Ridgeland is where water meets wonderful at the 33,000-acre Barnett Reservoir. Known locally as the Rez, the lake is a haven for boaters, anglers, picnickers and birdwatchers. The surface area of the Reservoir is 52 square miles so this expansive body of water is 16 miles long and 7 miles wide. If you’re looking to have some fun on the Rez, we’ve got some great things to do at one of our favorite outdoor playgrounds. The Barnett Reservoir was created and is maintained by the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District.
Where to Stay
Conveniently located off I-55 near I-220 is the Drury Inn & Suites on East County Line Road. At the Drury you’ll enjoy a complimentary hot breakfast in the morning, popcorn and sodas, and their complimentary “Kickback” of hot food and cold bevs each evening at 5:30 p.m. Another option convenient to I-220 is the Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites which also serves a complimentary breakfast buffet each morning. Near the Jackson Street District and right off I-55 is the Home2 Suites by Hilton which is probably the closest hotel to the Reservoir.
What to Do
No worries if you don’t own a boat but still want to enjoy cruising on the Rez. The friendly folks at Main Harbor Store marina can hook you up with a pontoon boat rental along with ski and pull tubes. There’s even a double-decker party pontoon with a slide for extra fun on the water. On the weekends boaters flock to “the Cove” at the Reservoir Overlook on the Natchez Trace Parkway to float and relax in the water.
Main Harbor Store has all the supplies you need for fishing too. Largemouth and spotted bass are abundant in the Reservoir and the lake offers some of Mississippi’s best crappie fishing. You’ll also find bream, catfish, striped and hybrid bass in the waters. It should also be noted that the Barnett Reservoir has a healthy population of alligators. There have been no confirmed alligator attacks at the Rez as they mostly stay away from people; however, it’s wise to be aware that they are there. For the ultimate fishing experience, book an excursion with Brad Chappell Fish Guide. Brad’s passion is teaching folks how to catch trophy size crappie. He provides all the gear, tackle and bait.
If you don’t have a boat and still want to fish, you’ll always find bank fishermen casting a line at Old Trace Park, Spillway Overlook Park, the North Fishing Jetty (locally known as Red Dot Road) adjacent to Main Harbor Store Marina.
When you’re out on the water, you’ll probably notice all the beautiful sailboats at the Jackson Yacht Club. While sailboats are available for rental by club members only, the JYC Foundation and Community Sailing on the Rez offer two First Sail Days each year. These are free and open to the public to introduce the joys of sailing to both adults and youth.
Perhaps you’d like to paddle the Rez in a kayak; if so, Pearl River Kayaks will bring everything you need for your expedition. They also offer a variety of themed and guided tours and kayaking lessons.
The popular Wildlife and Bird Watching Tour offers the opportunity to see beautiful bird species like herons, egrets, eagles, ospreys and kites along with migratory species like white pelicans, prothonotary warblers and scarlet tanagers. Reservoir wildlife watching includes turtles, mussels, alligators, beavers, otters, deer, and raccoons. Other tours include Kayak Fishing, Flora Fauna & Fungi, and Environmental Citizenship & Ecology.
Two commercial tour boats operate on the Reservoir. The Sweet Olive Tour Boat offers public rides on the weekends and private charter for groups up to 25. The Friendship II Boat is available for private charter only and can accommodate large groups of up to 150.
If a picnic is on your agenda, there are two spots by the water that are picture perfect. There’s Old Trace Park where you can fish, swim, play disc golf and grill at one of the covered picnic tables. There’s a paved multi-use trail and dog park here as well. The Ridgeland Recreation Center and a large pavilion are on-site. Another picnic spot overlooking the Reservoir is located along the Natchez Trace Parkway at the Reservoir Overlook (milepost 105.6) which can be reached via the paved Chisa Foka Multi-Use Trail. It's a great place to spread a blanket or hang a hammock under the pine trees.
Although there are no campgrounds on the Ridgeland/Madison County side of the Reservoir there is nearby camping on the Brandon/Rankin County side at two campgrounds: Timberlake Campground & RV Park and Goshen Springs Campground & RV Park.
Another refreshing way to enjoy the Barnett Reservoir is on two-wheels. Cycle all or part of the 36-mile Barnett Reservoir Loop.
Where to Eat
Two popular restaurants can be found on the shores of the Rez in Ridgeland. Cock of the Walk, with its famous golden fried catfish, is a fun-filled experience. The waitstaff is dressed in period costumes harking back to the old riverboat days of the 1800’s and they entertain diners by flipping cornbread out of miniature cast-iron skillets. You’ll always find families outside by the restaurant taking pictures by the water and feeding the ducks and geese. There’s also the favorite local hangout Pelican Cove Grill that’s right next door to the Main Harbor Store Marina. Enjoy dining out on the lively back deck and view the boats docked in the harbor. With cool drinks, hot eats, big screen TVs, and live music, the Pelican is always the place to be.
If you’re looking for raw oysters, then head across the road to Shucker’s Oyster Bar. Shucker’s has live music and sports outside on the deck and live music and dancing inside. They’ve got three pool tables and it’s the late night hot spot in town.