The Gulf Coast Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), also known as Portage Creek, is the waterway that runs between the Alabama mainland and the barrier islands of the Alabama Gulf Coast. The waterway provides hours of paddling fun with bayous, back bays, and swamps just off the main channel, giving you a chance to view an amazing variety of wildlife as you serenely paddle along.
What Makes It Great
The waterway itself is a long, lazy, trek between Orange Beach and Mobile Bay and is busy with fishing and pleasure boats and large barges. With that in mind, you may be saying to yourself, why would I paddle there? The magic is in the fingers of bayous and backwaters that extend from the main channel. Two favorites among local paddlers are Longs Bayou and a circular loop around Oyster Bay.
Long’s Bayou is on the west side of Wolf Bay near the Foley Beach Expressway. The bayou is wide but gradually narrows down and becomes a brackish mix of salt and fresh water, which means this is your best chance to see alligators. Osprey nest along the banks and you may also catch a glimpse of bald eagles soaring overhead.
The Oyster Bay paddle starts at Happy Harbor Restaurant on County Road 6 in Gulf Shores. The paddle takes you straight south across the waterway into the wide bay. Keep along the banks of the bay and watch for bald eagles, osprey, belted kingfisher, and great blue heron. And don't miss the panoramic view with spectacular sunsets and sunrises.
If you don’t have a kayak, don’t worry. There are many outfitters in the area that offer rentals and tours including Wild Native.
Who is Going to Love It
If you love paddling you’ll love a float along Portage Creek. Young and old, seasoned and newbies, all will enjoy the paddle with the many bayous and back bays that provide enough nature, wildlife, and landscapes to keep even the most fidgety paddler entranced. The paddle can be as short or as long as you like so you can take a quick hour or two jaunt or a full day outing depending on your skill level, strength, and time limits.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
There are several different put-ins along Portage Creek that were established for the Orange Beach Canoe Trail. For the Long’s Bayou paddle launch at the Orange Beach Canoe Trail put-in at Wolf Bay. For Oyster Bay put-in from the parking lot of Happy Harbor Restaurant. Both launches are free. Remember, Portage Creek (ICW) is a busy waterway. Stay close to shore and watch for boats. Never paddle off without wearing your life vest and be sure to wear a hat and bring plenty of water to stay hydrated especially on the Oyster Bay paddle. Shade is rare there.