake the path bends to the southeast for another 6.6 miles and deadends at the trail's eastern terminus at the POW Camp. The total distance for the trail, one-way is 12 miles.
Trail was first blazed about 40 years agoThe trail is out and back: there are no loops. When the trail was first blazed in the early 1970's old-timers will remember it was 17-miles long and contained a loop at its eastern end. But about five miles of the trail east of Tuxachainie Creek has been cut because of drainage problems. This eliminated a loop leaves the total mileage at about 12 miles.
Trailriders on horseback are often seen on Tuxachanie Trail east of Airey Lake. Bicycling is not permitted on Tuxachanie Trail but you will probably see some anyway.
In this bottomland hardwood forest about a mile from the trailhead on US 49 the traffic noise diminishes, overtaken by the sound of the wind rustling through the broad deep green leaves of the magnolias. Near mile post two, a substantial iron bridge crosses over a larger creek. The creek banks here offer plenty of space for a picnic or to sit with your "dawgs" dangling in the cool creek water.
From here it is about three miles to the Airey Lake Recreation Area, (UTM R16 0302609E, 3396941N). The trail is mostly straight or curves gently. Long, shallow grades, up and down, deal with what little elevation change there is--about 30 to 40 feet separate the lowest creek bottom from the highest ridge. This is not surprising. From U.S. 49 to Airey Lake the trail follows an abandoned logging railroad built early 1900's using hand tools and mule-powered scoops. Here the broad smooth path passes through an upland pine forest, recently scorched by a prescribed burn. Between the ridges are pine savannas and wetlands where the lucky might find a wild orchard. Spiky green palmettos dot the scorched black and brown forest floor.
Airey Lake has a small primitive campground, drinking waterAt Airey Lake there is a small, free, primitive campground. It has water, pit toilets, picnic tables and there is a fishing lake. Located on all-weather Airey Tower Rd, hikers often camp there using it as a base for day hikes on the trail. Camping is permitted most anywhere in the forest, and this section of De Soto is crisscrossed by dirt jeep trails and gravel roads maintained by the Forest Service. But you must camp away from the roads and the trails. And you are not likely to find a site near water. Be careful with fire, build only small fires, and pack all garbage out. No alcohol is allowed in any De Soto NF campground.
Shuttling vehicles back and forth between U.S. 49 and Airey Lake to eliminate having to hike back to the trailhead is a hassle. The shuttle is a long, roundabout drive and requires a map. Even with a map it is easy to get lost.
East of Airey Lake the trail bends south another 6.5 miles to end at the POW Camp near FS 402. Citing seepage problems with half of what used to be a loop trail back to Airey Lake, the Forest Service has now shortened the trail, eliminating half of the loop.
The old P.O.W. camp, now the trail's eastern terminus, was used to house German prisoners of war during WWII. You could camp here but there are no facilities and the area has a history of vandalism. Also east of Airey Lake, are a number of horse trails and forest roads making staying on the trail difficult.
The De Soto National Forest headquarters in Wiggins, MS, sells a brochure ($4) about the trail that includes info on the trail and a map of the trail in 1:24,000 scale (the scale of a USGS quad map). However since the piece was printed in 1983, the trail has had minor revisions not reflected in the map. A more recent map can be found at http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/regions/southern/TuxachanieTrail/index.shtml. This site also has lots of information about wildflowers found along the trail.
The only drinking water on the trail is at the Airey Lake Recreation Area, so leave the trailhead with enough water and snacks for the entire time you plan to be hiking, especially in summer. How much is enough? At least two quarts. Bug repellent, with DEET, is also recommended for hikers year-around. There is a nearby mountain bike trail at Bethel. A map of the Bethel bike trail can be found at the national forests of Mississippi web site.
When driving to the U.S. 49 trail head north from Gulfport, MS, watch carefully for the small (10 cars) parking lot. It is just over a small hill and if you are not in the right lane and looking for it you will miss it. The parking lot is about 17 miles north of the 110/U.S. 49 interchange in Gulfport, MS.
For more information call the U.S. Forest Service in Wiggins, MS at 601-528-616.