Between 1827 and 1837, more than 23,000 Creek Indians emigrated from the Southeast, as they were either forced out or joined voluntary parties heading west. But, a small number of Creeks remained, and their descendants, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, have lived on their reservation just north of Atmore, Alabama, for more than 200 years.
The Poarch Tribe strongly believes in preserving its lands, giving to the community, and strengthening families, and this led them to establish the Magnolia Branch Wildlife Reserve, which covers about 6,000 acres. With its lakes and pristine forests, the preserve provides families a fun and relaxing place to spend time together playing outdoors and camping amid beautiful surroundings. Whether you want a quiet walk in the woods, a peaceful night under the stars, or a little excitement zip-lining, the reserve has something for you. And it’s very affordable, as admission to the reserve is $5 per person for adults, and $1 for children 12 and younger.
If you’re not familiar with this hidden gem in south Alabama, here are nine great reasons to visit Magnolia Branch.
Even though the reserve can get pretty busy in the summer, you’ll still find solace as you roam the reserve’s hiking trails, serenaded by the Eastern bluebird, painted bunting, and Dixie whip-poor-will. As you settle into camp under the stars, or take a lazy paddle or tube ride down the cool, clear waters of Big Escambia Creek, you’ll hear very little except the chorus of thrumming frogs.
The centerpiece of the Magnolia Branch Wildlife Reserve is Big Escambia Creek and the lakes that dot the reserve—Spider, Too Close, Clear, Rodeo Lakes and Lake Menewa. Big Escambia Creek is clear and cool with a sandy bottom, and when you arrive it beckons you to take the plunge and relax in the sun on its warm, sandy beaches.
Magnolia Branch has three campground loops with 47 full hookup RV sites, 15 improved tent campsites, and unlimited primitive sites. The best sites are actually in the primitive tent area with four sites right on the banks of Lake Menewa. Improved sites (what they call Improved Primitive) are $20 per night with water and electricity, while primitive sites are $10 per day plus $1 per person.
More than 15 miles of hiking trails await you, ranging from nice, open dirt road walks to cozy and intimate treks that traverse the pine forest and hug the banks of Big Escambia Creek and neighboring lakes. During your walk, songbirds will serenade you and you might spy hawks high above, soaring silently, looking for their next meal.
Take a lazy 2-hour canoe or kayak trip down Big Escambia Creek, a blackwater river, which isn’t really black. It’s actually a clear river that is tinted a brownish tea color from the leaching of the trees lining its banks.
As you paddle Big Escambia Creek you’ll encounter plenty of sandbars where you can stop to have a picnic lunch and swim. Canoes ($25 each) and kayaks ($15 each) are available for rent year round, and there’s a refundable $10 deposit required on life jackets and paddles.
Bring your own bikes or rent them from the reserve for $5 per hour. Either way, you’re in for a treat as you pedal the network of dirt roads and trails that wind through Magnolia Branch. The reserve has a nice loop that takes you between Rodeo Lake and Sizemore Creek.
7. Zip Lines
If you’ve never tried zip-lining, it’s a fun thrill ride that takes you soaring among the treetops. The Magnolia Branch zip line races you through the air across Rodeo Lake and its sandy beaches. Zip lines are open Saturdays and Sundays from Memorial Day to Labor Day, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is part of a $5 all-day pass, which also includes rides on the Blob (see below).
8. Horseback Riding
If you’re an equestrian, then trailer up and bring your horse to Magnolia Branch for a great ride over the rolling hills. The reserve has more than 7 miles of trails, including water crossings, plus an equestrian campground with a 10-stall stable, so you can spend a night, weekend, or longer.
Horses are not available for rent. Horse trailers can park for $5 per day, plus $1 per horse. If you need to stall them, it’s $5 a day.
9. Tubing and the Blob
What’s more Southern than tubing down a blackwater river on a hot summer day? At Magnolia, you can have a fun and relaxing 2-hour float using one of the reserve’s bright yellow tubes.
Ever been Blobbing? No? It’s a blast! You sit on the end of a giant, partially inflated bag that resembles an air mattress and sits in the lake. A friend climbs a tower and jumps onto the opposite end of the Blob, launching you high into the air where you splash down in the water. You need to try the Blob at Magnolia Branch at least once!
Both tubing and the Blob are open Saturdays and Sundays from May 1 through Labor Day, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The cost is $5 per day for the Blob (the pass includes zip line rides), and the two-hour tubing trip is $5 per person.
Written by Joe Cuhaj for RootsRated Media in partnership with BCBS of AL.