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  • Writer's pictureCampBrood

Gulf State Park-11 ways skip the beach & see alligators.

Updated: Jan 28

The best of Gulf State Park isn’t the beach. Yep, I said it. Here are 11 ways to skip the beach and see alligators at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores Alabama. The beach comes second to the biking and hiking trails. We will get to the beach, but have you heard in, 2023 the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail was designated the best recreational trail in the country by USA Today? The trail includes 28 miles of paved and boardwalk surface that allows access to the park. On the trail you can see wildlife including birds, alligators and other reptiles. Some of the birds you can see include Osprey, Eagle, seagulls, and Pelican. Along the trail are many stops to enjoy recreation and relaxation. There is a parkour course, many benches and viewpoints, butterfly garden, the Gulf State Park Beach, and the fishing pier.

You are going to love Gulf State Park. We look forward to sharing with you today the campground, beaches, fishing pier, biking and hiking trails, park activities and services, what the park has for dogs, local attractions and more. Most importantly we’ll let you know where to find the alligators. Let’s Get Started!

Where is Gulf State Park Located?

Gulf State Park is located between Gulf Shores and Orange Beach in Alabama’s share of the Gulf of Mexico shoreline. The turquoise-colored coast is magnificent, and Alabama did it right by protecting thousands of acres, for the benefit of all.

What is there to do at Gulf State Park?

There is so much to see and do at Gulf State Park. The swimming pool, Nature Center, Tennis Courts and Campground store are located on Middle Lake inside the campground. There is a $2 fee per vehicle to get into the campground if you aren’t staying in the park camping, at the park lodge, or in a cabin. We don’t know if the pool is heated but it always seems like a better alternative to the ocean when the weather is cool. The splash pad is a lot of fun, too. The pool area is in a protected location, maybe sheltered by the pool entrance, with less wind. Tennis and pickle ball courts are next to the pool and are used often. There are four tennis courts at the facility. However, two are setup for pickle ball and have basketball hoops inside the fence. Tucked away behind the pool and Nature center are horseshoe pits, beach volleyball, swings and monkey bars. The nature center gets good reviews and they always have something interesting to share about the reptiles, birds, fish, other wildlife, general habitat and conservations in the area. Throughout the park, hidden in plain sight are a number of playgrounds with swings, climbing installations, and other equipment that will help you pass the time. There are many spots along the inland ponds and lakes that are great for fishing. A freshwater fishing license is required. Make sure to pack your bike and hiking or running shoes. There is so much to explore and discover.

If you enjoy camping, we’re going to talk about that next, and coming up you won’t want to miss three great ways to get to the beach!

How Much Does it Cost to go to Gulf Shores State Park?

Gulf State Park is very affordable. Tent sites are about $30 per night. RV sites vary and most of the sites are priced between $60 - $70 per night. The canal sites are in the $80-$90 range. Pricing also varies depending on the time of year, weekday, or weekend. The park has 100s of sites for RV ers and reservations can be made at This is one of the largest campgrounds we’ve been to. There almost 500 sites. Most are full hookup RV sites with water, sewer, and electric. The electric has 20 amp, 30 amp, and 50 amp outlets. If you turn on the 20 amp breaker the night light on the power post will turn on. Many of the campsites have their own charm. Some of the pull throughs offer almost complete seclusion. Sites on the Canal provide a fantastic view of the waterway. You might even see an alligator swim by. Sites close to the pool allow for easy access to the tennis courts, pool, nature center, volleyball and other activities. Campsites are well maintained and each one is a little different. As you can see on the campground map many of the pull throughs are arcs off the main streets. These are unique in that they provide the hookups on the road side and the camping side is usually facing a great view. Other than the canal road and sites near the front entrance many pull throughs face the woods or other park lands. Our most recent site seemed very secluded and quiet although it was a long distance from the pool and other amenities. All the sites looked level as you would expect on the coast and they are all paved asphalt similar to the roads throughout the park. To read all the details about the campground and to learn why we may never go back read our post focused on the campground here Gulf State Park (

Camping is a big part of Gulf State Park and we’re happy to answer any questions you may have. Stay until the end to learn where to find the alligators.

We’ll go into detail on more activities, including the biggest game of hide and seek we’ve ever played, but let’s talk about the park services in case you need a little something during your stay.

