One of the most enjoyable outdoor activities on the Alabama Gulf Coast is paddling. As someone in the real estate business once put it, “We have every kind of water you could ever want here.” Think about it: spring-fed streams, fast-flowing rivers, brackish lakes, honey-hole lagoons, bays large and small, bayous, canals, coves, channels, intracoastal waterways, salt and freshwater lakes, and of course the Gulf of Mexico are all options for area paddlers. There’s something different for everyone’s taste. But of all the options available, these are our top five favorite paddle destinations, along with what you need to know to make a memorable trip.
1. Little Lagoon
Little Lagoon tops the list for best paddle for nature lovers. Bordered by the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge , Little Lagoon is 1o miles long and half a mile wide. The water is calm and shallow in most parts making it ideal for kayaking and fishing. You won’t find a lot of motorized boats on Little Lagoon, which only adds to the tranquil serenity.
Home to many species of birds, Little Lagoon is also a popular migratory stop, allowing you to see an even greater variety depending on the time of the year. If you are looking for a relaxing getaway where you can leisurely paddle, this is a the spot to do just that. Pack a picnic lunch and spend the day.
Sarah’s Homemade on West Fort Morgan Road is a convenient place to stop for a chicken salad wrap and chocolate chip fudge cupcake. Once you have your picnic basket stuffed, continue down West Fort Morgan Road to the Jeff Friend Trail. A kayak launch is located adjacent to the parking lot. Several sandy beaches are sprinkled throughout the lagoon to stop and enjoy your meal. Bug spray, sunscreen, and water are necessities. And bring your camera—Little Lagoon is a photographer’s haven.
2. Lake Shelby
New to paddling? There's no better place to start than Lake Shelby, a 900-acre freshwater lake that feeds into Little Lagoon. Kayaks and stand-up paddleboard rentals are available on-site, and a large picnic area with tables and pavilions rest underneath windswept oaks. Two launch sites are available, one to the left of the entrance and one near the end of the parking lot.
Lake Shelby is part of the Gulf State Park, which is a popular nesting areas for osprey and the occasional alligator. The islands are full of tall cattails and sea grass clustered around cypress trees and opened trunk oaks, appealing to those of us who enjoy primitive settings. The wind causes a slight current that at times can be strong. Across the lake, cabins are available for those interested in weekend or week-long events.
3. Bon Secour River
The Bon Secour River has several options beginning in Foley with a guided tour for those newer to paddling with BeachnRiver Canoe and Kayak Rentals . Call in advance to reserve your tour. Another launch, farther down the river, can be found in the Bon Secour community near Aquilas Seafood. Fishing and shrimping boats bustle about catching their bounty, while others rock against the shoreline creating a more quaint setting. This paddle has a more southern gothic charm as it is one of the oldest communities on the Alabama Gulf Coast. After your paddle, stop by one of several fresh seafood markets to get a pound of reds or a fresh catch of the day right off the boats.
4. Perdido Pass
Perdido Pass is probably the most active of all areas and contains some of the best coastal scenery. Boggy Point boat launch is a good place to start, but you also can put in under the bridge at Perdido Pass (although it’s extremely busy). This area is not for the faint-hearted or for first-timers. White sandy beaches invite paddlers into Terry Cove where several smaller islands make this trip memorable.
Robinson Island, Bird Island, and Walker Island provide nesting for Wading Herons, Terns, and many other species. Grass beds surround the islands and no-motor zones allow a calm, easy paddle close to the shores to explore. Pull up to any of the islands and enjoy the salt air and cool clear water. Numerous restaurants are located nearby. Cobalt, Happy Harbor Bar & Restaurant, Tacky Jacks, and Fisher’s are a few with waterfront views.
5. Wolf Bay
Wolf Bay at Orange Beach Waterfront Park meets all the requirements for a family day outing. The launch is found near the 400-foot pier that extends into Wolf Bay. It's beautifully situated in the backcountry near the Beach Express and Orange Beach Boulevard and features huge oaks with dangling Spanish moss shading the kids park. Other amenities include covered pavilions, picnic shelters with grills, restrooms, and several swings for the complete outdoor excursion package for families.
Wolf Bay is a fresh and saltwater mix estuary that covers 44,700 acres. Manatees, sea turtles, dolphins, and alligators are just a few of the many species this ecosystem supports. For those new to kayaking, stay close to the shoreline as the waters can often get choppy with high wind gusts. This is also a popular spot for motorized boats. For the more adventurous, the Orange Beach Canoe Trail includes this launch with several more along Wolf Bay and the adjoining Bay La Launch, Bayou St. John, and Terry Cove.