If your plans for the summer or fall include a trip to Alabama’s Gulf Coast, you’re no doubt looking forward to long days on the beach sunning and swimming in the surf. But, during your stay you might want to experience something a little different—a change of pace. How about taking a hike?
There are some amazing hikes out there only a short drive from Alabama’s sandy shores, all within an hour’s drive or less. Here are some of the best you should check out.
1. Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge
Only 10 miles west of the Gulf Shores Public Beach on Alabama Highway 180 there’s a wonderland of nature, the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. More than 6 miles of trails lead you through maritime forests teeming with birds and wetlands filled with brilliant wildflowers. When you hike through the refuge, be sure to walk the banks of Little Lagoon Lake and Gator Lake, where the water reflects the brilliant blue sky. Then, stroll along the sugary white sand of the Gulf beaches, where you’ll encounter dozens of species of sea birds, and it’s possible to observe endangered animal species like the loggerhead sea turtle.
2. Perdido River Trail
How about a day, or two, or more, on the Alabama Gulf Coast’s first backpacking trail? The Perdido River Trail parallels its namesake blackwater river for 20 miles as it meanders through beautiful, dark Atlantic white-cedar swamps. Occasionally, the trail visits white sandbars where you can enjoy lunch and swim in the cool water. Several trailheads along the route make it possible to do shorter day hikes of a few hours, or you can break the trip up into several different overnight backpacking treks. Trail shelters dot the trail and are available on a first-come, first-served basis, or you can camp on the sandbars at the shelter locations.
3. Betty and Crawford Rainwater Perdido River Preserve
Just south of the Perdido River Trail, on the Florida side of the river, you’ll find an impressive preserve managed by the Nature Conservancy. The Betty and Crawford Rainwater Perdido River Preserve includes footpaths and boardwalks that guide you through an incredible landscape with towering longleaf pines, rare panhandle lilies, sawgrass flats, and the amazing Black Lake, which is so still that it reflects a mirror image of the sky and the foliage that lines its banks.
4. Trout Point Nature Trail
Located on Naval Air Station Pensacola, the Trout Point Nature Trail is a 1.5-mile boardwalk with panoramic views of Big Lagoon and the fragile Gulf dune ecosystem. The path loops around white sand dunes that are so brilliant on cloudless summer days that you’ll need to wear sunglasses as you walk among them. As you meander through the dunes you’ll see wild rosemary, scrub oak, and a needlerush marsh with its deep root system that helps protect the shoreline from erosion. When you visit Naval Air Station Pensacola, go to the main gate, show your ID, and let them know you’re there to hike Trout Point.
5. Fort Pickens/Florida Trail
On this section of the Florida Trail at historic Fort Pickens, you’ll explore an interesting piece of the past and enjoy plenty of beautiful Gulf Coast scenery. The fort is the largest of four strongholds built to defend Pensacola from foreign (and later Yankee) invaders. Its history begins just after the War of 1812 and culminates with its service during World War II.
You can walk a long way on the Florida Trail, but here, along the western end of Gulf Islands National Seashore, you can do a nice 2.2-mile, out-and-back stretch from WWII’s Battery Worth to the fort itself. During the walk you’ll take a sandy footpath through wetlands, pass peaceful bayous, and make a little side trip to the banks of Pensacola Bay.
6. Naval Live Oaks
Another great historical hike along the Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida can be found at Naval Live Oaks. This 1,300-acre preserve was the site of the first national tree farm back in 1828 when the U.S. Navy needed the wood for its fleet.
You can combine several paths in the preserve for a 6-mile hike that includes the Old Borrow Pit Trail, the Beaver Pond Trail, and the Andrew Jackson Trail, where the famous general marched his troops during the War of 1812.
7. Big Lagoon State Park
As you hike Big Lagoon State Park’s 5 miles of trails you’ll traverse a wetland lined with wildflowers, visit the banks of Long Pond and Grand Lagoon, and pass through a forest of short sand pine, needlerush, and the gnarled trunks of sand live oaks. The journey brings you to the four-story Big Lagoon Observation Tower where you get a panoramic view of the park, the lagoon, and the Gulf. There is also a nice beach here where you can swim and cool off on those hot Gulf Coast summer days.
8. Garcon Point
Garcon Point sits on the tip of a peninsula that demarcates the waters of Blackwater Bay and East Bay just east of Pensacola. The highlight of the 1.7-mile loop hike is the diverse foliage, which includes longleaf pines, oak hammocks and prairie grasses that wave in the breeze. Keep your eyes peeled for rare carnivorous pitcher plants and sundews that bloom in and around small bogs.
9. Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park
Just across the border of Alabama and Florida is Tarkiln Bayou State Park, a 4,000-acre wet prairie habitat with more than 100 species of rare or endangered plants and animals. Along the park’s 7 miles of trails, you not only walk through wet prairies, but also cypress forest, pine seepage and pitcher plant bogs.
10. University of West Florida Dunes Preserve
If you just can’t get enough of the Gulf’s beaches, head to the UWA Dunes Preserve for a 3.4-mile (one-way) hike along the protective dunes. Once again, the trail is part of the Florida Trail and is located only 13 miles east of Fort Pickens, offering a nice walk along the beach and the perfect opportunity to end your day with a gorgeous sunset.
Written by Joe Cuhaj for RootsRated Media in partnership with BCBS of AL.