What is available at the Gulf State Park Campground?

There are bath houses in the campground and bathrooms located throughout the park. There are 11 bath houses which are well maintained with good showers, sinks, and toilets. We used them while we were camping but also to wash off after the beach. Self-service laundry is available, for a fee, at the campground store building. The store has firewood ice, logoed products like sweatshirts and magnets,, snacks, rv supplies, and beach gear for purchase. They are also a good concierge if you have questions about the park and surrounding area. If you need to rent a bike they can be rented here for a fee as well. We were very surprised to find great WiFi connectivity at the campground. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to work at a campground through their WiFi as well as here. It is better in the morning and gets slower throughout the day and into the evening. Gulf State Park is one of the few campgrounds we visit with recycling available. There is a blue bin and dumpsters near the entrance to the park. The recycle bin is two-sided and has spots for cans, cardboard, glass and plastic. Try to use the recycling bins for their purpose. We’ve seen beach chairs, plastic bags, and general garbage in the recycling and it just makes it harder for the recycling company to do their job. Also at the entrance is a fish cleaning station. We saw it in use every morning.

We’ll talk about the fishing pier next and stay until the end to see where to find alligators.

What Happened to the Pier at Gulf State Park?

The fishing pier sustained damage during Hurricane Sally. With sustained winds of 105 miles per hour and at least one gust over 120 mph the category 2 hurricane traveled over the area at only 2 miles per hour causing significant damage to Alabama. Today the pier is open for fishing and licenses are required. There is a fee to visit the pier and it varies based on your residency, camping in the park, and other factors. Fishing licenses are also required and can be purchased on-line here: Included on the pier is a gift, snack, and bait shop, beachside bar and grill, Fillet table, and modern bathrooms. On calm days you can see a variety of fish from the pier including sharks, rays, manatee, and game fish including mackerel, sheepshead, and flounder to name a few.

Dogs are next and later we will share what you can find in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.

When you are talking about a park like this we have to have a dad joke: Which dog breed is Dracula’s favorite? Bloodhounds!

Here are dad joke books for great gifts: Dad Jokes Around the Campfire: 600 Funniest Dad Jokes: To view any product mentioned by us in our videos, click this link: As an Amazon Associate, we earn a commission from qualifying purchases.

Are Dogs Allowed at Gulf State Park?

Dogs love Gulf State Park. There are miles of road within the campground to enjoy and dog waste stations are available with bags and a waste can throughout Gulf State Park. In the Campground, there are hiking trails like the Armadillo Trail and the Middle Lake Overlook Trail that are easily accessible. The miles of trails we mentioned earlier are all available for dog walking, too. Park rules require dogs to stay on a six foot leash and you will want them on a leash, too. Alligators are present in the park and even in the campground like this one and dangerous snakes are also known to live in the park. Dogs will find rabbits to chase and we’ve seen armadillo roaming around at night time. Dogs are prohibited on the beach and in some other areas of the park due to bird protections. However, Dog Pond at Shelby Lake is reserved for canines. The dog park is open 8am to dusk and allows dogs off leash under voice control. There is a list of rules for the dog park and we’ll share a link to those in our description.

Is there Shopping near Gulf State Park?

Orange Beach and Gulf shores are full of shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues. Nearby you can find many shirt shops. Right outside the park is Ron Jon Surf Shop and down the street is Surf Style and others. Stores are plentiful including Wal-Mart and Dollar General if you need quick supplies or groceries. There is an unlimited number of restaurants. Our favorite is Pier House near Ron Jon and you will find chain food as well including at least two Waffle Houses. For entertainment you can find mini golf, go karts, arcades, and more. Just check google maps to be overwhelmed by all the retail and game like attractions.


How Far is Gulf State Park from the Beach?

