I couldn’t have discovered the great outdoors at a better time. As a penny-pinching college student on a shoestring budget, I had to choose my hobbies wisely. I quickly learned one thing — nature is cheap as dirt. Plus, this beautiful area is blessed with a multitude of free or inexpensive opportunities, from a thrill-seeking adventure to a leisurely stroll in the woods.
If you, like me, need to save, consider spending a small (and I mean small) portion of your weekend bar tab or shopping spree on a week’s worth of adventures in our local parks instead. Choose an activity, pick your park, grab a five-spot and get moving. You won’t be disappointed.
Hike through History
Lace up your hiking boots, and take a step back in time at the Historic Blakeley State Park in Spanish Fort. For a modest $4 entry fee, you can enjoy up to 10 miles of solitude on winding trails through forests and swamps. Ancient oak trees covered in Spanish moss tower along gravel roads that weave through the park. You’ll also get to explore Civil War battlefields and enjoy scenic views of the Tensaw River along the boardwalks. Too good to be true, you say? Think again. This is easily one of Baldwin County’s best-kept secrets.
Historic Blakeley State Park • 8 a.m. to dusk daily. $4 admission. 34745 State Hwy 225, Spanish Fort. 626-0798.
Though it often plays second fiddle to our beloved coast, the woods sometimes is just what the doctor ordered. Grab your bike and helmet and head north to the deep woods of Chickasabogue Park, right, where four quarters gets you your ticket to more than 17 miles of single-track biking trails of all skill levels. Follow the Cemetery Loop and Beach Loop Trails for a mix of beginner and intermediate terrain. You’ll ride through rolling hills, cross narrow bridges over low-lying swamps, and coast along flat, sandy trails beside the remote waters of Chickasaw Creek. If you’re feeling adventurous, put your skills to the test, and make the daring descent down Collarbone Canyon. Let’s hope your collarbone lives to tell the tale.
Chickasabogue Park • 7 a.m. to dusk daily. $1 admission. 60 Aldock Road, Eight Mile. 574-2267.
There’s more to the Causeway than just great restaurants. Nestled behind rows of sprawling pine trees between Mobile Bay and Blakeley River, Meaher State Park, opposite, offers a different waterfront experience for the no-frills fisherman. Pay just $2 and cast away from a 300-foot fishing pier on the Bay or the public launch area on the river, where fresh dinner of all shapes and sizes awaits. Regardless of your fishing luck, a trip to Meaher is well worth it for the sunset views.
If you want to splurge and break your $5 budget, treat yourself to a staycation in one of the new fishing cabins overlooking the Blakeley River and enjoy the scenery after hours.
Meaher State Park • 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. $2 admission. 5200 Battleship Parkway E., Spanish Fort. 626-5529.
Row Your Boat
There’s something relaxing about paddling through waters where motorboats are nowhere to be found. Graham Creek Nature Preserve certainly is exceptional. With no admission fee, the 500-acre preserve in Foley is one of several initiatives created by the city to promote ecotourism in the area. Launch your kayak and head east to enjoy two miles of unparalleled solitude on the narrow, quiet waters of Graham Creek. Explore side tributaries and watch for wildlife before the creek empties into Wolf Bay. Soak up the slow-paced lifestyle and beautiful waterfront homes before making your way back into the creek.
Graham Creek Nature Preserve • Dawn to dusk daily. Free admission. 23460 Wolf Bay Drive, Foley. 923-4267.
Take it All In
Who says being outdoors means breaking a sweat? Once you become an accomplished hiker, mountain biker, paddler and fisherman, take a much-needed break to reflect on all your accomplishments.
Reward yourself with a picnic at Bayfront Park on Mobile Bay’s Western Shore. Bring a camera (or your iPhone), lawn chairs, blankets, games and your refreshments of choice, and spend your afternoon relaxing on the Bay.
Bayfront Park • Dusk to 10 p.m. daily. Free admission. 15961 Dauphin Island Parkway, Coden. 873-4321.
Already made some memories? Share your own favorite park stories
and activities below or on our Facebook page.
Text by Hanlon Walsh