Gulf Shores is the southernmost settlement in Alabama. Located just west of Pensacola, Florida, the resort town with a population of 12,000 attracts many tourists, especially during spring break. For some reason, I expected a quainter city, so I was surprised by all high rises which lined the beach and the amusement park. That said, during the 24 hours I visited Gulf Shores, I didn’t even make it to the built-up area.
Gulf State Park
Instead of fishing charters, dolphin watching, boat cruises, and golfing, I explored the quieter side. I made my first stop at Gulf State Park. As I begin to describe Gulf State Park, it won’t sound that quiet.
Gulf State Park encompasses 6,500 acres. It features a lodge with a restaurant and pool operated by Hilton, cottages, cabins, hundreds of RV hookups, some tent sites, a nature center, three lakes with paddle boarding and kayaking, 2.5 miles of beach, a fishing pier, and 28 miles of hiking and biking trails which pass through nine ecosystems.
While the list of amenities may sound overwhelming, it is easy to step away from it all like Annie and I did. We started out on Gulf Oak Ridge Trail, which was paved and headed away from the activity. We soon detoured upon seeing a grassy path and followed it.
I don’t know where we went, or how far. We simply followed signs at the major trail intersections for an out and back hike. Seeing as we didn’t get started until the afternoon after our morning drive from Florida, we certainly didn’t get the trails to ourselves, but we successfully avoided the spring break crowd!
Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge
Since I wanted to visit Fort Morgan in the morning, I steered VANgo along the spit about 30 minutes west in hopes to find a place to boondock on the peninsula. On the way, we pulled off at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge was established by Congress in 1980 in order to protect the neotropical migratory songbirds. The birds rest here during the spring and fall to gain fat reserves for migration.
I took a stroll on the beach as the sun set while enjoying the birds hopping on white sand beach as waves lapped the shore. Unfortunately, I had to dodge a few large, dead fish which left a bit of a stench!
Back at VANgo with Annie awaiting me in the driver’s seat, I ended up staying in the small lot for the night, as it was tucked within some bushes. I thought it would be quieter than the nearby, exposed ferry lot. I didn’t count on fishermen arriving before dawn, hours before the first ferry departure!
Had I known more about Dauphin Island and the ferry, perhaps I would have gone that way when I left for Mississippi, but I wanted to swing through Fairhope, and stop in at the visitor center on I-40. I needed some tips for future Alabama travel (which is how I learned about Dauphin Island and Scottsboro which is home to a 40,000 sq ft warehouse for unclaimed luggage!) Additionally, I wanted to take advantage of their free camping for the night. But I digress.
Fort Morgan Historic Site
The following morning, Annie and I visited Fort Morgan Historic Site which is operated by the State of Alabama. I’m not sure why I’m so fascinated by forts, but I always seem to visit them on my travels. I’ve visited forts from the State of Washington to Maine. I arrived at Fort Morgan when it opened at 8am and paid the $8 entry fee.
The woman at the guard gate provided me a map with a self-guided tour and said Annie could accompany me in the fort, on the trail, in the museum, and on one section of the beach. We mostly wandered around the fort and to the distant batteries as we learned about its history. I particularly liked seeing the six flags that once flew over the fort, its architecture, the dry moat full of flowers, and the stalactites that have formed on the underground archways! Annie liked trotting on the trail hidden behind the distant batteries so sneak off-leash and burn some energy.
Located on Mobile Point, Fort Morgan was preceded by Fort Bowyer, which came under attack twice by the British during the War of 1812. While it withstood the British during the first battle, it fell during the second. The fort was returned to the USA by treaty from the War of 1812.
The construction on Fort Morgan began in 1819 and was completed in 1834. It was named in honor of Revolutionary war hero General Daniel Morgan. In 1861, the fort was used by the Confederate Army as the first line of defense for the city of Mobile.
In the late 1800’s, the US Army Corp of Engineers fortified the structure which became the largest permanent military base in Alabama from 1900 to 1923 while it protected Mobile Bay. During WWI, two-thousand troops were stationed here! With the end of WWI, the post was closed only to be reoccupied by the Navy in 1942 during WWII. It was used until 1944 and handed over to the state in 1946.
I imagine most tourists don’t come to Gulf Shores to see the fort, but it was worth the stop to me. During my next visit, I will check out Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island. And without Annie in tow, I may act more like a tourist!
Getting to Gulf Shores
The easiest way to reach Gulf Shores is to fly into Mobile, Alabama which is one hour away by car. If you have time, take the scenic route and stop in the charming Town of Fairhope. Stroll the downtown, check out the waterfront, and visit B&B Pecan Company.
While their pecan orchard devastated by the hurricane Sally a few years ago, they still sell all sorts of tasty pecans. I couldn’t decide between praline, sugar glazed, raw, or chocolate covered, so I got tasters of each!
If driving across the border from Florida, make time to stop at Flora-Bama, the waterfront bar and grill on the border. It has five music stages and serves a variety of food and drinks along with its famous bushwacker. Just beware of spring break crowds. You may also take a picture at the state sign in the parking lot or do that at the visitor’s center.
Since the monarch butterfly is the state insect, Annie donned a butterfly costume while I wore a T-shirt claiming I was with the butterfly. ETB
PS. Pay attention to the speed limits in Alabama. Someone has a sense of humor. I passed through a 26 mph zone and a 17 mph zone!