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9 Nature Festivals in Mississippi You Won’t Want to Miss

If you love being outdoors – watching wildlife, native plants, or enjoying some outdoor recreation, then Mississippi’s nature and outdoor festivals are for you. Mississippi has abundant native wildlife and plants, lots of places to hike or canoe, and so much to explore. From one of the top-rated birding festivals to a festival that celebrates the longest free-flowing river in the U.S., you can find a great nature and wildlife festival to visit. Pick a month below to see those events and festivals.


 

NatureFEST!

Behind-the-scenes tour at the museum

Behind-the-scenes tour at the museum. Photo courtesy of the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science.

LOCATION:
Mississippi Museum of Natural Science
Jackson, MS

DATE:
The first Saturday of April

Located in the bustling capital city of Jackson, the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science houses a 100,000-gallon aquarium, a 1,700-foot greenhouse, fossils, educational exhibits about Mississippi native habitats and wildlife, and more.

Each year, the museum hosts NatureFEST!, a celebration of science, nature, and the outdoors. The festival is held in the first week of April and attracts citizen scientists, nature lovers, and outdoor enthusiasts.

Behind-the-Scenes Museum Tours

BioBlitz - searching for organisms in the soil

BioBlitz – searching for organisms in the soil. Photo courtesy of the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science.

Budding scientists will enjoy the behind-the-scenes tours led by scientists at the museum. You’ll get an up-close-and-personal look at the aquariums, the research wing of the museum, and the specimen collections housed at the museum.

BioBlitz

Be a citizen scientist for a day! During the festival, the museum will be hosting a BioBlitz. That’s a concentrated, short-term biological survey of the plants, animals, fungi, insects — any living thing — in a specific area. This is your opportunity to work with museum scientists and others interested in science to learn about and record the different species in the woods and trails surrounding the museum.

Festival Activities

During the festival, you can play nature games, listen to educational programs, picnic on the grounds with food from local food truck vendors, take a hike — guided or self-guided — along one of the six trails on the property, or stroll through the native plant garden that encircles the museum.

 


 Celebrate the Gulf Marine Education Festival

LOCATION:
War Memorial Park
Pass Christian, MS

DATE:
Early April

Celebrating marine conservation in the Gulf of Mexico, this festival educates the public about the importance of the Gulf, its marine life, and the environment. It’s held in conjunction with the annual Art in the Pass festival, which features arts and crafts, and the MDEQ WaterFest.

Founded in 1991, this marine educational festival has brought attention to the harbor, the waterfront, and its marine life.

Festival activities include a marine-themed photo booth, Schooner rides, children’s craft corner, educational exhibits, live animal shows, a youth fishing rodeo, and a marine cuisine pavilion.

Exhibits & Displays

During the festival, many hands-on exhibits that focus on the importance of the Gulf, its marine life, and the environment are on display for all ages to view. Staff from the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies; Mississippi Department of Marine Resources; Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks; Mississippi Wildlife Federation; Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum; Pascagoula River Audubon Center, and many more will be there to talk about their work and answer questions.

Poster Contest

The festival features an art contest to design the poster for the event. The contest is open to amateur and professional artists 13 years of age and older, and the poster produced must be an original design. Winners receive a cash prize and several copies of the finished poster.

Children’s Coloring Contest

Youth age 13 and under can enter a marine-themed coloring contest.

Youth Fishing Rodeo

The CCA Mississippi Bay Chapter holds a youth fishing rodeo at the start of the festival. Kids age 12 and under can come and fish in the West Pass Harbor from 8:00 to 10:00 a.m.


Wildlife Festival and BioBlitz

LOCATION:
Natchez Trace Parkway Visitor Center
Near Tupelo, MS, milepost 266

DATE:
A weekend in mid-April during National Park Week

In celebration of National Park Week, the Natchez Trace Parkway Visitor Center hosts a day filled with hands-on outdoor fun and learning.

This event features a BioBlitz, live animal programs, hands-on learning activities, geocaching, and educational displays about wildlife, habitat management, and more.

