7 picturesque nature spots on the Alabama gulf coast

Alabama’s Gulf Coast is full of picture-perfect scenes for nature lovers to revel in the unbeatable beauty of the area, explorers can reconnect with nature and discover local history, while finding adventure along the way. From parks and trails to lakes and beaches, Alabama’s coast offers incredible natural settings perfect for unique outdoor experiences.

Here are seven must-visit spots for outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy while visiting the site of the 2023 OWAA Conference in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama September 9-11.

Lake Shelby

Lying in the center of Gulf State Park is Lake Shelby. This beautiful 900-acre lake is believed to be one of the closest freshwater bodies of water near a body of saltwater, as the two are separated by only 733 feet. Luscious oak trees surround the lake’s picnic area, and rich marshlands border the water’s edge, making the landscape truly breathtaking. Ideal for swimming, boating, and kayaking.

Sun setting on the gulf shore of Alabama
The sun sets over Lake Shelby in the center of Gulf State Park. Photo courtesy of Gulf Shores/Orange Beach Tourism.

Gulf State Park Fishing and Education Pier

Gulf State Park’s Fishing and Education Pier gives visitors not only a prime fishing spot, but also a breathtaking view of the turquoise waters that grace Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. It is the second longest pier in the Gulf of Mexico and a magnificent spot for sightseeing. From the pier, you’ll spot fish, birds, and maybe even a dolphin or two bobbing in and out of the water. Sunset visits grant an unbeatable view of the vibrant oranges, deep purples and relaxing blues as the sun melts into the Gulf.

Image of 1. Gulf State Park Fishing and Education Pier with people and fishing poles
Visitors fish off of Gulf State Park’s Fishing and Education Pier. Photo courtesy of Gulf Shores/Orange Beach Tourism.

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge

As one of the Alabama Gulf Coast’s last remaining undisturbed habitats, Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge is home to many endangered coastal species. Migratory birds, sea turtles, bobcats, alligators and many more are common sites inside this refuge. Traversing through the many trails will also reveal dozens of regional plant species among its 7,000 acres (about the area of JFK Airport) of woods, dunes, and other scenic landscapes. The refuge abounds with native vegetation including live oaks, southern magnolias, saw palmetto, sand pine and vibrant blooms like muscadine and persimmon trees. French for “safe harbor,” Bon Secour lives up to its name.

A photo of a trailhead in Gulf Shores, Alabama
Trailhead sign image in Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge off of Alabama’s coast. Photo courtesy of Gulf Shores/Orange Beach Tourism.

Historic Fort Morgan

Travel back in time as you learn about the vital role the Alabama Gulf Coast played in the Civil War. Resting on Alabama’s white-sand beaches is Historic Fort Morgan, a Third System masonry fort dating back to the early 19thcentury. Walking the grounds allows visitors to explore tunnels, barracks, former artillery emplacements and more. The surrounding area’s pristine nature trails are ideal birding locations and are part of the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail. Many migratory species use the area as a resting spot, so don’t forget to bring your binoculars.

An archway looking into fort Morgan
A look through the archway at Alabama’s historic Fort Morgan. Photo courtesy of Gulf Shores/Orange Beach Tourism.

Gulf State Park

Gulf State Park stretches between the two beach communities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach and is an outdoor lover’s paradise. Park-goers will find nine distinct ecosystems inside this natural wonderland, from coastal wetlands and sandy dunes to lush forests. The dynamic vegetation isn’t the only reason to visit the park, as it’s home to dozens of local wildlife species, such as gopher tortoises, red foxes, white-tail deer, bobcats, and lots of other native creatures. Many species of birds can also be found inside the park, including bald eagles. There are plenty of peaceful spots to stop and revel in the natural beauty of the Gulf Coast.

A lake view with green vegetation on each side in Alabama.
Gulf State Park between the two beach communities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Photo courtesy of Gulf Shores/Orange Beach Tourism.

Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail

Snaking through the grounds of the aforementioned Gulf State Park, the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail offers 28 miles of trails that span the park’s 6,150 acres (about the area of Chicago O’Hare airport). This multi-use trail is perfect for running, hiking and biking. With free bikes available through the Bloom bike share app, these trails provide simple access to outdoorsmen and women of any level. Take a quick ride to Woodside eatery or complete the whole trail at your leisure!

A man on a bicycle in the middle of a pier overlooking water
A bike rider pauses to take in the view on a wooden bridge along the the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail in Alabama’s Gulf State Park. Photo by Laura Grier.

Orange Beach Waterfront Park

Just behind Orange Beach’s Coastal Arts Center on Wolf Bay is Orange Beach Waterfront Park. This quaint spot is wonderful for enjoying a peaceful moment where Bay La Launch and Wolf Bay meet. Benches and swings give guests the opportunity to relax as boats and nature pass by. The calm waters of the bays make it an ideal place to launch kayaks and paddleboards. The park’s pier gives visitors a closer view of the water. Bay La Launch provides the perfect backdrop for catching the sunrise, giving Waterfront Park at dawn an unbelievable view of the intercoastal sky.

Visitors sit on a swing overlooking a body of water
Visitors enjoy a swing at Orange Beach Waterfront Park. Photo courtesy of Gulf Shores/Orange Beach Tourism.

Wade Ward Nature Park

Wade Ward Nature Park plays feature to a perfect example of Alabama’s natural marshes and waterways. This park’s wetlands connect Lake Shelby and Little Lagoon. A walk on the elevated boardwalk provides stunning views, where one might stumble upon alligators, otters and pelicans in their natural habitat. Wade Ward Nature Park is another location on the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail for spotting local and migratory birds. Additionally, the shallow waters around the park are great for fishing.

The Alabama Gulf Coast’s wide variety of ecosystems includes white sand beaches, pine and oak woodlands, and marshes, making it the perfect place to enjoy the great outdoors. Whether taking a relaxing stroll under the trees or searching for the area’s native wildlife, there is unbelievable beauty on the Gulf Coast in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.

OWAA 2023 conference

Save the date for the Outdoor Writers Association of America annual conference in Gulf Shores, Alabama September 9-11, 2023.

It’s all about engagement. It’s all about community. It’s all about connections. And, in the end, it’s all about furthering your professional skills and your business. Join us for OWAA’s annual conference to connect, mingle and learn from 200 outdoor storytellers and the brands that support their work. Network with other professionals, hone your communications skills, find a mentor/mentee, find more and better ways to sell your work or promote your brand. 

You’ll meet with some of the best outdoor communicators in the country and absorb presentations on writing and editing, photography and videography, broadcast and digital media, the latest tech and newest tactics, and more. Develop your field craft and test the latest innovations during an off-site breakout day. Take advantage of pre- and post-tours to get the latest story on (and shots of) outdoor adventures in Gulf Shores, be it paddling, hiking, fishing, hunting or other outdoor pursuits. 

Scroll to Top