News You Can Use: Hiking Mississippi’s Scenic Trails

UM expert shares tips, locations for best outdoor walking experiences

Shannon Richardson (left) joins a few friends for a hike along the South Campus Trail in Oxford. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Searching for the best places in Mississippi for hiking and camping? A University of Mississippi staff member knows exactly where to find the best trails.

Shannon Richardson, assistant director of campus recreation, has been supervising Ole Miss Outdoors for the past 14 years. Through her position, the Oakwood, Georgia, native has been on countless Mississippi trails.

“My parents were avid campers and hikers, and I grew up going to state and national parks and other natural areas,” Richardson said. “I’ve hiked trails from the Grand Canyon to the Appalachian Trail. My love for the outdoors continued through my undergraduate years at the University of North Georgia, located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.”

What are the criteria Richardson uses in selecting hiking trails?

“I look for trails that are challenging, but enjoyable with beautiful scenery,” she said. “A ‘wow factor,’ like a peak or waterfall, is also a great perk.

“I like publicly managed lands best because the trails are maintained, it is safer and hiking on them leaves less impact on the environment than hiking on private or unmarked lands.”

For everyone from beginning to veteran hikers, Richardson offers some tips for those interested in taking the trails.

“For inexperienced hikers, taking an introductory clinic or reviewing online instructional material is essential,” she said. “This will introduce safety specifics, footwear and clothing, hydration, and other risk-management concerns.”

Ole Miss Outdoors offers clinics every semester in various outdoor recreation disciplines. Outdoor professionals, such as state and national park rangers and national forest personnel, offer workshops. Outdoor companies, such as REI, provide in-person instruction and online resources.

“For intermediate to advanced hikers, joining outdoor groups and local hiking groups and organizations, such as the Sierra Club, can provide insight into less-popular ‘hidden gem’ areas, as well as fostering community among people of similar interests,” Richardson said.

Asked for her top five hiking trails in the Magnolia State, Richardson suggested:

5. Puskus Lake Interpretive Trail, Lafayette County – Located about 15 miles from Oxford off Highway 30, Puskus Recreation Area is home to a 1.7-mile, easy loop trail that circles the lake.

“The unique feature of this trail are the informational signs located along the trail that describe the native plants and animals inhabiting the region,” she said. “This is a great beginner hike.”

4. Tanglefoot Trail, New Albany – Mississippi’s longest Rails to Trails conversion, this trail follows an abandoned railroad bed some 44 miles through the Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area.

“You’ll see many ecosystems of the state represented along this trail, and you can shuttle a vehicle and do section hikes of this trail,” Richardson said. “A fun fact: Meriwether Lewis, of Lewis and Clark, once hiked this trail.”

3. Choctaw Lake Recreation Area, Ackerman – Located in the Tombigbee National Forest, this area features three different trails – both loop and out-and-back – ranging 1.5 to 2.5 miles, and these moderately intensive trails wind through the forest and along the lake.

“The park is scenic and is a perfect weekend getaway, offering other attractions such as camping, canoeing, and kayaking,” she said.

2. Flat Rock Trail, Tishomingo – Part of Tishomingo State Park and accessed from the Natchez Trace, this 3-mile trail is moderate in intensity and offers access to the state’s only rock climbing area, Jean’s Bluff and the surrounding rock outcroppings. Permit required to climb.

“This is a great trail for intermediate hikers and those wishing to combine hiking and climbing,” she said.

1. South Campus Trail, Oxford – “This is my favorite spot in Oxford, and it’s a pretty area that is very close to campus and owned by the university,” Richardson said. “There are single-track bike trails that extend off of the main rail bed, and you can hike a length of half-a-mile to more than 10 miles, depending on which paths you take. The trails are easy to moderate; several small lakes can be seen from many of the trails; and a system of creek beds – most of the time dry – add interest to many of the trails.”

For more information about Ole Miss Outdoors, visit