BioBlitz

Scientists, students, and educators from Mississippi State University, the Mississippi Geographic Alliance, and the National Park Service will lead trail walks to find and identify native plant and animal species for the BioBlitz — a survey of the plants, animals, insects, and fungi in the area.

If you would like to learn more about the plants, animals, and insects of Mississippi and explore the Natchez Trace, it’s time to get outside and count some critters! The BioBlitz is open to all ages, and it’s a great opportunity to learn about our surroundings.

Geocaching

Geocaching is a fun-filled, all-ages activity using a GPS to find a “cache” of hidden items — sometimes a log book you sign and date, sometimes small toys or trinkets. It’s a fine time to practice your navigational skills and see some of the Natchez Trace.

Live Animal Talks

If you’re interested in learning about snakes, Terry Vandeventer gives an educational talk using live reptiles. You’ll learn about native Mississippi snakes in an enjoyable environment.

The Southeastern Raptor Center is an educational and rehabilitation center for injured raptors. Those raptors that cannot be introduced back into the wild because of their injuries help educate the public about these amazing birds. You can see these beautiful birds at the festival.

The Parkway

The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444-mile long driving route running through Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

Check the online calendar for the specific event date: https://www.nps.gov/natr/planyourvisit/calendar.htm


Free Flowin’ on the Riverfront

LOCATION:
Lighthouse Park
Pascagoula, MS

Musicians at the Free Flowin'. Courtesy of festival.

Musicians at the Free Flowin’. Photo courtesy of festival.

DATE:
Late April

Started by local residents in 2014, Free Flowin’ on the Riverfront is a festival that celebrates the beauty of the Pascagoula River.

With a kayak race, Paddlepalooza, Blessing of the Fleet, live music, food vendors, art, and a fireworks show, visitors to the festival can enjoy a day on the riverfront.

The Pascagoula River is 80 miles long, flowing from George County into the Mississippi Sound of the Gulf of Mexico at the city of Pascagoula. There are no dams on the main channel of the Pascagoula River, making it the longest free-flowing river in the United States.

This event is held in late April at Lighthouse Park on the banks of the Pascagoula River.


Tara Spring Birding Weekend

LOCATION:
Tara Wildlife, 6791 Eagle Lake Shore Rd.
Vicksburg, MS

DATE:
End of April

Baltimore Oriole, photo by Ruth Pullen

Baltimore Oriole, photo by Ruth Pullen

As the cold of winter starts to give way to warmer temperatures, the spring migration of birds to their northern habitats begins. It’s a great time to get outside and enjoy the sights and sounds of early spring.

The Spring Birding Weekend is a celebration of nature and the outdoors. You can ride on the open-air birding bus with a birding enthusiast who will help point out the birds, explore the nature trails in the nearby woods, or bring your bikes and ride down the miles of roads along the levee or into the woods.

The Mississippi Flyway

Tara Wildlife is located along the Mississippi Flyway, a migratory route that follows the Mississippi River and is used by more than 325 different bird species. Some of the first to migrate north are the colorful songbirds.

Birds Seen at Tara Wildlife

Some of the colorful spring songbirds and others that you might see include prothonotary warblers, indigo buntings, painted buntings, blue grosbeaks, Baltimore orioles, northern parulas, ruby-throated hummingbirds, yellow-breasted chats, and others. (Check out the list of birds counted at Tara over the last four years.)

Day, One-Night, or Weekend Pass

Those spending the weekend at Tara Lodge will enjoy down-home southern-style meals each night, a social reception each evening, and snacks and drinks throughout the day as well as access to all of the outdoor activities and programs. Another option is to spend just one night or purchase a day pass.


Mississippi River Nature Weekend

Canoeing on the Mississippi River

LOCATION:
Tara Wildlife, 6791 Eagle Lake Shore Rd.
Vicksburg, MS

DATE:
Late August

Set on the banks of the Mississippi River among thousands of acres of woods, ponds, trails, and fields, the Mississippi River Nature Weekend provides a perfect opportunity to view migratory and resident birds and to relax and unwind in a peaceful setting.

