Alabama’s Gulf State Park—more than 6,000 acres on the Gulf of Mexico—includes nine preserved ecosystems ranging from white sandy beaches to marshes. There’s plenty to do here on and off the beach.The area is a birding hotspot, particularly in Spring as migrating songbirds pass through from their wintering grounds south over the Gulf. Bald eagles and Ospreys nest here, and the Gulf Oak Ridge area of the park is a stop on the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail.
Unlike some parks, getting around does not always require a car. A complimentary tram loops through the park. Bike trails crisscross the area, and it’s possible to pick up a free bike at one of the Bike Share stations scattered throughout the park.
The Nature Center offers weekly educational programs and guided tours. One of the Center’s most popular features is its “animal ambassadors.” The creatures—including alligators, owls and snakes—assist Park Naturalist Johanna Gertsch in educating visitors about the park’s diverse wildlife.
Another popular attraction is the park’s fishing pier, which stretches over a quarter mile into the Gulf. Guided “pier walks” acquaint visitors with local sea life.
Accommodations range from the rustic to the sublime. The park has both improved and primitive campsites as well as “glamping” sites. The Eagle Cottages, overlooking Lake Shelby, provide guests with secluded accommodations in the heart of the park.
Beachfront, visitors can enjoy the luxury of the Lodge at Gulf State Park, a Hilton Hotel, which combines state-of-the-art amenities with an eco-friendly approach. The Lodge is defined by its unique architecture and its commitment to sustainability. The 350-room facility is located back of the beachfront dunes and buildings are positioned to take advantage of the Gulf breezes for natural ventilation. The site’s landscaping uses native species which can thrive without irrigation, chemical pesticides or fertilizer. Dining options include beachfront Foodcraft and Perch as well as the Woodside Restaurant near the Eagle Cottages, and all restaurants emphasize locally-sourced ingredients.
photos courtesy Gulf State Park and The Lodge at Gulf State Park