Immerse Yourself in Nature

On its merits, Meridian’s Bonita Lakes Park should be renowned as one of America’s great urban green spaces. What keeps it from being famous is the same thing that makes it wonderful: its tranquility.

Unlike most other large city parks (think New York’s Central Park, for example), it boasts no restaurant, no zoo, no museum or formal garden – just 3,300 acres of lakes, woods, and peace. Hike, bike, or jog the trails, or ride your horse on the equestrian paths. Work out at the exercise stations. Paddle or fish in a lake. Frolic at a playground (if you’re a kid). Have a picnic.

Or just gaze out over the water, listen to the birds, and let your worries float away on the breeze. 

The Lauderdale County Agri-Center, next to the park, presents equestrian events year-round at its covered arena. The center also hosts concerts, 4-H events, even monster truck shows. It rents RV hookups and horse stalls and has parking for horse trailers. A trailhead behind the center leads to the park’s horse trails.

There’s an RV park near Bonita Lakes, but you can’t stay overnight in the park itself. Fortunately, you can at Okatibbee Lake, just north of the city.

If “tranquility” sums up Bonita Lakes, the word for Okatibbee is “activities.” Let’s start with the water: 4,000 surface acres provide plenty of room for boating – and for zipping along behind a boat on skis or bouncing on an inflatable. The lake has five boat ramps and a marina. Personal watercraft (Jet Skis and the like) and swimming are allowed, each in designated areas.

The fishing is good for largemouth and striped bass, crappie, bream, and catfish, both in the lake itself and, for all but bream, at the tailrace below the dam.

Four parks around the lake include ball fields, volleyball courts, horseshoe pits, and picnic shelters. The full-service Twiltley Branch Campground accommodates tent and RV camping, and four cabins are available. So is primitive camping for those who really want to get away.

Squirrel and deer hunters love the Okatibbee Wildlife Management Area – nearly 7,000 acres that wrap around the lake. Waterfowl hunters can have decent luck, considering that the lake isn’t along a major flyway. Those who prefer just to watch wildlife can look out for alligators during the summer and bald eagles in winter.

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Several attractions outside Meridian are worth a drive through the scenic countryside. Dunn’s Falls, south of town, began as an industrial site. John Cooper Dunn created the falls in the mid-1800s to power a mill.

Now it’s a scenic spot of Instagram-worthy beauty. Stairs next to the fall take you down to the shallows of the Chunky River. You can also hike trails through woods that are home to deer and wild turkeys.

Binachi Shooting Sports southeast of Meridian offers sporting clays, skeet, trap, and five stand shooting, and a 3D archery course. Lazy Acres farm west of town has lots for kids to see and do, some of it farm-related (pig races, a fall pumpkin patch) and some not (a giant slide, magic and puppet shows, enormous jumping pillows). The farm adds special activities at Eastertime, in fall, and at Christmastime.

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