The Mississippi River Nature Weekend, held at Tara Wildlife, is a wonderful opportunity for bird watching, nature activities, and outdoor recreation for the whole family. You can stay at Tara Lodge for the entire weekend or just one night, or you can purchase a day pass for Saturday’s events.

Delicious southern-style meals are included for those spending the night at Tara Wildlife, and day visitors can purchase meals by calling in advance. The Mississippi River Nature Weekend is held at the end of August.

Wood Storks at Tara Wildlife

Wood Storks at Tara Wildlife

The festival includes activities for all ages, including a kids’ kite-flying contest, birding tours in an open-air bus, canoeing on the Mississippi River, a live raptor educational show, a wildlife management seminar, a nature scavenger hunt, live music on Saturday evening, great food, and lots of trails for you to explore.

Bird Watching Activities

Whether you’re new to bird watching or have been birding for a long time, you’ll get a thrill out of seeing some of our favorite wading birds roosting on the waterways and rookeries scattered along the property or flying overhead. Guided tours are available for novice birders who want to learn more from a long-time birding enthusiast.

The Mississippi Flyway

Tara Wildlife is located along the Mississippi Flyway, a migratory route that follows the Mississippi River and is used by more than 325 different bird species. This provides the opportunity to see egrets, bitterns, wood storks, spoonbills, ibises, and other wading birds as they migrate from northern climates southward for winter. This migration starts as early as August and continues through November.

Canoeing on the Mississippi River

The Mississippi River Excursions with Quapaw Canoe Company are a fan favorite. Paddle to nearby Willow Island where you can wade or walk along the beach and explore. The trip takes a couple of hours and you’re likely to see all sorts of wildlife along the river. 

 


Hummingbird Migration and Nature Celebration

LOCATION:
Strawberry Plains Audubon Center
Holly Springs, MS

DATE:
First weekend after Labor Day (early September)

Listening to the heart of a hummingbird. Photo courtesy of Strawberry Plains Audubon Center

Listening to the heart of a hummingbird. Photo courtesy of Strawberry Plains Audubon Center

As the heat of summer begins to fade and fall starts to appear in Mississippi, the southern migration of ruby-throated hummingbirds for the winter is in full force. It’s a great opportunity to see hundreds of these tiny birds along the Mississippi Flyway.

Held at the Strawberry Plains Audubon Center in Holly Springs, the Hummingbird Migration and Nature Celebration has a lot to offer. With highly entertaining educational presentations that often include live animals, hummingbird bandings, nature-themed arts-and-crafts vendors, kids’ games, and a native plant sale, you’re sure to find something to delight.

One of the premier nature festivals in the country, this event isn’t just for the bird lovers; anyone who loves the outdoors and nature will enjoy it. For nearly 20 years, visitors have come from all over to attend the Hummingbird Migration and Nature Celebration in Holly Springs.

Terry Vandeventer & his Live Reptiles. Photo courtesy of Strawberry Plains Audubon Center

Terry Vandeventer & his Live Reptiles. Photo courtesy of Strawberry Plains Audubon Center

Guest Speakers and Live Animal Talks

The guest speakers vary each year, but two frequent guests include Terry L. Vandeventer, who shows off his amazing reptiles, and Rob Mies of the Organization for Bat Conservation, who brings several live bats. Both of these shows are not to be missed.

About the Strawberry Plains Audubon Center

Banding Hummingbirds at the Festival. Photo courtesy of the Strawberry Plains Audubon Center

Listening to the beat of a Hummingbird’s heart at the Festival. Photo courtesy of the Strawberry Plains Audubon Center

The Strawberry Plains Audubon Center covers 3,000 acres of hardwood forests, wetlands, and native grasslands. The land and buildings were donated to the National Audubon Society by Ruth Finley and Margaret Finley Shackelford. You can tour their antebellum home, visit the native plant garden, walk the hiking trails, and visit the wildlife viewing areas on the property.

