Explore these natural worlds just off the interstates
in Arkansas and Mississippi.
By Susan Morse
What’s the difference between an interstate highway and a national wildlife refuge?
Sometimes, just a few miles–and a world of natural wonders.
In Title: A young fisherman reeling in his catch at the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in east-central Arkansas off Interstate 40. Karen Graves, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo
Above: Outdoor enthusiasts enjoying the wetland sights of the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge by canoe. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo
Above: From the boardwalk at Tallahatchie National Wildlife Refuge near Holcomb, Miss., visitors can try to spot migratory birds. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo
Below: A pectoral sandpiper at Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge near Turrell, Ark. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo
That’s worth knowing the next time you need a break from a long monotonous drive. On several of the region’s busiest arteries in Arkansas and Mississippi, short detours lead to federally protected wildlife havens and offer relief for your jangled nerves. A few examples include:
A “wild” stop in Mississippi
If you’re on a long road trip along Interstate 55 in Mississippi, reward yourself with a stop at Tallahatchie National Wildlife Refuge. Fifteen miles off I-55 near Holcomb, the refuge is a scenic natural area where you can fish, explore and view migratory birds.
The migratory bird refuge, being restored from farmland to bottomland hardwood forest, attracts a wide range of local migratory bird species, especially waterfowl. In winter, you’ll likely see mallards, greenwing teal, northern shovelers and gadwalls. In other seasons, you might glimpse a peregrine falcon or bald eagle or dickcissel. A boardwalk trail through a cypress slough offers welcome shade on a hot day. There’s also a wildlife viewing platform and fishing pier, as well as a gravel driving route that winds through Tippo Bayou.
The refuge is open from sunrise to sunset. Restrooms are off-site in the refuge office a mile off the interstate; it’s open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call ahead or stop by the office to get a refuge brochure. Visitors should wear orange during hunting season in fall and winter. Contact the refuge at (662) 226-8286 or www.fws.gov/southeast.
Time out for fishing
From Arkansas’s northeast corner, it’s just a hop up I-55 along the Mississippi River to Missouri and Illinois. The shortest of detours (1.5 miles) off Arkansas’s stretch of I-55 will let you cast your line first in Wapanocca Lake at scenic Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge near Turrell, Ark. From March 15 to Oct. 31, you can fish for largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie and catfish while you enjoy the birds.
A wildlife island in an agricultural sea, Wapanocca Refuge is a prime wintering area for migratory waterfowl and a major stopping place for migrating warblers. A 5.5-mile auto tour route through the refuge’s hardwood forest and cypress/willow swamp is ideal for wildlife viewing and photography. A public boat ramp is located off State Highway 77.
The refuge is open sunrise to sunset. Pick up a brochure from the roadside brochure rack. While the visitor center is being rebuilt, no rest facilities are available. For details, contact the refuge at (870) 343-2595 or www.fws.gov/wapanocca.
The wetlands of Cache River National Wildlife Refuge, critically important to migratory birds and waterfowl, are among the last undisturbed areas of the Lower Mississippi River Valley. Native oaks, cypress, gum and pecan trees enhance wildlife diversity. Take the Biscoe or Brinkley exit about three miles off Interstate 40 to see the area’s beauty for yourself.
The refuge, located about 16 miles south of Augusta in east-central Arkansas, is open to hunting and fishing, boating and hiking, wildlife interpretation and photography.
The refuge is open from sunrise to sunset. Pick up a refuge brochure at the information kiosk at the entrance to the George tract, three miles north of I-40 on State Highway 33. There are no rest facilities. The refuge office is located a half hour or more away. Contact the refuge at (870) 347-2614 or www.fws.gov/cacheriver.
Other refuges in the region and located near the interstate include:
- Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge is located about one mile north of Interstate 10 at exit 61 in Gautier, Miss., just off the coast. Visitors can see a non-migratory subspecies of crane, especially in winter. There’s also new visitor center with a film, exhibits, a bookstore and a nice nature trail that explores the wet pine savanna, where visitors will see carnivorous plants and orchids in bloom. Visitor center hours are 9 a.m.–3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Call (228) 497-6322 or visit www.fws.gov/mississippisandhillcrane.
- Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge is also close to I-10. It has a nature trail (called the Escatawpa Trail) right at the I-10 welcome center as you enter Mississippi from Alabama. Call (228) 497-6322, or visit www.fws.gov/grandbay.
Traveling from the blacktop to these beautiful wildlife refuges can only take a matter of minutes. And while your road trip might take longer with these side excursions, it will be much richer and memorable for the natural wonders that you’ll experience.
Susan Morse is a writer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service