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The Forest Retreat

Channel your inner Thoreau and escape to Homochitto National Forest in south Mississippi for a weekend of solitude.
by Tyler Thigpen

There is something about a getaway in the woods that triggers longing thoughts of solitude, contentment and, well, the tranquility described in Thoreau’s literary masterpiece, Walden. Forests offer a labyrinth of plants and animals and cacophony of sounds unique to no other habitat. It is no wonder that sleep machines are filled with forest sounds: creeks, rain, birds, frogs, insects, silence.

forestcabinBut, I often find myself in a downward spiral in which even thinking about planning a relaxing vacation becomes more stressful than just sticking with my daily exasperating routine. Until recently, I believed that “getting away from it all” commanded a list that included, but was not limited to, a plea to my boss, multiple shopping trips for the appropriate vacation gear, a pet-sitter, a hefty withdrawal from savings, a plane ride and a rental car ride to a remote cabin in some vast wilderness. But, meeting the requirements of the aforementioned list was not an option, so I began researching alternatives within a few hours drive of my home in southwest Louisiana.

After a couple days of online searches for “southern vacation rentals” (and every other possible string of synonyms), I stumbled upon New Orleans documentary filmmaker Bess Carrick’s dog-friendly rentals, The Forest Retreat, outside of Gloster, Mississippi. Now, I was not familiar with the vacation rental or the rural Mississippi town, but a blog I found describing the two quickly convinced me that we all needed to become acquainted. The Forest Retreat’s Lodge would be my retreat for a long weekend.

I booked the venue and quickly received an email with an attached document that, in summary, included instructions for arrival and departure (as you arrive and depart without seeing so much as a peep of the staff) and informed me that my GPS will not help me find the place because there is no address. It is true. The four-page attachment was comprised of detailed, archaic driving directions that disregard street signage and, instead, requires you to count bridges and forks in the roads to navigate.

Some vacations I go on to climb mountains, some to descend into a maze of coral and observe fish and others to hunt waterfowl, but The Forest Retreat is one of those places you go to do nothing and enjoy it immensely. The lack of GPS function was telling of what was to come. I believe NPR calls it “cyber-cleansing,” and this vacation spot fits the bill, lacking TV, Internet and cell phone coverage. To say it is refreshing would be an understatement.

forestlodge

The property consists of three modest, beautifully designed cabins constructed of glass and native timber and built on private inholdings inside the boundaries of the Homochitto National Forest in western Mississippi — approximately an hour and 20 minutes southeast of Natchez. The fourth rental, an old renovated church-turned-lodge, resides creekside on several acres adjacent to the national forest.

The Homochitto National Forest, covering roughly 190,000 acres of hardwood and pine ecosystems, is home to bigleaf magnolias, meandering streams and rivers and the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker. For a biologist, like myself, the latter guarantees the presence of longleaf pine ecosystems, which are a host to various wildlife species that are largely endemic to these pine habitats. The woodpeckers are unique because they inhabit live pine trees a minimum of 70 years old with heart rot fungus, which allows the birds to create their cavities in the heart of the trees. There are currently approximately 12,500 of these birds left because of the logging industry and the timber value of mature pine trees. While an extensive network of programs facilitated by government and university scientists is working to stabilize the bird’s population, the Red-cockaded Woodpecker is still considered a rare sighting. In short, the bird and its ecosystem are intriguing and can be seen from USDA Forest Service trails in the Homochitto National Forest.

forestlakeIn addition to wildlife and plant spotting, the Homochitto offers Clear Lake Recreation area, which boasts an impressive biking and hiking trail system, as well as Lake Okhissa, a 1,000-acre recreational lake. During my stay, I found myself alternating between a day of reading, drawing and writing on the porch of The Lodge (the place inspires creativity) and a day of forest exploration. One memorable afternoon, it rained so heavy that I watched the river rise over 5 feet in three hours. It was magnificent. I am told that paddlers enjoy the rivers and streams, and I can certainly see why. It seems The Forest Retreat can offer a little something for everyone.

