There’s more to Mississippi than amazing Southern cuisine and the eponymous river. The state’s best-kept secret spots are dotted throughout the region. Some hidden gems are surrounded by lush forests, on acres of delta land, or situated along scenic highways. Eat barbecue around a bonfire, make lunch for a sloth, or hike across a swinging bridge. When you stay at one of numerous cozy Mississippi vacation rentals, you can enjoy easy access to scenic beaches, historic attractions, fragrant magnolias, and plenty of music venues. Check out the most noteworthy hidden gems in Mississippi.

1. Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge, Gautier

The Endangered Species Act authorized establishment of the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge in 1975 to protect one of the rarest birds on earth as well and its breeding ground, the Mississippi wet pine savanna habitat. As you walk the half-mile trail, you see some of the carnivorous plants, including a couple of pitcher plants. Informative signs describe the habitat, management practices, and local wildlife. The nature center features a 12-minute film to watch before you explore the refuge, and includes an interactive exhibit that plays bird calls. In fall and winter months, the refuge lets callers make reservations to participate in jeep tours of the refuge.

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2. Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum, Jackson

The Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum gives your family an immersive experience in the history of Mississippi’s agrarian lifestyle and culture. Your tour of the model town includes a church, print shop, homes, school, and many other buildings. Be sure to check out the general store to buy some snacks, and to look at the vintage displays.

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3. Red Bluff, Morgantown

Residents in Marion County know it as Red Bluff, but to others, it’s one of the state’s best-kept secrets. County officials call it the “Grand Canyon of Mississippi,” one of the most beautiful places in the state. A private individual owns the property that leads up to the canyon, and allows well-behaved visitors to access the hiking trails that lead to the bottom of the gorge. At the bottom of the 150-foot-deep canyon, there’s part of a railroad track and the remains of a train wreck to explore. It’s a mile long and about half-a-mile wide.

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4. The Shed, Ocean Springs

Eat inside or sit around the bonfires outdoors to enjoy your barbecue and blues guitar music at The Shed. This family joint’s secret rub is the secret to their delicious brisket, pulled pork, and chicken platters. Locals bring their kids to eat and hang out, and they welcome visitors. While you’re in town, pick up a different culture vibe at the Walter Anderson Museum of Art. Look for the museum in the heart of downtown. This historical area features lines of live oaks and lots of quaint shops.

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5. Tishomingo State Park, Tishomingo

Tishomingo State Park includes several good hiking trails, including the Bear Creek Outcropping Trail, which is about two miles long. This trail is of moderate difficulty, and it includes the 1939 swinging bridge, which is totally worth the hike. Park amenities include picnic areas with tables and grills, playgrounds, a swimming pool, disc golf courses, and rock climbing by permit.

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6. Hattiesburg Zoo, Hattiesburg

The little Hattiesburg Zoo features more than great opportunities to see and learn about exotic animals in their habitats. Make reservations in advance for the Sloth Experience to get a tour of the animal kitchen where you get to help prepare a meal. Next, you assist in feeding a sloth, and get to handle one, at the zoo keeper’s discretion. Kids and fit parents enjoy the High Ropes Adventure Course, a four-story ropes course and climbing tower that is part of the zoo site. There’s also train, a carousel, gem mining, and a playground.

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7. Dancing Rabbit Golf Club, Philadelphia

Dancing Rabbit Golf Club features two distinct 18-hole courses, including the challenging Azalea and the Oaks. The Azalea’s beautiful, elevated greens require precise shots and high flights to hold the greens. The Oaks, with a more traditional feel, lets you run the ball more easily on many holes. The Oaks also features a short course that takes about three hours to play 18 holes. On the same property, you find two casinos and seven restaurants for casual as well as fine dining. Enjoy music and dancing at the Starlight Lounge on weekends.

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8. USS Cairo, Vicksburg

Vicksburg National Military Park features a Civil War ironclad ship, the USS Cairo, commissioned in January 1862. Armed with 13 cannons, the heavy ship carried 2.5-inch-thick iron armor plating, and measured 175 feet long. In December of the same year, it hit a mine in the Yazoo River, sinking in 36 feet of water in just 12 minutes. She lay at the bottom of the river for 94 years until recovery attempts began. Final recovery culminated in 1977, and the interior of the ship contained many artifacts, which the museum displays. Use the walkway to board one deck of the ship, which rests under a canopy outside the museum.

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9. Beauvoir Estate, Biloxi

With breathtaking views of the Mississippi Sound, the 1852 Beauvoir Estate once served as Jefferson Davis’s retirement home. Later, it housed Confederate veterans of the Civil War and Confederate soldiers’ widows. Your tour guide, clad in period clothing, leads you through the home and provides commentary about Davis and the soldiers. You tour the rest of the estate on your own, including the garden, the Confederate Cemetery, and the museum.

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10. Emerald Mound, Stanton

The Emerald Mound Site, located on Natchez Trace Parkway near Stanton, dates back to 1200 A.D. to 1730 A.D. Archaeologists consider this a model site of the Natchez Bluffs culture, but agree that it later served as a ceremonial center for the Natchez people. What the photo fails to show is the sheer size of the main mound, which covers eight acres and measures 35 feet high.

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