Without a doubt there are plenty of things to do in Gulf Shores, especially on the water! Hop on a boat tour or chartered trip for some fishing, SCUBA diving, snorkeling, or parasailing. Rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard (SUP) and navigate the crystal clear waters of Coastal Alabama on your own.
Back on land, splash around at the water park, try your hand at golf or putt putt, and see if you can crack the code in an escape room. There is no shortage of gift and beachwear shops in Gulf Shores, including the iconic Souvenir City. There are plenty of things to do in Gulf Shores to keep you busy and entertained along Alabama’s Gulf Coast.
Throughout this post, we’re going to highlight a variety of outdoorsy things to do in Gulf Shores, because it’s the beauty of this region that encouraged us to visit in the first place! Cool winter weather was present in January during both of our visits Gulf Shores. During our first visit, there was an unusual cold snap, so we didn’t really visit the beach at all. However, our second visit presented more mild temperatures, which allowed for some time along the shore.
Outdoorsy Things to Do in Gulf Shores Alabama
Enjoy Alabama’s Beaches
Again, both of our visits to Alabama’s gorgeous beaches fell during the month of January. So, unfortunately it was a little too cool to fully enjoy the crystal clear waters of the Gulf. However, this didn’t mean that we weren’t able to enjoy the sun and the sand. While we never wore our swimsuits during our winter visits to Gulf Shores, we definitely still made the most of our time at the beach. Unbeknownst to many, Alabama’s Gulf Coast has 32 miles of pristine white sand beaches. They’re seriously some of the most gorgeous beaches in the US!
Take a Sand Castle Building Class
And since you’re at the beach, why not take a sand castle building class?! It’s so much more than just flipping over a bucket filled with sand to create a beachy masterpiece! Janel at Sand Castle University specializes in teaching the best tools, tips, and tricks of building amazing sand castles. Click HERE for more details about classes and prices. Who knew you could have so much fun with sand!
Gulf State Park Pier
At 1,540 feet, Gulf State Park Pier is the second longest pier on the Gulf of Mexico and Alabama’s only public pier on the Gulf. (Beating out the Gulf Shores pier as the longest pier on the Gulf by a whopping 5 feet is the 1,545 foot Navarre Beach Fishing Pier in Navarre, Florida.) The original Gulf Shores Pier was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, as was a lot of the city of Gulf Shores. They have since rebuilt and it’s even better than before!
There’s a small fee to go onto the pier. If you want to fish from the pier there is a separate fishing fee. You’ll also need to have obtained a fishing license prior to your visit to the pier. You can rent fishing gear from the indoor retail area if you didn’t bring your own from home. Even if you’re not interested in fishing, Gulf State Park Pier is an iconic landmark definitely worthy of your visit!
Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail
Feeling up for a leisurely stroll, jog, or bike ride? Hugh S Branyon Backcountry Trail is made up of more than 15 miles of exploratory trails throughout Gulf State Park in Orange Beach and Gulf Shores. There are a variety of entry points on the trail, so you can just do parts of the trail as you please. Dogs are permitted on the trails, but must be kept on a leash.
Six distinct ecosystems can be found throughout the Backcountry Trails. These ecosystems include wet pine flatwoods, live oak maritime forests, coastal dune and swales, longleaf sand ridges, freshwater marshes, and coastal hardwood swamps.
The backcountry trail system is a great way to immerse yourself in nature and leave the city life behind. It is also an ideal location for bird watching. There are several points along the trail that have been identified by the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail as designated viewing spots.
If you have an interest in birding, be sure to check out the Gulf Oak Ridge, Twin Bridges, Catman Road, and Rosemary Dunes portions of the trail system. Other animals you might see in the area include armadillos, raccoons, coyotes, otters, foxes, wild boar, and even alligators. Signs have been placed along the trail to help you identify the local flora and fauna.