The four-night getaway turned out to be exactly what I needed and left me with plans to return with family for Thanksgiving and with friends for a birthday weekend. The Forest Retreat is versatile like that; it can play host to almost anyone. I had a difficult time saying goodbye to a place as magical and relaxing as The Lodge. But, I left with the comfort of knowing this little vacation pocket is only 2.5 hours from my busy city life.

Cabins at The Forest Retreat run $100 a night a weekdays, and a weekend stay is $385. Call 601-225-4975 or 601-341-2663 about availability.

A native of Birmingham, Alabama, Tyler F. Thigpen is a wetland ecologist and founder of Acadiana Food Circle. She currently lives in Baton Rouge.

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3 COMMENTS
  • Tutta / April 26, 2014

    Researching for night sounds in a Mississippi forest, I happily stumbled upon “The Forest Retreat” by Tyler
    Thigpen. I grew up in Gloster and on the
    edge of Homochitto National Forest.
    How wonderful to know a place where I
    can retreat. At 89 years of age, Homochitto Forest is not a likely retreat for me, but I plan to tell my grandsons
    about the magical forest where I once
    walked. I knew about the rare woodpecker, but did not know rental
    lodges/cabins were available for rent
    in Homochitto Forest.

    Thanks, Tyler for a beautiful afternoon
    down memory lane.

  • Turner / June 21, 2017

    Hubby and I had booked two nights, unfortunately, only stayed one and only because we had driven so far to get there. First off, they neglect to tell you the cabin doors do not lock( until you ask about key) when you leave, so anyone from other cabins can plunder in your things when you’re gone. Upon arrival , the cabin was filthy. The smell was horrible. Had NOT been cleaned. We worked in Gatlinburg for 6 years cleaning and maintaining cabins and would have been fired on the spot for leaving a cabin like that. I usually leave a nice tip for the cleaner when I travel because I have done that work but considering I had to clean before unloading, I kept it for myself. Glad I brought bleach and extra bedding. Where do I begin? The kitchen was horrible. Had fried egg in the sink drain. The coffee pot was so stained up and the refrigerator was disgusting. The pots had mice droppings. The windows and doors throughout the cabin were covered in fingerprints, including grease from the kitchen. Spiderwebs were everywhere. The bedding smelled horrible, no mattress pad over the stained mattress and not to mention, leftover items from the previous guest (dirty panties under the bed) , which I tossed in the woods. Disgusting! The A/C was loud and didn’t blow very hard. Dust everywhere. The outside furniture has never been cleaned and none of the decks were swept. The bathroom had hair everywhere and there was urine all over and around the toilet, as well as a brown ring inside the toilet. You could not see in the bathroom mirror, not only from the toothpaste stains but also the poor lighting, And there was black mold around shower door. The outside tub had to be bleached and scrubbed before use and anyone in the parking area/ walking trail can see you bathing. No privacy. The floors had not been swept or mopped. The real kicker is…. You better not try to walk your dog after dark, there are no outside lights, AT ALL! My hubby had to use a flashlight to grill. It is pitch black at bedtime. If you had an emergency, you couldn’t see how to get to your car, in the parking area, which btw has no signs saying parking area, like in your instructions. Oh yeah, I asked if the cabin had an ice maker, the manager told me yes. Upon arrival, I find 4 dirty ice trays in the freezer . Wow! And don’t plan to leave once you get there, bring everything you need because the road is so rough, you need a 4 wheel drive. Probably gonna need a front end alignment now. So much for a nice Anniversary getaway. Will NEVER be back or recommend to anyone! Note: No one cared enough to contact us back after letting them know we were checking out early, to see if everything was ok or to ask why. VERY disappointed 🙁

    • Erin Z. Bass / June 21, 2017

      So sorry to hear this! I stayed there myself in October and had a wonderful experience, so it’s good for people to know that they seem to be inconsistent. Our cabin was clean and cozy but nothing fancy. And you do need a truck or SUV for the road. We were also there for an anniversary and enjoyed the seclusion and quiet. I hope you have better luck next year and can maybe find some other Southern travel options on our site.

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