By Gabi Garrett
As the weather warms up and leads to sunnier skies, there is no better motivation to pop on a pair of shorts and tennis shoes and get moving outside.
The Journal of Environmental Psychology found in 2005 that spending time outside can boost short-term memory and restore mental energy. Such restorative environments bring us back to simpler mindsets and simpler times, especially if we leave that smartphone in the car.
Our Alabama coastal community lends itself to plenty of opportunities to get outside, soak in the sun and spend one-on-one time with your loved ones, including friends, significant others or the whole family. In particular, we have not one but three state parks to call upon to find our calm.
Whether you want to camp for a weekend or an evening, or just spend your afternoon walking, we’ve got the go-to guide for you:
Gulf State Park
20115 State Highway 135
Gulf Shores, AL 36542
What makes this park worth adventuring? Gulf State Park stretches over three-miles of white sand on the beautiful Gulf of Mexico. Not only can you make a weekend of it by spending time on the Gulf doing not much besides reading that novel you’ve had on your nightstand for days — you can golf, walk, bike, fish, kayak, paddleboard and even take a Segway tour.
Can you camp? Absolutely. Gulf State Park even has cabins for rent, if you’re not into the whole tent thing. Construction is also underway on The Lodge at Gulf State Park, a Hilton Hotel, which will add 350 rooms and suites with a view of the gulf. It is expected to open later this year.
Not-to-miss activities: Check out Refuge Golf Course and Grill for a fun afternoon, or the Nature Center. For active folk, we recommend renting a bike and checking out the Hugh S. Branyon Backcounty Trail, which includes 25 miles of paved trails. You can also rent a kayak or paddleboard for the day. Lastly, enroll your kids in summer camp so they can enjoy the great outdoors at the beach — much different from your lake summer camp.
What to know before you go: You don’t need to bring much — there is even beach service at this amazing Alabama state park.
Meaher State Park
5200 Battleship Parkway E.
Spanish Fort, AL 36577
What makes this park worth visiting? On Mobile Bay, you’ll find 1,327 acres on the wetland for day use, picnics and more. There is even a boat ramp at Meaher, great for the family or guys’ trip on the go. There are self-guided walks on two nature trails that will lead you to a view of the beautiful Mobile Delta. It’s a productive estuary with saltwater fish and an alligator or two.
Can you camp? Oh yes, there are more than 60 recreational vehicle campsites with multiple variations of amps for electrical connections. If you’re lucky, you can snag one of the two cozy bayside cabins that overlook Ducker Bay. A bathhouse and laundry facilities are onsite.
Not-to-miss activities: Bring your fishing rod! The park has a 300-foot pier with a 200-foot “T” — an abundance of freshwater fish awaits you.
What to know before you go: If you’re attending a concert or event in the Mobile area and need a place to stay for the evening — or for friends to lend themselves away from your guest room — this could be a great, inexpensive lodging spot.
Historic Blakeley State Park
34745 State Highway 225
Spanish Fort, AL 36577
What makes this park worth adventuring? For starters, 2,000 acres lead the way to a biodiverse habitat and the historic site of Alabama’s largest Civil War battle. Blakeley was an important early town of Alabama and host to Native American history as well. Now people enjoy not only the history but abundant natural beauty through walking, biking and even horseback riding.
Can you camp? Yes, this Alabama cultural mecca has RV and primitive camping facilities, as well as four cabins.
Not-to-miss activities: On March 3, the park invites you to join the first-ever boat cruise to the site of the one and only Mobile-Tensaw Delta’s majestic wonder — a state champion bald cypress tree near Bayou Jessamine. It’s not a location you can hike to on foot, so it’s rarely seen in person because of its remote location. This would be an adventurous way to spend your first Saturday in March.
What to know before you go: Don’t forget your horse — and bring walking shoes so you can enjoy the entirety of the historic and Native American history.
We’ll see you outside!