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.
But, 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.
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.
In 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.