Why We Love the Gulf

Pocket Guide to the Gulf’s Wild Places

No matter your pleasure, there are pockets of pristine coastline to discover

Photo: Carlton Ward Jr.

Michael Gelen


Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

Most binocular-toting bird-watchers come here to glimpse the endangered whooping crane—the refuge’s foremost winged resident. (The tract is the seasonal home of the last free-flying flock.)  But mild winters, an abundant food supply, and an ideal location on the Central Flyway migration route mean the San Antonio Bay preserve offers plenty of other avian action—more than four hundred species, depending on the season. Check out the U.S. Forest & Wildlife Service’s e-bird tracker to see what amateur ornithologists are spotting now. fws.gov/refuge/aransas

Michael Gelen


Chandeleur Islands, Louisiana

This crescent-shaped archipelago, sixty miles offshore, serves as New Orleans’ first line of hurricane defense. It’s also home to giant speckled trout and scores of redfish. But before you haul in a record setter, you need to get there. Guide services in Mississippi offer overnight trips on “mother ships,” with skiffs for trolling the flats. If you prefer the in-and-out approach, Louisiana guide Theophile Bourgeois’s seaplanes will have you knee-deep within an hour. “Every time I fly out it’s like my first day—it’s like being a kid at an Easter egg hunt; you don’t know what you’ll find,” he says. fws.gov/breton

Michael Gelen


Horn Island, Mississippi

The New Orleans–born artist Walter Anderson would spend weeks camping on this remote Mississippi barrier island
in order to paint its diverse flora and fauna. He even rode out Hurricane Betsy there in 1965. You can camp there, too. Groups with fewer than ten people don’t even need a permit to pitch a tent on the beach. (And fires are okay at least five feet below the high-tide line.) The only structure on the island is the park ranger’s cabin. In other words: Forget about a shower. While there’s no ferry, you can charter a boat out of nearby Biloxi.

Michael Gelen

Shell Seeking

San José Island, Texas

On the long, thin strip of San José Island—just a five-minute ferry ride from Fisherman’s Wharf in Port Aransas—day-tripping shell hunters can scoop up lightning whelks, sand dollars, shark eyes, olive shells, sundials, wentletraps, and others by the pailful along twenty-one miles of privately owned, unspoiled Texas coastline. Flip-flopped visitors are only allowed on the beach, but that’s exactly where you want to be. Rent a wide-tire bicycle in Port A to cover the most distance—motor vehicles aren’t allowed—and time your trip during low tide for the best finds. sanjoseislandtexas.org

Michael Gelen


Chassahowitzka River, Florida

Dripping with Old Florida mystique, this tongue-twisting waterway—just south of the better-known Crystal River—is a paddler’s paradise. Manatees, alligators, otters, raccoon, deer, and bald eagles still rule the primeval salt marshes, hardwood forests, and canopied creeks leading to über-clear springs. Rent kayaks at Chassahowitzka River Campground, where the staff happily dispenses directions to hideouts such as “the Crack,” a favorite spring on Baird Creek. On weekdays, you might even have the cerulean pool to yourself. floridastateparks.org

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