With 32 miles of white sand beaches, the Alabama Gulf Coast obviously remains a favorite for beach vacations. And, during our recent visit, we certainly spent our fair share of time in the sand and surf, building sand castles and playing in the waves. However, we also discovered that the Alabama Gulf Coast is much more than just another beach town. In fact, this coastal locale offers many opportunities to get outside and have fun that go beyond the sand.
Backcountry Trail – Gulf State Park
Easily my favorite non-beach activity, biking along the Backcountry Trail in Gulf State Park provides visitors with a unique look at life in Gulf Shores. Actually comprised of seven trails that come together in approximately 14 miles of paved paths, the Backcountry Trail is open to cyclists, walkers and runners. The entire Backcountry Trail complex can be accessed at several different points, with free parking provided. My kids and I unloaded our bikes at the golf course parking lot and set out on the Gulf Oak Ridge trail that would take us along a gator swamp, where we hoped to catch a glimpse of these local residents. Sadly, we didn’t spot any alligators, but perhaps we will next time.
As we rode along the trail, we did spot several swings and benches that made great rest stops. We also enjoyed beautiful views of the various ecosystems – there are six distinct ecosystems – that surround the Backcountry Trail. For those who enjoy birding, you’ll also find four locations along the trail that are listed on the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail. But gators and birds are not the only critters that reside in the area. You also may see white-tailed deer, fox, bobcats, otters, gopher tortoises and more. But don’t worry. By keeping a respectful distance, these animals won’t do you any harm.
Fort Morgan National Historic Landmark
Approximately 25 minutes from Gulf Shores, the Fort Morgan National Historic Landmark welcomes visitors to come and explore this masonry fort that played a significant role in the Battle of Mobile Bay during the Civil War. Constructed in 1819, Fort Morgan remained in service until 1946, when it was deactivated and turned over to the State of Alabama. Today, visitors can explore the many rooms of the fort, as well as climb to the top and check out the views as seen by Confederate soldiers so many years ago.
My 5-year-old son absolutely loved the fort, which shouldn’t surprise me I guess. He wanted to explore every nook and cranny of the fort, and loved hearing about how the casements were designed to house and protect the fort’s cannon. Outside the fort, there also are a number of batteries that served as strategic gun positions. Many, but not all, of these also are open for exploration. And, at the onsite museum, visitors will see a number of exhibits and memorabilia that document the fort’s history. Overall, Fort Morgan is a wonderful way to combine fun in the sun with an educational experience.
Orange Beach Sailing Adventures
As much as I love splashing in the waves, my most favorite water activity is boating. From speeding around on a jet ski to striking a pose as I water ski to just relaxing as we sail across the water, I love being on the water. So I jumped at the chance to take my kids sailing with Orange Beach Sailing Adventures. They, too, love boating, so they were up for the excursion. We met Capt. Ryan Rayfield at Hudson Marina, got acquainted with his six-person sailing yacht and set out across Terry Cove to the Gulf of Mexico. As we made our way to the Perdido Beach bridge, we caught site of a school of dolphins playing in the waters. We followed them until they moved into shallow waters, and then turned and headed out to the gulf.
As we sailed (yes, sailed! No engines at all!) along the shoreline, we enjoyed the rocking of the boat as we took in the panoramic views of the Alabama Gulf Coast. The kids loved seeing parasailers high above the water, and squealed with delight when they got drenched in the spray of the waves. I enjoyed watching them as I relaxed in the sun with the breeze blowing across my face. I have to say our sail was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had on the water in my 30-plus years of boating.
When it came time to pack up and head back home, we all were sad to say goodbye to the Alabama Gulf Coast. But we took solace in the fact that this was just the beginning of our visits to this beach destination. We’re looking forward to many happy returns!
Disclosure: Karon and her children visited the Alabama Gulf Coast as guests of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism. All opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author.