For those who get hungry during the festival, there’s a concession stand that serves up hot food, snacks, and cold drinks.

The festival is held on the weekend after Labor Day each year.


Wildlife Outdoor Learning Festival (WOLF) at Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge

LOCATION:
Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge
Brooksville, MS

DATE:
Late September

Making fish prints at the festival

Making fish prints at the festival

In late September, the Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge holds a family-friendly educational festival focused on native wildlife, habitat management, and outdoor recreation.

The Wildlife Outdoor Learning Festival (WOLF) is held on the banks of Bluff Lake, adjacent to the refuge headquarters. From this location, visitors can canoe the lake, tour the headquarters, visit one of the many educational exhibits, see live alligators and native fish, test their archery skills, hike a trail, or make wildlife-related art.

Wildlife and Nature Education Activities

If you’re interested in hands-on learning about wildlife and nature from wildlife professionals, the WOLF is the perfect place to get your feet wet. Live demonstrations and exhibits on topics including archaeology, entomology, habitat management, bat biology, and more are available throughout the day. Experts are on hand to discuss their work and answer questions.

This event is fun for all ages and includes many kid-friendly activities such as face painting, rabbit stick throwing, wildlife art projects, making a suet cake for birds, and others.

Rest and relax while soaking up the great outdoors. Local musicians provide the sound backdrop for the event, mixing their music with the sounds of nature.

Photo Contest

The refuge sponsors a photography contest each year, and the winners are given their awards during the WOLF. Categories range from youth to adult photographers. You can view the photos during the event, which are displayed inside the refuge headquarters.

About the Refuge

The 48,000 acres that make up the Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge are composed of bottomland hardwoods, upland woodlands, lakes, small impoundments, wetlands, green-tree timber reservoirs, and a prairie. It’s a great place to explore! 

 


 

Great Delta Bear Affair

Terry Vandeventer and his reptiles

Terry Vandeventer and his reptiles. Photo courtesy of Great Delta Bear Affair

LOCATION:
Downtown
Rolling Fork, MS

DATE:
Late October

Black bears take over Rolling Fork in late October. Small plush ones are donated to patients at the children’s hospital in Jackson; large, carved ones stand statuesque in front of buildings in the downtown area; and you might even see one walking around wearing a hat and handkerchief.

The Great Delta Bear Affair celebrates the history of President Roosevelt’s historic bear hunt and also helps educate the public about the growing population of Louisiana Black Bears in Mississippi.

Origins of the Teddy Bear

The iconic Teddy Bear was born in the Mississippi Delta during a bear hunt with President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902. The president refused to shoot a roped, injured black bear on his hunt – declaring it unsportsmanlike. The story of the hunt was widely covered by the press, and a toymaker in New York named the stuffed bears in his shop “Teddy’s Bears.” The rest is history.

Holt Collier reenactor and the Theodore Roosevelt Teddy Bear

Holt Collier reenactor and the Theodore Roosevelt Teddy Bear. Photo courtesy of Great Delta Bear Affair

Historical Activities

For the history buffs in your family, you can join a guided tour of nearby prehistoric Indian mounds led by retired archaeologist Sam Brookes or visit with historical reenactors portraying President and Mrs. Roosevelt and hunting guide Holt Collier.

Kids Events

Young people will love the kid-friendly games and activities, such as the space jump and bungee jump, and the live reptile talk given by Terry Vandeventer. A family-friendly Teddy Bear Color Run marks the start of the Bear Affair.

Chainsaw-carved Bears

Each year at the festival, a 12-foot bear is carved from a cypress tree stump with a chainsaw. You can watch Dayton Scoggins as he works to create the carving. Follow the Chainsaw-carved Bear Hunt map to view the bears carved in previous years.

Festival goers can hear musical acts throughout the day, learn about Louisiana Black Bears from wildlife professionals, and browse the arts and crafts vendors while enjoying local food.

The Bear Affair ends at dark with live music and a fireworks show over the city of Rolling Fork.

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