Ride Bikes Through Gulf State Park
Because our son was only 4 months old during our first visit to Gulf Shores, we only walked a little ways on the trails in Gulf State Park (with him in his stroller). On our return visit, almost two years later, he was the perfect age to ride in a kid-carrier on a beach cruiser bike. Beach Bike Rentals is located right next to a main entry point into Gulf State Park, which allowed us to explore even further on the backcountry trails.
Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge
Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, located on the Fort Morgan Peninsula, offers over 7,000 acres of refuge to local wildlife and indigenous plant species. The name Bon Secour actually means safe harbor in French and that’s exactly what this wildlife refuge provides. There are 4 trails to choose from, allowing you the opportunity to wander up to 6 miles throughout the refuge.
Bon Secour is open year-round (minus federal holidays) and is absolutely free to visitors. We enjoyed the one-mile Jeff Friend Trail (see below). This loop trail provides spectacular views of Little Lagoon. The refuge is another great location for bird watching. More than 370 species of birds have been documented here. Spring and Fall are the best seasons for bird watching in this region.
Again, because our son was pretty much contained to a stroller during our first visit, we had to stick with the accessible trail within the wildlife refuge. But, for our return visit, we walked about a mile in on the Pine Beach Trail (below). The trail is actually 2 miles each way. However, we figured 4 miles round-trip would be a little too much for our two-year-old and just did half the distance. There was still plenty to see and explore along the peaceful tree-lined path. Our son loved seeing the turtles!
TIP: Before you set out on any of the trails within the wildlife refuge, stop by the visitor center. Here, you can pick up a trail map, sign up for a FREE guided nature walk, and learn more about the local flora and wildlife. The center is open from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. They’re closed on federal holidays.
If you’re into war history, then you’ll definitely want to stop by Fort Morgan. This fort, built from 1819-1833, is located on Marble Point at the end of Fort Morgan Peninsula right where the Gulf meets the Bay. It played a significant role in the Battle of the Mobile Bay in August of 1864. This stronghold was also used intermittently during World Wars I & II in addition to the Spanish American War.
You can take a self-guided tour from 8 am – 5 pm every day. Or you can participate in a guided tour by a local expert dressed in period clothing. Times and dates for the guided tour vary by season, so be sure to check their website for up-to-date information.
Despite the chilly weather during both of our visits to Gulf Shores, we thoroughly enjoyed our time outdoors! No matter when you visit, you will always find that there are plenty of wonderful things to do in Gulf Shores Alabama!
All of this playing at the beach, hiking, and bike riding has no doubt made you hungry! Good thing, there are countless outstanding restaurants in the area. We’ve got some great recommendations for you. Be sure to check out our post on places to eat in Gulf Shores AL and in the neighboring city of Orange Beach. And before we go, allow us to share with you where we stayed during our second visit to Gulf Shores, as we’d absolutely return here for a future visit.
Best Beachfront Resort in Gulf Shores
The Beach Club by Spectrum Resorts is a superior family-friendly resort in Gulf Shores. Sprawling 86 acres on the Fort Morgan peninsula, this beachfront resort has it all! With immediate access to private beaches and balconies overlooking the Gulf in every unit, it’s the perfect place to unwind on Alabama’s coast. Enjoy several outdoor pools and hot tubs, in addition to an indoor heated pool for those cooler months.
The Beach Club has 5 on-site restaurant and dining options to choose from, so you don’t even have to leave the property every day during your stay. They even provide grocery delivery services, so you can arrive to a well-stocked fridge. Less time shopping, more time vacationing! (Service charge and convenience fee apply.)
Looking to totally relax and get pampered? Check out the services provided at the The Beach Club Spa & Salon. If you’ve got kids in your traveling party, there is plenty to keep them entertained, including complimentary kid’s activities and an arcade in the Clubhouse. With basketball courts, tennis courts, and complimentary bike rentals, there is no shortage of ways to stay active, even on vacation.
Each unit at The Beach Club includes all of the modern comforts of home. You’ll seriously never want to leave. Enjoy fantastic views of the Gulf from your balcony and let the sound of the waves melt away any worries you may have. There is no better therapy than a day at the beach!