Beyond the Beach: 10 Must-Do Summer Adventures on Alabama’s Gulf Coast

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge Hiking.
Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge Hiking. Joe Cuhaj
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The Alabama Gulf Coast is one of the most popular spots to hit the beach in the country. But while kicking back on the famous white sand with a cold beverage in hand is relaxing, why not add some more action to your visit? There are a surprising array of options for enjoying the great outdoors in this neck of the woods. To get you started, here are 10 must-do outdoor adventures to heat up your summer.

1. Grab a paddle for kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding.

Miles and miles of water-based adventures await along the Alabama Gulf Coast, from paddling dark, mysterious backwaters and bayous with alligators peering through the reeds to sea kayaking with dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico.

For something a little more leisurely, try paddling the chain of lakes at Gulf State Park. You can see more than one hundred species of birds here, and the water is much calmer than the Gulf.

Don’t have a boat of your own? Rent one from plenty of outfitters in the area.

2. Explore nature on two wheels.

Be sure to take a break from biking to look at the wildlife, like butterflies at the Graham Creek Nature Preserve.
Be sure to take a break from biking to look at the wildlife, like butterflies at the Graham Creek Nature Preserve. Stephanie Pluscht

The mostly flat Alabama Gulf Coast is full of bike-friendly destinations, whether you’re in the mood for a casual cruise or hankering for a more hardcore adventure. For the mountain bike set, there’s an excellent 10-mile mountain biking trail at Graham Creek Nature Preserve in Foley. The path has several creek crossings and plenty of swales and mud-runs to get your heart pumping.

Recreational riders, meanwhile, will enjoy pedaling through a longleaf pine forest laced with lakes and wildlife like deer, bobcat, coyote, and alligators on the 15 miles of paved multi-use trails at the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail.

And for road cyclists, there are several routes to choose from, including an easy 4-mile out and back along Highway 182 in Gulf Shores that starts at the Gulf State Park Pier, and for the more intrepid biker, a 27.4-mile run that stretches from the pier to Perdido State Park in Florida. Both runs have fantastic views of the beach and the emerald waters of the Gulf.

3. Saddle up for a horseback ride.

The premier horseback riding stable along the Alabama Gulf Coast is Oak Hollow Farm in Fairhope. Visitors begin their adventure on a hay ride to the riding barn, then it’s off on horseback through 300 acres of rolling hills, ponds, and pasture land. Oak Hollow also plays host to numerous charity events, with big name singers and bands performing in their big barn.

4. Explore the underwater world.

You can see dolphins both above and underwater around the Gulf Coast.
You can see dolphins both above and underwater around the Gulf Coast. Pug Father

Rays, sea turtles, and dolphins are just a few of the Gulf’s residents you’re likely to see when you grab a snorkel to explore the world below the aquamarine water. Or, opt for a guided snorkeling trip with Glass Bottom Dolphin Tours out of Orange Beach.

Or you can take a deep dive by scuba diving the newest artificial reefs in the area: a recreational dive to the coastal freighter Lulu, or an open water dive to the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany.

Several dive shops in the area, including the Down Under Dive Shop and AAA Charters, can get you started on these underwater adventures.

5. Hike maritime wetlands and wildflower-filled forests.

Marine wetlands are just one of the Gulf Coast’s surprising array of ecosystems.
Marine wetlands are just one of the Gulf Coast’s surprising array of ecosystems. Alan Cressler

Alabama is an underrated gem when it comes to hiking, and the state’s Gulf Coast is no exception, with an extraordinary variety of wildlife and ecosystems.

For wildlife viewing, the best location is the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge on the Fort Morgan Peninsula. Sandy paths weave through maritime wetlands and forests with beautiful wildflowers lining the way, eventually leading to the most beautiful and secluded section of beach on the Alabama Gulf Coast.

History buffs shouldn’t miss the chance to travel to the far western end of the peninsula to historic Fort Morgan. Here, a 2-mile loop hike around the grounds is rich in history that dates back to before the War of 1812. And Fort Morgan itself is the site of the Battle of Mobile Bay during the Civil War.

6. See wildlife at sunset and later.

There’s nothing like a beautiful Gulf sunset while viewing dolphins at play on the Wild Native Sunset Dolphin Tour or the Orange Beach Dolphin Safari. Both also have guided kayak tours. And, for an adventure that’s almost guaranteed to get the adrenaline going, check out the Gators After Hours tour with Delta Safaris, which promises to take you up close and personal with American alligators, whose glaring red eyes add a delicious thrill to the nighttime excursion.

7. Try your hand at disc golf.

If you’re looking for a relaxing stroll with a little extra challenge added in, then tee up on one of the Alabama Gulf Coast’s Professional Disc Golf Association courses. You’ll find a full 18-hole PDGA course at Graham Creek Nature Preserve in Foley, where the front nine is in a wide-open field while the back nine winds through some tough holes in a secluded area of longleaf pine forest.

Another great PDGA course is the Disc Golf Park in Orange Beach, which offers excellent views of the Intracoastal Waterway.

8. Take your adventure to new heights on a zip line.

Talk about a bird’s-eye view: How about sailing 90 feet above the waters of the Intracoastal Waterway at 40 mph on the Hummingbird Zip Lines? The facility is now located at the Wharf of Orange Beach, a dining, shopping, and entertainment complex. The course features seven towers and six zip lines that when combined are more than a mile long.

9. Reel in a prize catch.

The 1,540-foot Gulf State Park Fishing Pier is a popular spot for anglers.
The 1,540-foot Gulf State Park Fishing Pier is a popular spot for anglers. faungg's photos

Saltwater, freshwater, surf, lake, deep sea: Eager anglers will find just about any type of fishing to suit their tastes on the Alabama Gulf Coast.

The main attraction, of course, is saltwater fishing. Orange Beach is touted as hosting the largest offshore charter fishing fleet along the Gulf Coast.

Want something land-based? Then try your hand at surf fishing right on the white beaches of the Gulf of Mexico, or venture out to the second longest fishing pier on the Gulf Coast, the 1,540-foot Gulf State Park Fishing Pier.

And for freshwater fishing at its best, visit the lakes of Gulf State Park. You may be fishing for bass and bream, but you may also land some saltwater fish like redfish, mullet, or blue crab, thanks to the influx of saltwater left behind from past hurricanes.

10. Soar 800 feet above the Gulf of Mexico.

Admit it: Every time you’ve seen someone parasailing, you’ve wondered what it would be like to soar over 800 feet above the emerald waters of the Gulf. So why not go ahead and try out this sky-high adventure now? You can’t beat the view—or the bragging rights—from high above the water; be sure to keep an eye out for dolphins, stingrays, and maybe even sharks.

There are several outfitters in Orange Beach and Gulf Shores that can literally "hook you up" for this great adventure—a must-do in the summer for any visitor or local.

Originally written for BCBS of AL.

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