10 reasons to vacation at Gulf State Park in Alabama

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Between the popular vacation towns of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach in Alabama, sits the region’s shining jewel, Gulf State Park.

Covering more than 6,200 acres, the park is home to three fresh water lakes, a golf course, the Gulf State Park Campground, cabins, the Gulf State Park Pier and 2 1/2 miles of incredible beach.

Title Image says "10 amazing reasons to vacation at Gulf State Park in AL" with images of a boardwalk under a tree.

It’s also a dog friendly destination, and well-behaved dogs are welcome. Follow leash laws, clean up after them, and stick to the trails. But it’s not just for the dogs….

A beach vacation to Gulf State Park is great for the whole family!

A great vacation at the state park in Alabama

The sea oats and white sand dunes at Gulf State Park with a rope fence in foreground.

Gulf State Park is one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the United States. In other words, there’s more than dunes out there! There’s a woodland forest, swamp, wetlands, the dunes (of course) and more. The more time I spent at Gulf Shores State Park, the more I wanted to see.

Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail

The Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail system is popular with families.

The backcountry trail is actually comprised of 28 miles of trails through nine distinct ecosystems. Along the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail, you’ll discover all sorts of different plants and animals, including a bald eagle (if you’re lucky), butterflies, and an alligator named Lefty.

If eagles and alligators don’t convince you to explore the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail, maybe this will:

Geocaching for kids at Gulf State Park

Geocaching for kids is a great way to explore in Gulf Shores State Park.

Geocaching uses GPS-enabled devices for real life, outdoor treasure hunting. Simply input a specific set of GPS coordinates into your map and try to find the container hidden at the location. There are several places along the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail at Gulf State Park to go geocaching for kids.

If you are new to geocaching, the rules are simple:

  1. If you take something from the “cache” (container), leave something of equal or greater value.
  2. Write about your find in the cache logbook.
  3. Share your experience at Geocaching.com.

I’m fairly new to geocaching, and caught the bug after seeing my friends’ posts on Facebook as they explored all sorts of neat outdoor places. Geocaching for kids is a great way to inspire excitement about the great outdoors.

Beach bike sharing at Gulf State Park

My brother is an avid bicyclist — he always has been. Me, not so much. I am always afraid that I’ll hit a rock and go flying over the handlebars. It’s an irrational fear, I know, and one I’m trying to overcome.

The park is a great place for biking, whether new to it (like me) or a pro (like my brother)!

At this Alabama state park, there are miles of paved bike trails making beach bike sharing a great way to see Gulf Shores and Orange Beach!

Families can also rent bikes for their whole vacation at Beach Bike Rentals (located next to the Rosemary Trail entrance to Gulf State Park), too. The staff there is super-friendly.

I got my bike from them. They took the time to explain all the bike’s features to me and adjusted my seat to the perfect height. They go over every bike after each ride to ensure they are clean and in pristine riding condition. Every rental includes bike, helmet, basket, bell and lock — and a trail map, of course. If you ask, they’ll help you plan a route that meets your interests.

Added bonus: Wherever you stay in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, they deliver!

While I’m not a big time bike rider, I’m 7.5 miles closer to having confidence.

Gulf State Park Pier

I am not a fisherman. Nor am I a fisherwoman. But, my daughter is, and she would love to spend a day at the Gulf State Park Pier.

Photo of the flags at the entrance to the Gulf State Park Pier

This is actually the second pier at Gulf Shores State Park. The first was washed away by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. The new pier, which opened in 2009, is the longest fishing pier in the Gulf of Mexico.

And, it’s not just for fishermen.

The Gulf State Park Pier has air conditioned concession stands, clean restrooms, and a souvenir shop. You can buy a day pass to enjoy the views or you can get a fishing license to fish for the day.

Avid fishermen will appreciate the bait and tackle shop, fish cleaning stations, electrical outlets (for bubblers if you, like me, have no clue what serious fishing entails) and sea turtle friendly lighting for night fishing.

