Words by Ashley Locke
Outdoor adventurers flock to Gulf State Park on the Alabama Gulf Coast. The 6,150-acre park is a reminder that there’s so much to do beyond the beach—biking, hiking, kayaking, and more. After a year of being cooped up inside, the great outdoors is just what you need to start the summer.
The Gulf State Park Fishing and Education Pier is the largest pier in the Gulf of Mexico, and Alabama’s only public pier in the Gulf of Mexico. Newbies can attend the Angler Academy to learn the best saltwater fishing tips, but more experienced fishers can go ahead and grab a saltwater fishing license, bait, and tackle. For non-fishers, enjoy public beach access at the Gulf State Park Beach Pavilion. With three miles of coastline, there’s plenty of space to spread out and enjoy the waves.
The Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail is over 28 miles of paved trail that runs through Gulf State Park. The trails are ADA accessible, and perfect for a morning hike or a guided Segway tour. The park has a free bikeshare program through the Bloom Bike Share App to make cycling easy for everyone! Hammock Park, located at Hidden Lakes Trails, has seven great locations to hang your hammock and relax after an adventurous day. No matter how you decided to explore Gulf State Park, you'll get to enjoy the fresh air and stunning scenery.
Lake Shelby, a large freshwater lake, is located right in the middle of Gulf State Park. By the lake, you’ll find a playground, covered seating, and a dog park, making it an ideal spot for family gatherings. The water is perfect for swimming and fishing, but the site also offers boating and kayaking!
The park also offers several educational opportunities through the Interpretive Center, the Learning Campus, and the Nature Center. The Interpretive Center is seeking both LEED Platinum and Living Building Challenge certifications, which will make it the most environmentally friendly building in Alabama. There, you can learn all about the park’s sustainability initiatives. The Learning Campus has day and overnight programs and activities for groups of all ages including nature walks, arts and crafts, solar cooking lessons, and more. The Nature Center is a living museum that features native flora and fauna. Here, you’ll find hands-on experiences with the Gulf Coast’s plants and animals.
If you get hungry after a day of play, the park has several dining options. Woodside Restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner where you can enjoy everything from veggie omelets, to crab cakes. For beachfront dining, visit Foodcraft! The only thing better than the scenic views is the local, seasonal ingredients they use. Take things up a notch with fine dining at Perch, a dinner-only restaurant featuring mouth-watering menu items like house-smoked pork belly and yellowfin tuna. After dinner, you can enjoy dessert on the patio by one of the two fire pits.
If you plan on enjoying a lot of activities at the park, you might as well stay! Bring your ten or RV to the Campground, or stay in one of the 11 primitive sites at the Outpost. There’s a swimming pool, tennis courts, and laundry nearby. For those who want to spend the night closer to the beach, The Lodge is the perfect place to stay! The environmentally friendly Hilton Hotel is right along the park’s public beach access.
When you visit the Alabama coast, Gulf State Park is like a vacation within a vacation. There’s something to enjoy for all ages, so it’s impossible to leave without a smile. If you’re ready to make unforgettable memories, start planning your trip to Gulf State Park.