5 Great Ways to Enjoy Gulf Shores/Orange Beach Away from the Sand

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge
Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge Bill Davis Landscapes
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While Gulf Shores and Orange Beach offer 32 miles of beautiful beaches along the Alabama Gulf Coast, you can do much more than just play in the sand and surf to have fun in the sun. From hiking and biking to exploring the area’s history, there’s a lot of outdoor entertainment waiting for you.

1. Bike the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail

The Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail takes riders through six distinct ecosystems by way of seven trails that link to create a route more than 15 miles long. As the trail traverses Orange Beach, Gulf Shores, and Gulf State Park, it takes you past freshwater marshes, coastal hardwood swamps, a maritime forest, and more. During your ride, pause at one of the many benches on the trail to rest and keep an eye out for the wildlife that calls this area home. Or, pack a picnic and enjoy lunch al fresco at the Trail Pavilion.

Other activities adjacent to the trail include camping, geocaching, and watching butterflies at the Butterfly Garden. If you bring the kids, stop by Boulder Park where they can climb big rocks until their hearts’ content. There are several parking lots and access points to the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail, making it easy to start biking right away.

2. Go Parasailing

To get a different perspective of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, head to Orange Beach Parasail and get ready to soar above the sea. Starting at Sportsman’s Marina in Orange Beach, you’ll take a boat ride (generally 45 minutes to an hour round-trip) out to the Gulf of Mexico. Once there, you and up to two of your friends or family members will be secured in a safety harness and lifted into the air by the attached parachute.

Once in the air, you’ll enjoy a serene 10-minute ride. Parasailing is very similar to sitting in a swing, gently swaying in the breeze. And you’ll be amazed at how peaceful and quiet it is up in the air.

During your flight, you have the option of being dipped in the water, where you descend gently from the air, and your feet and calves enter the water. It’s a great addition to this unique experience.

3. Take a Nature Cruise

To see the best of nature from the water, take a dolphin and nature eco-tour with Cetacean Cruises. Lasting approximately two hours, this cruise starts in the harbor in Orange Beach, where you may spot dolphins frolicking in the water. The staff knows these dolphins by name (they’re identified by their dorsal fins) and will point them out to you. They even have a sheet identifying each one so you, too, can watch for them.

After an hour of dolphin watching, the captain will turn the boat and head for the hidden creeks and swamps in the back bays. As you explore these remote areas, you’ll learn about the local flora and fauna while keeping an eye out for herons, bald eagles, and osprey in the trees. It’s also possible that you’ll spot an alligator or two. This outing is both educational and entertaining, making it great fun for everyone.

4. Hiking in Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge

At Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, you’ll discover some of the Alabama Gulf Coast’s remaining undisturbed sites, which provide the perfect natural setting for hiking. In the refuge, there are four trails of varying lengths that traverse different types of terrain, so you can choose the path that fits your skill set and endurance level.

Covering more than 7,000 acres, the refuge is comprised of sand dunes, scrub forest, marshes, and swamps, so stay alert to see the Alabama beach mouse, turtles, red fox, coyotes, armadillos, and more. If possible, bring along a pair of binoculars because you may spot some of the area’s migratory birds during your walk.

Along the refuge’s most popular hiking path, the 4-mile Pine Beach Trail, you’ll come across a two-story wildlife birding platform, which is an excellent spot to take in your surroundings.

5. Exploring the Fort Morgan Historic Site

Sitting on Mobile Point at the end of Fort Morgan Peninsula, the Fort Morgan Historic Site served as a key player in the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864. However, the masonry fort was not the first stronghold to stand here. Fort Bowyer preceded Fort Morgan, providing a fortification for American forces during the War of 1812.

Built between 1819 and 1833, Fort Morgan actually hosted military forces during the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II, as well as the Civil War. Today, visitors can explore the fort’s history at the onsite museum and wander the grounds to see the various quarters and check out the views of the Gulf. The fort also offers picnicking areas as well as beaches where visitors can relax.

Written by Karon Warren for Matcha in partnership with BCBS of AL and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

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