Published: Jul/Aug 2003

Before You Go
For a copy of the Arkansas Adventure Guide, which includes floating information, call 1-800-NATURAL (800-628-8725) or visit www.arkansas.com/
outdoors_sports/float.
For information about Blue Bayou Water Park, call (225) 753-3333 or click on www.bluebayou.com. Water Town USA can be reached at (318) 938-5475 or at www.watertownusa.com online.
Visitor information is available from the Mississippi Gulf Coast by calling 1-888-467-4853 or by visiting www.gulfcoast.org.

For Travel Assistance
Visit your nearest AAA service office for maps, TripTiks and TourBook guides.
Order travel materials online or use our online travel research tools.

Cool it!
The South’s many waterways, both manmade and natural, offer plenty of great ways to beat the summertime heat

By Margaret Dornaus

Canoeists on the Mulberry River in Arkansas (above). /Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism photo. A set of footprints leading the way to the water’s edge on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (below). /Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau photo
Summertime and the living is easy. At least it can be if, like many a savvy Southern traveler, you know how to keep cool as the mercury rises. Instead of succumbing to summer’s incessant dog days, hightail it to the nearest body of water and joyfully bay at the sun.

Pass a summer day surrounded by shade-covered bluffs as you float a lazy river. Catch the mist off waves crashing against one of the Gulf Coast’s white diamond beaches. Shoot down a slippery water park slide. The region’s many waterways (manmade and otherwise) provide plenty of options for preventing a mid-summer meltdown.

Ride the rivers of Arkansas

In Arkansas, sink an oar into one of the Ozarks’ many fine floating rivers. One of the state’s most famous rivers is the Buffalo. Located in a wilderness area at the edge of Arkansas’s northern border, the Buffalo in 1972 became the nation’s first federal river park. As many as 1 million visitors annually enjoy the nationally preserved river and its surrounding land. With headwaters winding through the region’s rugged Boston Mountains, the Buffalo flows eastward through layers of limestone, sandstone and chert to create some of the most picturesque scenery for miles around. One of the river’s most popular floats is a stretch that spans Ponca and the state Highway 7 crossing, where Class I and II rapids, swimming holes and mid-America’s highest waterfall provide welcome relief from summer heat.

Another floating jewel in this state’s crown is the Mulberry, located just off historic Highway 23 (Pig Trail National Scenic Byway) north of Ozark. This river curves its way through densely wooded bluffs outlining spectacular vistas of the surrounding Ozark National Forest. Campgrounds and canoe rentals dot access areas that run alongside the scenic river valley road.

Meanwhile, Big Piney Creek, rising out of the forest and flowing south to the Arkansas River, rounds out the triad of many Arkansans’ favorite rivers for fishing and floating.
Splash down in Louisiana and let the good times roll

Looking for a way to beat the heat of Cajun country’s red-hot, chili pepper summer? Then look no further than one of the region’s splashiest water parks. At Blue Bayou Water Park, just south of Baton Rouge, the floodgates are open, ready and waiting to quench the thirst of even the most avid water park enthusiast. This season’s new ride, Conja’, is being billed as the biggest inline water slide. Adventure-lovers will want to check out the Mad Moccasin, an aptly named roller-coaster of a slide with twin, coiled snakes that promise to kick your body heat up a notch before extinguishing the fire with a quick, refreshing splashdown. Or try out one of the park’s original slides, the Flyin’ Pirogue. At Pirate’s Cove, test your sea legs while climbing ropes to a ship’s mast in time to the choreographed rhythms of giant water cannon blasts. Or stroll through Lafourche Lagoon, with its gator-and-lily pad walk.

Admission to Dixie Landin’ amusement park is included in the water park’s ticket price.

In the northwest corner of the state, Shreveport’s 20-plus-acre Water Town USA bills itself as "The Beach Within Reach." Here, daredevils of all ages can try mastering the slippery slopes of the Cannon Ball, the Black Hole or the even more ominous-sounding Atlantic Panic. Afraid of heights but still want to get wet? Then arm yourself with a bright yellow tube and swagger with swashbuckling aplomb to Buccaneer’s Bay, or, alternatively, just kick back and dive into neighboring Lafitte’s Lazy Bay.

Coasting on the Gulf of Mexico

If combing the beach for shells and soaking up sun, sand and sea are more to your liking, head toward Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, a beachcomber’s paradise.

Along U.S. Highway 90, there’s an impressive array of antebellum homes in small coastal towns like Waveland, Bay St. Louis and Pass Christian before the coast’s larger resort towns of Gulfport and Biloxi, where casino nightlife complements daytime excursions to the shore.

From Gulfport, daily shuttles ferry sun-worshippers 12 miles offshore to Ship Island, a natural barrier island surrounded by clear waters. Take a break from the sun to explore Fort Massachusetts, a pre-Civil War fort. Or, for a bird’s eye view of Gulf Islands National Seashore, try the one-hour scenic flight offered by Gulfport’s Wings of Anglers (1-866-363-3592).

In Biloxi, map out a personalized sightseeing course that includes everything from fishing, swimming, picnicking and crabbing as you explore Back Bay sandbars and learn more about Barrier Island history with one of the area’s newer attractions—Biloxi Bay Charters (228-832-7622 or 228-209-9977). Or set sail for one of the Gulf Coast’s famous sunsets with one of Biloxi’s newest cruise services, North Star Sailing (228-594-6834).

Continue your coastal trek with an exploration of the quiet community of Ocean Springs, where, in addition to the beach, you can enjoy a variety of local art displayed at the Walter Anderson Museum or Shearwater Pottery. Your final destination, Pascagoula, has the Old Spanish Fort (said to be the oldest building in the region) that is well worth taking in on a break before ending your wet-and-wild summer tour.

Margaret Dornaus is a contributor from Ozark, Ark.


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