The pier is completely accessible to those in wheelchairs, including a paved parking lot at the end of the pier. There are even fishing spots specially designed for easy access.

If you can’t tell, I was pleasantly surprised by the Gulf State Park Pier.

I enjoyed watching people fish — especially Kristen Walters from Arkansas, who caught her first big fish at the pier while I was there. Oh my goodness, she was so excited!

Lady from Arkansas catches her first fish ever at Gulf State Park Pier and displays it proudly.

The Beach Pavilion

Really, I should be talking about the white sandy beaches and warm gulf waters, but you know the beach pavilion is pretty awesome, too.

It offers a snack shop, covered eating areas, real bathrooms and showers with warm water! I don’t know about you, but after a day in the sand and surf, I am glad I can wash the sand off before driving “home.” Use of the pavilion is free, but it’s $6/car to park.


Gulf State Park Cabins

Gulf State Park Cabins offer a number of lakeside and woodlands cabins and cottages for vacation rentals all within the beautiful Alabama state park. Some cabin rentals are pet friendly. There’s even a dog friendly beach nearby.

Besides the quiet location, Gulf State Park cabins are quite affordable. You can rent a 3 bedroom/3 bath cottage weekly for about $2,000 during peak summer season!

The Gulf State Park Campground

If you have a camper or like to tent camp, the campground has almost 500 spots for you to enjoy. Many of the spots at Gulf State Park Campground are pull-through sites with water views.

Campground amenities include:

  • 11 air-conditioned bathhouses,
  • a camp store,
  • onsite laundry,
  • outdoor swimming pool with splash pad,
  • tennis/pickleball courts,
  • horseshoes,
  • volleyball,
  • the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail, and
  • a nature center with weekly activities.

When I took my beach bike ride, I got to the end of the campground and saw the trail stretch out ahead of me. But, there were all these warning signs. I had no idea if I was allowed on the trail or not!

Do not enter signs and dead end sign make me question whether I can bike the rest of the trail.

Clarification just beyond the barrier, bikers and hikers welcome, just no cars allowed.

I think I might need new glasses, because this sign, just beyond the blockade, explains it all!

If you stay at the campground, bring the bikes, use the bike sharing plan or get beach bike rentals and take advantage of this quiet biking trail!

The Nature Center

Tucked in the campground by the pool is the Gulf State Park Nature Center.

The Nature Center exhibits feature local wildlife, but there’s a lot more to this activity center. Weekly activities at the nature center are the best part.

Families, not just kids, staying at the park can attend free weekly activities to learn more about the ecosystem in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. 

If you are vacationing in Gulf Shores or Orange Beach but staying at one of the hotels, condos or beach houses, just pay $2 to park at the nature center and take advantage of the free events!

Here are some of the options they offer:

  • GeoCaching 101: Bring a smartphone or other GPS device and learn about geocaching. Then, go with the guide to try it out!
  • Exploring Coastal Creatures: Guests meet at the foot of the fishing pier to learn about fish and other creatures found in the Gulf of Mexico. This is a hands on activity and you will get wet.
  • Eco Art: Meet at the camp store pavilion to create an art project/craft that highlights a natural aspect of the Park.
  • Guided Kayaking Tour: Head over to Lake Shelby for a one hour guided kayaking tour to learn the basics of kayaking and a take short trip around the lake. $20 includes single kayak, lifejacket. Call ahead for reservations as space is limited.

Amazing sunrises and sunsets

For this, I think a picture or two should suffice!

the sky is vivid blue and pink as the sun rises over the Gulf of Mexico

The sun glows orange over the Gulf of Mexico as clouds streak across the sky

And one last GREAT bonus!

When vacationing during the summer season, kids can participate in summer day camps at the park. There are a variety of camps offered each summer for kids aged 7-13. You don’t have to be a resident to participate in these camps.

Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Kids have fun. Parents get beach time. Or golf.

Learn more about Gulf Shores and Orange Beach

When you vacation at Gulf State Park, check out some of the other great places in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach!