It’s difficult to escape it. The ding of a text message, the familiar vibration of a phone call, little red numbers telling you how much you’ve missed online. But there’s a great big world beyond the ‘net.
Lower Alabama has much to be explored. Wooded trails, waterfront views, swampy hideaways, critter encounters — the natural scenes all around Mobile Bay call out for curious explorers and wandering souls. Step away from the digital world for a spell. Take a look around. It’s time to venture into the wild.
Nature Connect Alabama
A day camp for kids // Daphne
Just about every Mobile family has stories of past generations roaming wide open spaces. With a little help, today’s youngsters can create their own tales. At Nature Connect, a Daphne day camp at Village Point Park Preserve, the next generation makes memories just as daring and adventurous as their parents and grandparents before them. Animal knowledge, sensory skills, bird calling, plant identification, fundamental crafting and exploration are a select few of the array of skills developed.
Shaded trees, wooded streams and Mobile Bay welcome children ages 3 to 10 as they gather in their respective age groups on Wednesdays and Thursdays in the fall and spring, pictured left and above right. The summer camps have passed, but keep watch for the announcement of the 2018 summer camp schedule, where kids can experience an entire week of primitive adventure. Website
Photo courtesy Carol M. Highsmith
The Boardwalk at Blakeley State Park
Strolling with a view // Spanish Fort
A day will eventually come when the weather is perfect and the kids are antsy for an adventure, but Mom and Dad aren’t keen on going too far from home. On a day like this, a short drive over the Bay to the boardwalk at Blakeley State Park is in order.
Arrive amidst a canopy of tall pine trees, then cruise through the park all the way to Washington Square. Step out of the car and watch as the kids race through the peaceful square to explore the grand yet rustic gazebo or take a look at one of the antiquated water pumps hiding near the treeline.
Keep walking toward the boardwalk that invites you to the waterfront. As the kids run ahead to watch the pelicans or wave to passing boaters, relax and stroll in the plentiful shade. The Mobile skyline winks at you from the distance. Say hello to a hiding tree on your way out, watching as the children giggle and play among the massive roots. On the way home, glance in the rearview mirror to see red-cheeked children dozing after an exciting field trip to the river. Website
Blakeley State Park Squirrel’s Nests
Camping // Spanish Fort
Winding walking trails through Blakeley State Park take you to a wooded bluff high above the river. The spot is well hidden; it would be easy to pass them up without even noticing. Leaves crunch underfoot as you hike, and a salty scent hangs in the air from the nearby Bay. Perched atop the bluff sit several screened-in shelters, ready to protect campers from unwanted critters while preserving the forest view. Inside, a wooden platform sits up off the ground, perfect for sleeping bags. Away from the more populated RV and tent camping sites, the Squirrel’s Nest retreats give you the feel of primitive camping with slightly more shelter. Website
Biking // North Mobile
Winding turns, uphill climbs and downhill slopes create a mountain biker’s paradise through the pine straw-laden hills and sandy flats of Eight Mile. Chickasabogue Park offers 14 miles of intertwining trails for beginner and experienced bikers alike. Gentle bumps of scattered rocks and protruding roots accompany the texture transitions of sand patches and wet swales.
Tweeting birds, grazing deer and resident swamp life elevate an ambient ride for all riders from young ages to experienced mountain bikers. Adventure lurks around every corner with dry, wet, soft, stiff, mild and intermediate parts of the trek. Bikers are encouraged to move in the opposite direction of hikers as they soar over bridges and bogs. Strap on a helmet and hop on two wheels for a day of lower Alabama biking. Website
Gulf State Park
Activities // Gulf Shores
Morning alfresco yoga classes and guided kayak tours; snake and sea turtle educational encounters; pier walks to learn about the Gulf Shores ecosystems. The Gulf State Park Nature Center’s rotating weekly schedule offers varied adventures for every beachgoer or outdoorsperson. Check out this week’s schedule online. Website
Audubon Bird Sanctuary
Bird watching // Dauphin Island
Life moves a little slower and a little smoother on Dauphin Island, so add another peaceful activity to your to-do list. Three miles of trails sit on 137 acres of protected wetlands in one of the country’s best spots for bird watching.Because the Island is the first spit of land migrating birds will see after the long trip across the Gulf come spring, some days the exhausted birds literally fall out of the sky. But don’t be fooled. Plenty of migrating shore birds take flight in late August, and the bon voyage continues throughout the fall, so it’s worth a visit no matter the time of year.
Bonus: The walking paths twist through swamps, around a lake and right out to the beach for those who love a mid-hike dip in the Gulf. Website
Urban hiking // Mobile
The sounds of nearby traffic filter through, muffled by the towering pine trees but not completely blocked by them. A well-worn path stretches ahead. Placards along the way teach passersby all about the wildlife and fauna to be found. The biggest surprise, though? This hideaway trail sits right in a busy part of Mobile on the campus of the University of South Alabama.
Colored paths on a map outline varying trail lengths, with a yellow line representing an easy one-mile hike. Stepping into the woods, color swatches painted onto tree bark guide you through the foliage like a Southern version of the yellow brick road. The single-mile loop is perfect for a quick lunch break walk, while the longer 5K route would make for a peaceful early morning jog. Every hiker will feel at home, close to home.
For information on where to park and trail entry points, visit southalabama.edu and search “Glenn Sebastian Nature Trail.”
Graham Creek Nature Preserve
Kayaking // Foley
Make your entrance to the swamps and backwaters of the Gulf of Mexico from an entirely new direction with a gentle kayak down the Graham Creek Nature Preserve. Beginning in Foley, these forest wetlands and two miles of quiet creek take you all the way to Wolf Bay.
Keep an eye out for schools of fish, lush landscapes, birds in flight, and even the occasional dolphin or alligator. The venture grants a new perspective of the waters that feed the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico and an opportunity to see Foley with fresh eyes, exploring the natural wonders that our coastal ecosystems have to offer. Website
Bartram Canoe Trail
Canoeing to Mound Island
Mist rises from the still waters of the river, and the sun’s only been up for a few minutes. Tree limbs draped in vibrant green leaves dip to almost kiss the surface of the water. Today’s destination on the Bartram Canoe Trail is Mound Island.
Take in the awe-inspiring mounds left by Native Americans centuries ago at the Bottle Creek Indian Mound Complex. Built by the largest Mississippian chiefdom on the north-central Gulf Coast, the mounds comprise an important cultural, religious, trading and social complex that would have been a major part of the lives of native peoples. The tallest of the 18 mounds measures 45 feet, making for a remarkable sight to behold beneath its dense vegetation. Only serious adventurers need apply.
As the complex is a National Historic Landmark, please practice “leave no trace” hiking: Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures. Website
Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge
Tooling through nature // Fort Morgan
For those looking to get a closer peek at everything Mother Nature has to offer, the Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge loans nature discovery packs. Open up the backpack to find binoculars, magnifying glasses, field guides, journals and bird identification books -— everything you need to see and experience Alabama like never before. It’s the perfect tool to get a family walking, talking and engaged with the wild world around them.
The Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge lives up to its name (translated directly from the French as “safe harbor”), providing a home for hundreds of bird populations, barrier habitats, and threatened and endangered species. The chirping of migrating birds resonates in your ears as you watch nesting sea turtles and scurrying beach mammals navigate the coastal wetland. Slinging the backpack over your shoulder, take heart that you have the tools at hand to discover a more personal, involved relationship with the natural surroundings. Pause, listen, watch and enjoy our little corner of the world. Website
Meaher State Park
Shore fishing // Causeway
Most hardcore fishermen are pretty tight-lipped about their favorite offshore haunts. But with nothing more than a freshwater fishing license and a little light tackle, those without a boat can snag their own piece of fishing glory at Meaher State Park’s 200-foot pier. Reaching out into the lower Delta with a seemingly endless expanse of water and marsh grasses stretching forward, the area surrounding the pier is home to many fresh and saltwater fish, including bass, bream, drum, redfish, speckled trout and flounder. Website
Where to launch? Where to rent? Guides? Groups?
Mobilians know water. It surrounds the Port City and beckons adventurers to step up and explore its environs. Day trips or overnight, solo or group excursions; whatever floats your boat, allow these folks to create the experience of the summer.
17 Turtles Outfitters, Fairhope // $30 – $60, 3- and 8-hour rates // 1- and 2-person kayaks available
Beach ‘n’ River Rentals, Gulf Shores // $35 – $75 // 1- and 2-person kayaks available
OVERNIGHT KAYAK TRIPS
Alabama State Lands Canoe Trails
Bartram Canoe Trails (floating campsites) or Perdido River Canoe Trail (camping shelters)
Reservation only: $26.50/night Website
Wild Native Tours, Wildlife Kayak EcoTour and The Stars Fell on Alabama Kayak Tour // $34 – $49
Mobile Bay Canoe and Kayak Club // Club meetings are held the first Tuesday of each month at the 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center.
text by chelsea adams and hallie king