When the days drag on and you find yourself staring out the window dreaming about being outside, you know it’s time to plan your next adventure. Though Alabama isn’t home to any national parks, we are blessed with many state parks and thousands of acres of untouched natural land waiting to be explored. The nickname Alabama the Beautiful was coined for good reason, and one of the best places to see the natural beauty of Alabama is by heading south toward the Gulf Coast. Here are the best places to get outdoors in South Alabama.
You can see it all at Gulf State Park. In addition to two miles of pristine white-sand beaches on the Gulf of Mexico, the 6,500-acre park also is home to several other ecosystems (nine in total) including dunes, sand scrub habitats, fresh and salt marshes, maritime forests, pine savannas, evergreen forests, and coastal swales. The park’s incredible ecological diversity means it’s also biologically diverse. Bobcats, white-tailed deer, and river otters call the park home, as do spiny softshell turtles, alligators, and green treefrogs. When it comes to what to do at Gulf State Park, the possibilities are endless. Spend a chill day at the beach, or lace up your boots and set out on the park’s 28 miles of paved trails and boardwalks. Want to see all 25-plus trails faster? Take a bike. When it’s time to cool off, you can splash around in the Gulf, but you can also paddle or swim in Lake Shelby. As a bonus, the lake is dog-friendly! If one day isn’t enough at Gulf State Park (and it won’t be!), book an overnight stay at the newly built Eagle Cottage or Lodge. If you’d rather get a little closer to nature, there are several tent and RV campsites available.
Birders will flip over this 164-acre lush sanctuary that features maritime forest, marshes, dunes, lakes, swamp, and a beach. In the spring and fall, it’s the perfect place to spot neotropical migrants as they make their first landfall after a long journey across the Gulf from Central and South America. Of 445 species officially documented in Alabama, 95 percent have been observed on Dauphin Island where the Audubon Bird Sanctuary is located. Dauphin Island has been recognized as one of the top four locations in North America to see spring bird migrations, and the Audubon Bird Sanctuary has been recognized as globally important by the National Audubon Society.
Nestled within the scenic Mobile-Tensaw Delta, Historic Blakeley State Park combines the opportunity to experience rich cultural heritage with gorgeous natural landscapes and recreation areas. The park features more than 2,000 acres of some of the most biodiverse habitat in the country and also contains the site of Alabama’s largest Civil War battle, the early Alabama town of Blakeley, and Native American settlements from thousands of years ago. Today, you can explore all three parts of our state’s history while simultaneously taking advantage of 20 miles of walking, biking, and horseback riding trails. For a truly one-of-a-kind park experience, hop aboard the Delta Explorer and explore the tranquil waterways via a guided boat tour taking you around the wetland habitat to see everything from alligators and ospreys to bald eagles and red-bellied turtles.
With 100 acres of gardens, woodland trails, and conservation longleaf forest, Mobile’s Botanical Gardens prove that South Alabama has more to see outdoors than just sandy beaches. The gardens feature five distinct collections: azaleas, pollinator garden, woodland gardens and trails, camelias, and the longleaf pine conservation forest. For $8 admission, you can stay and explore all day. Pack a picnic to eat at one of many grassy areas or strategically placed picnic tables. Bring your pup for a long walk. Artists often set up their easels and let nature be their inspiration.
This Southern estate garden in Theodore, Alabama features 65 acres of year-round florals, which means there’s always something in bloom. In winter, the garden is known for its 400 varieties of our state flower, the camelia. Spring is all about azaleas. Summer is a hotbed for roses, hydrangeas, and tropical varieties. And fall brings cascading chrysanthemums. The massive 1932 estate features all kinds of natural areas and historic buildings to explore, from the conservatory and great lawn to a live oak plaza, mirror lack, and Asian-American garden. Once you’ve spent ample time wandering the outdoor grounds, don’t miss the Bellingrath Museum Home, a 15-room mansion featuring all original antiques from the home’s owner.
As the days heat up, the best places to get outdoors involve big bodies of water. At Blue Springs State Park, cool off inside two secret swimming holes beloved by locals and visitors alike. Two giant swimming pools are fed by a crystal-clear underground spring that remains at a refreshing 68 degrees year-round. The natural pools include a spillway where kids can play among the rocks in the shallow water before it flows into the Choctawhatchee River. In addition to the pools, the park also features a fishing pond, volleyball courts, picnic areas and pavilions, hiking trails, and several green spaces where you can choose your own adventure for the day.