On the eastern shore of Mobile Bay in the town of Spanish Fort, Alabama, Historic Blakeley State Park marks the site of the Civil War’s last major battle. As Union and Confederate forces clashed at Fort Blakeley in April of 1865, General Robert E. Lee was surrendering to General Ulysses S Grant, effectively ending the war.
The state park not only marks an important moment in history but also provides visitors with access to the Mobile-Tensaw, the second largest river delta in the country. In recent decades, however, the park's trails and other amenities suffered a long decline in quality. But thanks to the recent efforts of park staff and volunteers, the park has undergone a makeover that includes new facilities, new and improved trails, and renewed excitement about the history the park protects.
If you’ve never been to Blakeley, or you haven’t visited in a while, add it to your travel calendar and take advantage of all the recent upgrades.
The Park’s Compelling History
In 1814, Josiah Blakeley established the town of Blakeley, which quickly grew into a major port city and challenged its cross-bay rival, Mobile, in the shipping business. By 1820, Blakeley was one of the largest cities in the state.
Beginning in 1822, several outbreaks of yellow fever caused the city to slowly decline, and by the early 1860s, the population dwindled to only 100.
The Confederate army moved in soon after and took over the site, establishing Fort Blakely at the outset of the Civil War to help protect Mobile. Following the capture of Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines on the Gulf of Mexico, the Union forces moved up the eastern shore of Mobile Bay to Blakeley and battled the Confederate troops. The Union army defeated the Confederates at Blakeley, and Mobile, the last Confederate seaport, soon surrendered.
New and Improved Trails
Over the years, the trail system at Historic Blakeley State Park has suffered from a lack of maintenance, but things have changed for the better. Local volunteers and park staff members are now pitching in to regularly maintain existing trails, and they’ve even built new ones. While many of the trails are not blazed, they’re easy to follow, especially with a new map available at the park entrance.
More than 16 miles of hiking and biking trails now wind through the park, including new additions like the nine-mile bike trail, which was a joint venture between the state park and Eastern Shore Cycles. It wraps around some of the park’s most scenic spots and runs along some of the best preserved Civil War earthworks (dirt fortifications) in the South. The bike trail is well-marked with large signs that are easy to read.
Other new trails include General Cockrell’s Loop and the Siege Line Trail, which link up with the park’s familiar Breastworks Trail to guide you through the site of the Civil War battle. As you walk the battlefield you’ll see gunner positions, the “zig-zag” that union troops used to sneak up on Confederate soldiers, two well-preserved redoubts (fortifications made of earth), the small battle cemetery, and other Confederate earthworks.
While many park trails tour the battle area, some paths take you to a much different environment. The Hallett and Benjamin Randall trails, plus new additions like the Old Town Nature Trail, can be combined to create several different loops of varying lengths that lead you across narrow wooden boardwalks high above dark but beautiful swamps. These trails pass through wetlands created by the local beaver population and run through a forest of longleaf pines, American beech trees, and magnolias, with a canopy so thick the sun rarely peaks through. Finally, the trails reach the banks of the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, the second largest delta in the country, where American alligators lurk about the shoreline and bald eagles and osprey soar high above.
When you visit the park, don’t forget to take a stroll down the town’s old main road, Franklin Street, where you’ll see the remnants of the town’s original courthouse and the Mary Grice Pavilion, which is topped with a church steeple from the 1800s.
New Camping Options
Probably the biggest change to Blakeley is that visitors now have more camping options. Not long ago, you could only pitch tents on primitive campsites in a large field. Today, you have a few more modern options.
RVs are now welcome in the Apalachee Campground, which sports full hook-ups for $30 per night. The Bartram Campground is now an improved tent camping area with eight sites tucked away in the woods. Each site has a fire ring, picnic table, water, and electricity. If you prefer primitive camping, it’s still available at the Harper Campground, where each site has a fire ring and picnic table.
If you’re not into camping, Blakeley now has two rustic cabins available, and each has two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, and satellite TV. Rates run $109 per night Friday through Sunday and $99 per night Monday through Thursday. To make lodging reservations, contact the park office at (251) 626-0798.
New Ways to Tour the Park
Along with all of these upgrades, Blakeley has also brought back the self-guided tour of the battle. When you arrive, ask the gate attendant for a copy of the numbered map, and then walk or drive along the field following the numbered markers to relive the history. The park also offers 45-minute guided tours for groups (contact the park office for more information).
Get on the water and explore the river delta by riding the Delta Explorer pontoon boat, which will take you from Blakeley deep into the dark forest to Mound Island where Native Americans built towering dirt mounds thousands of years ago. During the tour, you’ll learn about the history of the Mound Builders and have a chance to climb to the top of the tallest mounds. For dates, times, and fees, visit the Historic Blakeley State Park website events page.
More Park Details
Historic Blakeley State Park is open all year seven days a week from 8 a.m. to dusk. There is a $4 day use fee for adults, $3 for children 6-12, and children under 6 are free.
Despite the improved park amenities, some things just can’t be changed. Because the park sits on the banks of the delta, be prepared for mosquitoes during warm-weather months.
Written by Ruthie Townsend for Matcha in partnership with BCBS of AL.