In 2017, Alabama is celebrating its 200th anniversary as a state. But way down South, as in L.A.—or Lower Alabama, as the locals lovingly call it—there was an even bigger celebration just over a decade ago. It was the 300th anniversary of the city of Mobile.
Nestled along the bay that bears its name just north of the Gulf of Mexico, where five separate rivers that form the second largest river delta in the country, the Port City grew from a small European settlement to a thriving coastal seaport. Indeed, there’s a lot of fascinating history to experience in Mobile and one of the best ways to check it out is by foot. Here, five excellent hikes to experience some of this 300 years of history in Alabama’s oldest city.
1. USS Alabama Trail
Despite its name, the trail does not pass the battleship USS Alabama, which is a big tourist attraction just down the road. The trail was named in honor of the battleship by a local Boy Scout troop that built the route. However, on this fascinating urban hike, you’ll visit several architectural highlights and the second-oldest cemetery in the city. Highlights include the ornate Cathedral of Immaculate Conception and the gorgeous Battle House Hotel, both of which were built in 1851. The hotel has been a stopover for several presidents and is where Stephen Douglas stayed the night he lost the election to Abraham Lincoln.
You will also pass the second-oldest cemetery in the city, the Church Street Cemetery. Established in 1819, the cemetery is the final resting place of Joe Cain, the man who brought Mardi Gras back following the Civil War.
Make sure you plan plenty of time to explore. You’ll pass several museums along the way, including the City of Mobile Museum, Exploreum, Maritime Museum, and the Mardi Gras Museum. Also worth some time: walking along the waterfront that made the city what it is.
Begin the hike by getting information at the Fort Conde Welcome Center, a reproduction of the Spanish fort that once stood here in the 1700s, where parking is available.
2. Magnolia Cemetery
A cemetery walk is a fascinating trek back in time. Mobile’s Magnolia Cemetery was established in 1836 because the city’s other cemetery, Church Street, was full. This 2-mile ramble takes you past more than 1,000 graves, many adorned with elegant hand-carved tombstones engraved with symbols, statues, and eloquently written epitaphs from the Victorian period.
The cemetery is the final resting place for many of the city’s luminaries, including the founder of Mardi Gras in the United States, Michael Kraft, and the son of Apache Indian Chief Geronimo, Chappo.
The entrance is at 1202 Virginia Street. Park where you can in the cemetery well off to the side. If you visit on a weekday, stop in the office for a map and a little historical insight to this city of the dead.
3. Fort Morgan
Historic Fort Morgan sits on the eastern side of Mobile Bay on the Fort Morgan Peninsula— symbolic divide between the bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The fort is one of two massive stone fortresses that protected Mobile from foreign invasion, first as a dirt fort called Fort Bowyer, then as a stone fort following the War of 1812.
Starting at the park’s gift shop, take an excellent 2.4-mile loop hike around the grounds, where you’ll visit the old Fort Bowyer (later called Battery Bowyer during World War I), the foundation of the old barracks, the Federal Siege Line, where the Union Army attempted to take the fort by land during the Civil War, and of course, the impressive fort itself.
From the fort, head north to the banks of Mobile Bay, where you’ll see a yellow and orange buoy that marks the final resting place of the USS Tecumseh and its crew. During the Civil War, in what has been called the Battle of Mobile Bay, the ship hit a mine (called a torpedo at the time) and sank, causing Union Admiral David Farragut to shout those now famous words "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!"
4. Fort Gaines
On Dauphin Island directly opposite from Fort Morgan is Morgan’s twin, Fort Gaines. Yes, you can drive to get there, but a more interesting option is a great 3.4-mile scorpion loop trail.
Begin this hike at the Audubon Bird Sanctuary located just west of the fort. Here you’ll walk through some magnificent wetlands and trek over sand dunes to the Gulf of Mexico. The sanctuary is recognized as one of the most significant bird migration sites in the world. From here, follow the beach to the fort.
Along with Fort Morgan, Fort Gaines played a significant role in the Civil War. In fact, with the two forts in place, Mobile was described as the most fortified city of the Confederacy. As you walk to the fort look out into the Gulf and you’ll see the Sand Island Lighthouse, which was first manned in 1839.
5. Historic Blakeley State Park
Just across the bay from Mobile is Historic Blakeley State Park. This area was once the town of Blakeley, which shriveled and died in the early 1800s due to a yellow fever epidemic. During the Civil War, a small fort was built here, and in 1865 the Battle of Blakeley, recognized as the last major battle of the war, was fought in the area. Today, it’s a hiker’s paradise, with 15 miles of trail.
A 3-mile trail winds its way to the battlefield, which is still littered with gunner positions, the "Zig-Zag" that union troops used to sneak up on Confederate soldiers, and two well-preserved redoubts. Another 12 miles of trail in the park leads to the town’s abandoned main street, lined with moss-draped oaks.
Originally written for BCBS of AL.