The beach at Gulf State Park is one of the best we’ve been to. The State Park has 3.5 miles of beach inside the park but it is 1.5 miles from the campground and accessible by bike, walking, and cars. There are a few ways to attack the beach to make a great day. The fishing pier has a large parking lot and bike racks to spend your day there. The advantage is the gift shop, pier, and restaurant provide ways to escape the sun and provide some alternate entertainment to make a day of it. The beach stretches for miles and walks along the shoreline will take you to hotel properties, space for meditation, and exploring for shells and shark teeth. The main pavilion is the second way of scoring a place on the sand. Sometimes there is fog as we encountered. Again, with parking and bike racks the beach is easily accessible by a couple boardwalks. Full bathrooms are located here for your convenience as well as picnic tables and showers to remove the sand at the end of the day. We found this beach quite busy and great for people watching, getting a lot of sun and again, exploring the shoreline. Our favorite spot is way more difficult to get to but just as amazing for different reasons. The shoreline here is flatter and great for skimboarding. At the campground road there is parking for five vehicles and bike racks. So, if you can secure a parking spot or travel by bicycle it makes it a little easier. Otherwise, you need to walk West from the pavilion more than a ½ mile to reach this spot. It is popular for surf casting as there are fewer people and less congestion. We found it to be quiet, almost lonely at times. However, the skimboarding was epic.

Speaking of the beach. Our brood loves to play in the water all day. However, I like to relax on the sand sometimes, too. I learned a while ago to enjoy my time on the beach and watch them carefully, I couldn’t read books. I need to keep a closer eye on them especially during yellow and red flag days. solves that problem. I can listen to a book or podcast and enjoy my time on the beach while they safely enjoy playing in the waves. Check out this link for a free trial, cancel anytime offer with Amazon to try audible today!

What else is there to do in Gulf State Park?

There are a few lakes in Gulf State Park. One to mention is Lake Shelby for all it has to offer. Its just inside the shore near the fishing pier. There is a Boat Launch, Kayak Launch, and Kayak, canoe and paddleboard rentals. Your brood will love the playground and picnic area. Swimming is allowed however, be aware of your surroundings for alligators, snakes, and other wildlife. Restrooms are also available and as mentioned previously the dog park is located here too. Have you ever wanted to take a Segway Tour? You have your chance to Segway the best trail in the nation with the tours on Shelby lake.

Gulf State Park is a great place to play the following world wide game of hide and seek and later we will discuss one downside to gulf state park.

Is there Geocaching in Gulf State Park?

Gulf State Park supports Geocaching and you can bike and hike with purpose geocaching throughout the park. You never know what treasure you might find but, you will definitely find log books to autograph and a fun adventure of hide and seek! Do you know about Geocaching? Say yes in the comments and tell us about your favorite geocache. If not, geocaching is searching for containers throughout the world using latitude/longitude and clues provided with mobile apps. There are many websites that support Geocaching.

For those from out of State you need to understand the trip from the Great Lakes to Alabama and later we’ll share where to find the alligators.

How do you get to Gulf State Park?

Our brood has traveled to Gulf State Park a few times. Like many others we drove down for the sun, sand, Buc-ee’s and warm weather. Yes, Buc-ee’s. The drive down I-65 is brutal. During Spring Break, travelers from Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, and all the Great Lake States drive down I-65 with one destination in mind. The Gulf of Mexico. On the way down South the traffic builds through Louisville, Nashville, Birmingham, Montgomery and finally Southern Alabama. Car drivers take away your stopping distance and there are many dangerous brake checks that test your nerve. We’ve seen some scary accidents, too. With only two lanes the Southern traffic is more than I-65 can handle. Beware, we all stop at Buc-ee’s so expect it to be busy and insane. On the way North, the drive out of Alabama is just as bad and yes Buc-ee’s is still busy!

Where can I find Alligators in Gulf State Park

You’ll find alligators almost anywhere in the park and here is where we found them. Please note that feeding any wildlife in Gulf State Park is forbidden and could lead to human injury or Park officials killing the animal you fed for the safety of others. Keep your distance and use a zoom lens.

Alligators can be found on the Bike trail. You will see alligators on the Rosemary Dunes Trail. Look for the wildlife sign and fence and you are in the right place

On the Cross Park Trail Bridge between Little Lake and Middle lake alligators are known to swim between the lakes.

On the Lake Shelby overlook trail alligators are known to sun themselves next to the creek.

On the Gopher Tortoise trail Alligators will sun themselves near water.

By the campground store at the docks we’ve seen an alligator at night. Carry a flashlight at night and we wouldn’t recommend letting your dogs get a drink of water from the lake.

Although we’ve never seen one at hidden lake we know others have.

In the campground alligators will hang out near any amount of water.

Basically, keep your eyes open and explore the park and you will see alligators.


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