The Gulf Shores area is home to several diverse habitats. From beaches to bayous and forests, each habitat supports different flora and fauna. Many of these habitats are endangered, and the loss of the uniqueness of their systems has led to the endangerment of many animals, birds and marine life that call this area home. Luckily, there are many parks and refuges that have saved swatches of these important ecosystems and carved out pieces between the built environment for their protection and to ensure their survival. Here are a few of those spaces.
DAY 1 – Public Beaches- Gulf Shores Wildlife
Public beaches may not seem like animal and bird refuges, but many species depend on the beach environment for their food and shelter, and the public beaches and dunes are an important part of the coastal environment. Spend the day on the beach. Walk the shoreline or grab a chair and a drink and just sit and watch the birds fly, crabs scuttle around, and the dolphins cavort.
DAY 2 – Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge
The Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge includes a variety of ecosystems. The refuge is the last remaining undisturbed beach habitat for the endangered Alabama beach mouse and acts as a stopover for migrating birds. Several trails wind through maritime forests, wetlands, dunes and scrub habitat, a saltwater lagoon and the transitional habitats in between. Wander the refuge on your own or take one of the many guided bird walks, dune hikes or night prowls offered year-round. Just make sure you climb the observation tower for an amazing view of the refuge. Click here to see the most popular birding trails.
Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge
12295 State Highway 180
Gulf Shores, AL
DAY 3 – Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail
Originally used by Native Americans as hunting trails, the multi-use trails that wind through the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail take you through a series of six different ecosystems. All paths are ADA accessible and you can jog, walk, skate, and bike your way along the paths past freshwater lakes, wetlands and marshes, and over longleaf sand ridges. And the trail is now on the Alabama Coastal Bird Trail, making it a great stop for birdwatchers as well as birds. Watch for osprey, bald eagles, whitetail deer, coyote, otters, alligator, and bobcat. And, be on the lookout for the elusive “Catman,” a part man/part wildcat creature and a local legend.
Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail
Gulf State Park, access through various trailheads
Gulf Shores, AL
DAY 4 – Wade Ward Nature Park
Nestled down between condos and office buildings on the main drag through town is the Wade Ward Nature Park. Just two blocks north of the public beach, this tiny park provides public access to a small slice of wetlands and waterways. Stroll along the raised walkway and watch the local Gulf Shores wildlife in the surrounding water. An Alabama Coastal Birding Trail site, this is a great place for bird watching year round. There are benches, a small pavilion and deck area where you can sit, enjoy the scenery and watch the alligators glide by.
Wade Ward Nature Park
500 Gulf Shores Parkway
DAY 5 – Gulf State Park
Gulf State Park has a wide variety of activities to bring you closer to nature. This coastal park is home to several ecosystems, each providing a unique display of wildlife and landscape. You can fish from the pier, rent a boat, canoe or kayak for ocean, lake or lagoon fishing. You can walk along the several miles of pristine white beaches looking for shells and watching the dolphins play. Try out the golf course, tennis courts or set up your own volleyball court. Walk, jog, bike or Segway along the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail or have fun geocaching. It’s a great way to explore the park while competing with your friends.
Gulf State Park
20115 State Highway 135
Gulf Shores, AL
DAY 6 – Tours
Book a dolphin and nature tour to learn more about these amazing creatures and their environment. Cetacean Cruises’ Dolphin and Nature Tour begins in the bay, then it moves into the back waters for an eco-tour. Relax on the boat as you enjoy the beautiful scenery of the bayou while watching out for turtles, dolphins, alligators, deer, and osprey. Don’t miss out on these best places for wildlife watching.
4673 Wharf Parkway West
Orange Beach, AL
DAY 7 – The Zoo
Well, you may not be seeing Gulf Shores animals in their natural habitat, but who doesn’t like to see lions and tigers and bears? This small but popular zoo provides a great opportunity to see the usual zoo creatures as well as hosting seasonal interactive animal shows. Badly damaged during the last several hurricanes, the zoo will be moving inland a bit for more protection but remains open for visitors. And, they have begun offering “animal encounters” which bring visitors face-to-face with their favorite Gulf Shores animals. You can rub an alligator’s back or have a lemur sit on your shoulder; these are just two of the experiences waiting for you at the zoo.
Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo
1204 Gulf Shores Parkway
Gulf Shores, AL