The Deep South encompasses the southern states of Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina. It has a rich, troubled, strong and evolving story that continues to teach me new things every time I visit. While we’ve ventured to all these states, Mississippi and Louisiana are the ones we’ve experienced the most over the years.
Mississippi may be new to many out there, but it has been a second home for me since the beginning. Both my parents hail from this state in the deep south so much of my extended family reside in the area. As a kid, we’d take trips every summer to see my grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins and enjoy great southern hospitality. So I’ve had the unique benefit of experiencing some of the best hidden gems of Mississippi.
The memories are filled with days getting into trouble with my cousins, eating my grandmas’ best homemade dishes and hearing about the hardships of the old days. As life got busier and our family grew, my travels to the “old country” became less and less. Until about 8 years ago, when we started reviving the trek back to the Jackson, MS area. It’s funny how having kids changes your perspective and it certainly did that for me. There is a lot that has changed about the city and the surrounding area.
The state of Mississippi has struggled for decades to raise its economic condition, but things are slowly on the upswing. While agribusiness is still the number one industry, manufacturing is growing with the arrival of a major Nissan car assembly plant in 2003. This led to move jobs and other businesses to enter that is setting a firmer foundation for growth especially around the Jackson metropolitan area.
This is all helping the Jackson area become a good, low cost vacation spot for families traveling through the south. In my opinion, if you don’t have family already living in the area, I wouldn’t expect you to spend a week’s vacation there. But the city of Jackson and its surrounding area has more than enough to fill your calendar for a couple days. Here is a look at some top attractions and a potential travel itinerary:
Barnett Reservoir & Cypress Swamp
The Ross R Barnett Reservoir is 32 miles of natural beauty offering scenic views by car, foot or boat. It is a 33,000 acre lake home to numerous types of vegetation and wildlife including alligators. We were lucky enough to visit on a near 70 degree day in late December with full sun. The numerous outlook stations give families plenty of room to roam or sit and enjoy a relaxing picnic lunch.
Our next stop was venturing through the Cypress Swamp at milepost 122 on the Natchez Trace Parkway. The scene wasn’t as vibrant since we were there during the winter, but still awesome to see the spindly bases of the cypress and walk across the swamp bridges.
Exploring More of the Deep South: A Day in NOLA
We also took a day trip to visit New Orleans during that family vacation which was equally as enjoyable. We are all familiar with the spectacle of Mardi Gras, but the Big Easy has so many things to offer that are kid-friendly as well.
Louisiana is known for its unique southern cuisine such as gumbo, shrimp etoufee and other tasty dishes. New Orleans is filled to the hilt with hole-in-the-wall to high end restaurants. The thing our family loves to do is find the fun food markets as they allow you to sample a variety of dishes all in one place.
So the Auction House Market was our first stop for lunch. The Market has an eclectic mix of options which is great for a family of six with different palates. There are sandwich, Indian, seafood, salads and dessert vendors so everyone found something they like. This market does cater more to foodies so the prices range from $7-$20 per plate. I’d advise this be a one-stop experience during the vacation versus a daily go-to. Here are some guides for great family friendly places to help make the deep south vacation budget go further:
An Eclectic Musical Experience
Music is the heartbeat of New Orleans where is it hailed as the birthplace of jazz. Those roots birthed numerous well-known musicians such as Louis Armstrong and Harry Connick Jr. And it continues to draw scores of artists who want to create new and innovative sounds the world’s never heard before. One unforgettable place where this fusion of creativity culminates is at Music Box Village at the edge of the city’s Bywater district. About a 15 minute drive from downtown New Orleans, Music Box is tucked in the middle of a nondescript neighborhood. The GPS made us pass over it so be mindful of your turns to get there.
Once you enter the scene, it is an amalgamation of rusted metal structures with all sorts of contraptions that make various sorts of noises. It’s like the leaders from Lord of the Flies and Peter Pan collaborated to create this funky Neverland. But kids and parents alike soon get lost in the fun of making music with various makeshift instruments the musicians have created for their guests.
How to Spend a Week in the Deep South
There is so much to explore throughout the deep south that it would take many posts to explore. Here is a our take on how to explore Jackson, MS and New Orleans in one week:
Depending upon where you are flying in from, there might be a half day's time to explore New Orleans. If not, just settle in for the night and rest up for next 4-5 days of activity.
Special Note: As this itinerary involves visiting another state and returning to NOLA's airport, we advise you rent a vehicle upon arrival.
Day 4 means bidding farewell to NOLA and venturing on the lesser known, but history rich state of Mississippi. Jackson, MS is only a 3 hour drive so you can either start mid-morning to arrive by noon.
Make sure to book an afternoon or later flight back home if possible so you can account for the 3 hour drive back to NOLA and rental car return.