The Black Creek Trail is a scenic hiking trail that winds through the Desoto National Forest and the Black Creek Wilderness area in southern Mississippi. Named after Mississippi’s only scenic riverway, the Black Creek Trail runs close to the Black Creek for many of its 41 miles.
By taking an extended trip to the area this January, we managed to thru-hike the entire Black Creek Trail in under four days to thoroughly experience what it has to offer. When considering our experience on the Black Creek Trail, I see many reasons for hikers and backpackers to make the journey to Mississippi for a southern backpacking experience:
Rustic Natural Environment
The Black Creek Trail provides a true experience of the “Rustic South” through its many miles of pine forests, magnolia groves, creek crossings, steep ravines, cypress bayous, and other natural features. Even though Hurricane Katrina took a toll on the natural environment surrounding the trail in 2005, the natural rehabilitation that is now occurring only seems to add to the experience of the “Rustic South.”
Many areas show minor evidence of the hurricane, and the logging activity that ensued, while other forests were seemingly untouched. The Black Creek Wilderness section of the trail provides the most rustic and natural experience, ensuring total seclusion from the outside world in a maze of deadfalls and preserved forest. Throughout its entirety, hikers and backpackers can experience an amazing assortment of vegetation and different scenery.
Plentiful Water Sources
Especially when backpacking, water sources can be a primary concern for extended trips into the backcountry. Luckily, the Black Creek Trail is far from lacking! In fact, many sources that describe the trail cite that there are around 70-90 water crossings and access points throughout the 41 snaking miles of the trail. When thru-hiking the Black Creek Trail, we found many of these to be pleasant opportunities for water treatment and nearby camping.
The Black Creek waterway is often in close proximity to the trail, but should not be considered a primary water source due to the amount of decaying vegetation and debris within the water. On the other hand, backpackers and hikers should choose one of the many creeks to filter and treat water from. None of the water sources should be chanced without water treatment, and it is always a good idea to take precautions when gathering water. The good news is that many of these tributaries provide consistent access to treatable water for extended trips! This water is available even during drier months and the winter season.
Especially since Katrina, the Black Creek Trail sees hardly any traffic. After having thru-hiked and spent much time on the trail, I can’t help but think that this is a crying shame. Nearly a decade after the hurricane’s damaging force, the Desoto National Forest and Black Creek Wilderness are in speedy recovery! For those that hadn’t experienced the trail and forest before the hurricane, it’s likely that you will barely be able to tell the difference that Katrina might have made. While the trail was significantly affected, it has since been restored and revitalized, with volunteer work being conducted every season to increase the sustainability of the Black Creek Trail.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for silence and solitude, the Black Creek Trail is a perfect opportunity! Even with four days on the trail, we only saw a single hiker (other than our group) the entire time! Out of any locations that I have ventured to, the Black Creek Trail offered the least amount of traffic. The minimal foot-traffic allowed us to enjoy the natural environments and the wilderness section even more than busy places like more commonly-hiked scenic trails. I would highly recommend the Black Creek Trail for a secluded escape to the natural world.
Although commonly hiked during winter months, the Black Creek Trail offers fantastic access to natural environments and wildlife sightings. During our time on the trail, we saw a variety of birds, deer, snakes, lizards, insects, and other wildlife… even in the middle of a drastic cold spell. Combined with various animals, the vegetated surroundings provided constant variety and never seemed very dull to our group. Although much of the trail was “brush-hogged” to ensure that hikers have a passable route through the thick vegetation, we always had plenty to view and enjoy during our time on the trail.
Hunting is prevalent in the DeSoto National Forest, and backpackers/hikers should take special account of hunting seasons in Mississippi, and plan accordingly. Luckily, hunting is not allowed on or near the trail, and no noteworthy incidents have been reported.
Alternative Winter Location
Yet another aspect to love about the Black Creek Trail is its winter appeal. Many backpacking locations are either plagued by winter weather or lack good water sources throughout the winter months. On the Black Creek Trail, you’ll find year-round opportunities for recreation and a prime location to travel to during the times that other, more ideal locations might be snow-covered and unpleasant.
When it comes to southern locations, the Black Creek Trail is a perfect option during the cold months of January. At only 35 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, the Black Creek’s environment stays well-moderated and provides ideal backpacking temperatures in the cooler months. While it may be a daunting commute for those far away, regional and local hikers should take the Black Creek Trail into consideration for outdoor recreation throughout the winter months.
The Black Creek Wilderness
One of the last, but most significant, reasons to hike or backpack this trail is the Black Creek Wilderness section. More than any other segment of trail, the Black Creek Wilderness provides an ideal, rustic, southern backpacking experience. In the wilderness section, you’ll find yourself in a well-marked, but quite intense, segment of adventurous trail. Several aspects of the wilderness make it an adventurous hike: hundreds of cut and uncut deadfalls, tunnels of vegetation, scenic overlooks above the Black Creek, increased wildlife activity, singletrack hiking (versus the brush-hogged sections), a large variety of forest types, less-established campsites, etc.
When hiking the trail, this section can also be somewhat puzzling to navigate, especially if you aren’t used to navigating forested trails. Remember to take special note of each blaze and special markings to ensure you follow the trail appropriately through the technical, forest sections. Carrying a map and compass as backup during the wilderness hike also seems like a good idea (we had to reference ours at least once).
Above all, the wilderness section offers a premier trail experience. If hiking just one section, I would recommend this one for experienced hikers looking for a scenic outing on the Black Creek Trail. The wilderness offers a fantastic opportunity to experience the “Rustic South” by foot, and is hard to rival in because of its uniqueness and variety.
Why not hike the Black Creek Trail?
Even though I fully support the Black Creek Trail, we did find several negative aspects of the trail. Here are a few worth mentioning…
First, the trail is brush-hogged, and not maintained as a singletrack trail. This means that many areas are 4-6 feet wide and feel more like a ski trail. The forest service deems this necessary due to the thick, radical vegetation surrounding the trail.
Secondly, the trail crosses a significant number of roads (outside of the wilderness section). When thru-hiking, we crossed one interstate, at least one highway, and had to hike on the road for various segments as part of the trail.
Thirdly, there are other activities near the trail that prove distracting at times. Examples of these include the noises created by highway traffic, heavy hunting activity (at times), military ranges and/or shooting ranges, and several private properties along the trail.
Even with these negative aspects, I highly encourage outdoor enthusiasts to investigate the Black Creek Trail, and especially the wilderness section! It seems like a hidden gem that is fast-recovering from the effects of hurricane Katrina. Not only that, but the Black Creek Trail provided our group with a perfect southern backpacking experience!