Trail: Opossum Nature Trail
Hike Location: Lake Lowndes State ParkGeographic Location: east of Columbus, MS (33.43479, -88.30136)Length: 4.8 milesDifficulty: 4/10 (Moderate)Last Hiked: March 2019Overview: A loose circumnavigation of Lake Lowndes.Park Information: https://www.mdwfp.com/parks-destinations/state-parks/lake-lowndesHike Route Map: https://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=737148
Directions to the trailhead: East of Columbus, take US 82 to Lee Stokes Road, which is the easternmost exit on US 82 in Mississippi. Exit and drive Lee Stokes Rd. south 0.2 miles to SR 182. Turn right on SR 182. Drive SR 182 west 2 miles to New Hope Road; there is a 4-way stop at this intersection. Turn left on New Hope Rd. Drive New Hope Rd. south 3.9 miles to Lake Lowndes Road and turn left on Lake Lowndes Rd. Lake Lowndes Rd. dead-ends at its namesake park. Pay the park entrance fee and drive the main park road to the large parking lot for the lodge/office on the left.
The hike: Located in extreme eastern Mississippi flush against the Alabama state line, Lake Lowndes State Park is one of the best-amenitied state parks in this part of Mississippi. The park’s namesake 150-acre lake offers fishing, boating, and water skiing. In terms of lodging, the park offers a 50-site developed campground, a tent camping area, 6 cabins, and 2 cottages. Other amenities include a disc golf course, an indoor basketball court, a playground, athletic fields, tennis courts, and picnic areas. All of the aforementioned amenities are located on Lake Lowndes’ west side. For active outdoor enthusiasts, the undeveloped east side of Lake Lowndes State Park features an extensive trail system. The park offers several horse and mountain bike trails, but the main hiker-only trail is the 3.5 mile one-way Opossum Nature Trail. While the Opossum Nature Trail could be done as a 7 mile out-and-back if you wanted to stay on dirt trails for the entire distance, hiking 1.3 miles of park roads that connect its two ends allows you to form a 4.8 mile loop, which is the hike described here. You could start this hike anywhere along the main park road, but I chose to start at the parking lot for the lodge/office because 1) it is large and easy to find, and 2) it splits the long road walk into two smaller pieces. From this parking lot, head south on the main park road with the lake on your left. You will pass the tennis courts, tent camping area, playground, disc golf course, picnic pavilion, and developed campground en route to the dam that creates Lake Lowndes. Upon reaching the dam area, walk through the spillway and past the ranger residence on the right, then look to the left for the signed start of the Opossum Nature Trail.

Start of Opossum Nature Trail at dam

With the asphalt behind you (for now), the Opossum Nature Trail heads across the warm sunny earthen dam. Nice views extend down the length of the lake to the left. At 1.1 miles, you reach the east side of the dam. Next comes a slight climb on a two-track dirt road to reach an open grassy area that looks like an old construction, logging, or primitive camping area. As directed by a sign, turn left and soon begin following a single-track dirt trail marked with occasional green tags nailed to trees.

One of the better bridges

For most of the next 2.5 miles the trail stays close to the lake while making some short but moderately steep ups and downs. I recommend waterproof boots for this hike because several of the low areas remain quite muddy most of the year. The mature forest on this side of the lake is a nice mixture of pines and broadleaf trees highlighted by some large beech trees. Plenty of sweet gum also live here, and some redbuds in bloom brightened my path on my mid-March hike.

Lake view from bench

At 2.3 miles, you pass a bench located right beside the lake. The Opossum Nature Trail features several wooden constructions such as benches, steps, and bridges, but many of these constructions were in poor shape on my visit. One of the bridges I tried to cross shifted under my weight and sent me tumbling into a creek. I was underwater for a few seconds, and the impact left a large bruise just below my left knee. I managed to get back on my feet and limp my way around the rest of the loop, but some of these bridges are unsafe and desperately need to be rebuilt.

Collapsed bridge

Soon after leaving the lake behind, you reach an unmarked trail intersection and another bench at 3.8 miles. This intersection marks the north end of the hiker-only Opossum Nature Trail. To continue the loop, turn left here to begin following an old road that is also open to horse and mountain bike travel.The wide trail crosses the main creek that feeds Lake Lowndes on a culvert before climbing moderately on an eroded muddy track to reenter the park’s developed area. Follow the side road out to the main park road near the gate house, then turn left and walk the main park road back to the lodge/office parking lot to complete the hike.