West Ship Island
Gulf Islands National Seashore, Mississippi
Of all our picks, this small barrier island is the farthest from civilization, about 11 miles southeast of Gulfport, Mississippi. Getting there is part of the fun. To reach it, hop aboard a Ship Island Excursions ferry for an hour-and-15-minute ride across sparkling waters to the new visitors center.
The National Park Service typically posts lifeguards here from Memorial Day to Labor Day, along with chair and umbrella rentals (you’ll find a restroom and cold-water showers too). The ferry has a snack bar, but most folks bring a small cooler (you must pack out what you bring in). On the island’s west end, explore Fort Massachusetts, which dates to 1866.
The ferry runs two times each day in the summer, so you can stay a few hours or linger all day. Weekends tend to be more crowded, but from early to mid-week, you’ll have this island paradise almost all to yourself. nps.gov/guis