Situated on the sunny Gulf Coast of Alabama, Gulf State Park is the perfect stop for an RV getaway that seems to have it all. This 6,500-acre park is a nature lover's dream with over three miles of white sand beaches, marshland, pine forests, and three freshwater lakes all there to enjoy. The park campground, Nature Center, Activity Building, and Camp Store are located centrally, close to Middle Lake. The larger Lake Shelby is your best bet for lakeside relaxation, freshwater swimming, and paddleboarding. Head to the Beach Pavilion for pristine ocean views while getting some sun in the sand and surf.
Gulf State Park has a rich history dating back to the 1930s when the land was used as a public works project after the Great Depression. As early as the mid-1940s, the park was so popular that cabin reservations were hard to come by and park leaders knew they needed to expand. Over the years, the park has gone through extensive growth, natural hurricane disasters, and grand renovations.
The peak season to take your RV adventure to Gulf State Park is March through October. Outdoor activities abound from the 25-mile long Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail, saltwater and freshwater fishing to aquatic sports and miles of beaches to enjoy on hot summer days. During the offseason, the weather is mild and it is a great time to take your RV to see coastal views or participate in the weekly programs available at the Nature and Education Centers.
Gulf State Park is located in the city of Gulf Shores in southern Baldwin County, under an hour away from major cities like Mobile, Alabama and Pensacola, Florida. Being so close to large, metropolitan areas, there are several well-traveled freeways and highways just outside the park, making it easy to reach, even for those navigating big rigs.
Entrances to Gulf State Park are located off of Routes 59, 180, and 182. Once inside the park, you'll be able to access all of the major attractions off of the main road, Campground Road. As you may have guessed, the campground can be found off of this road, as well as the beach, various trailheads, the Nature Center, and other points of interest. There are no limitations for driving motorhomes or large vehicles within the park. Ample parking for your RV is available at numerous clearly marked locations on the park map. The largest parking areas are near attractions such as the Beach Pavilion, Lake Shelby, the Nature Center, and the Fishing Pier.
If you're looking to enjoy all this area has to offer, consider putting the Sprinter in drive and heading out to one of the other nearby state parks. Perdido Key State Park, Big Lagoon State Park, and Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park all sit about 30 minutes east of the park on FL-292 and make for exciting day trips.
Gulf State Park's modern campground should be on every RVers bucket list. With nearly 500 full-hookup sites, this family-friendly campground is as functional as it is fun. Each site is outfitted with a picnic table, a grill, and an asphalt parking pad. Maximum lengths vary by site between 45 and 65 feet. Guests will also find air-conditioned restrooms, a camp store, laundry facilities, and a playground located nearby.
A few shady sites are available but go quickly, so reservations are highly recommended during the busy summer months. ADA-accessible sites and waterfront sites can also be reserved. After you set up camp, you can enjoy a game of horseshoes or pickleball with the kids, let them splash around in the swimming pool, or take the dog for a run in the on-site dog park.
For those looking for a more rustic experience, there are three outpost tents with four cots in each already set up and available to reserve up to a year in advance. The outpost tents are primitive camping areas located 1.5 miles down the trail, requiring you to walk in. There is no indoor bathroom plumbing, but outhouses are nearby and a sink is onsite to provide washing water.
There are 20 modern cabins and 11 lakeside cottages available at Gulf State Park. The cottages are furnished more comfortably than the cabins, but all have working kitchens and bathrooms. Four of the cabins are “woods cabins” surrounded by pine tree forests, and the remaining cabins are located near the cottages surrounding Lake Shelby. All are within walking distance of the Refuge Golf Course. Pet-friendly cabins can be requested for a small fee.
If you’d rather set up your RV or trailer outside of the park there are plenty of private campgrounds to choose from to enjoy the coastal scenery. These campgrounds can offer a range of family activities and amenities such as laundry facilities and swimming pools. You can enjoy access to the Gulf Coast from a slightly more inland location.
Those looking to ditch the campervan for some seriously luxurious digs should consider spending a night or two at the Lodge. The Lodge is a newly constructed resort-style hotel, offering spacious rooms with incredible views on the sandy shores of Gulf State Park. Along with the great scenery, guests will also be spoiled with an on-site restaurant, outdoor seating options, and a pool with a sunbathing area, all while having the park's amenities at their doorstep.
Situated inside the stunning natural scenery of the Alabama Gulf Coast is an 18-hole championship golf course that will be a relaxing and rewarding experience to play. The Refuge Golf Club also features a driving range, putting green, and indoor Grill and Pro Shop. Once you’re done with your round of golf, you can bring your rig by the grill for delicious breakfast, sandwiches, and draft beers. The Pro Shop serves the 18-hole championship golf course and will fit all your golf gear needs.
Even after the dog days of summer have come and gone, there's still lots to do at Gulf State Park. Daily activities and educational programs are organized throughout the offseason with a schedule readily available online. Learn about natural resources and wildlife of the Gulf ecosystem, as well as interesting survival topics such as navigating using the stars. After you set up camp, head to the Education Building to see what programs are available during your stay. The building can also be rented out for special events or meetings throughout the year.
An interesting and educational visit to the Gulf State Park Nature Center is the perfect plan for an RV trip when the weather is less than ideal. The indoor Nature Center is a living museum featuring the ecology of the Gulf Coast with free public weekly programs for both adults and children. Weekly programs could include nature, beach, or pier walks, wildlife viewing, craft making, and much more. The Nature Center is open Monday through Saturday, and the vehicle entrance fee is waived for lodging and campground guests.
Does your four-legged friend grow weary of walking the same trails again and again during your camping trips? Give your pooch a special day outside the motorhome by visiting the lakeside dog park on Lake Shelby. This is no ordinary dog park -- there is agility equipment and lake swimming with separate areas for large and small dogs. Humans and dogs alike will be treated to picturesque lake views while they burn off some energy before turning in for the night.
Are you looking for a unique way to explore Gulf State Park? Have your own treasure hunt by finding geocaches in the park while learning about the environment and natural resources of this historic area. Geocaching involves using a GPS enabled device to track down buried loot hidden around the park. Geocaches in the park are regulated by park managers, and group hunts are regularly organized with the Education Center and are free to the public.
Lake Shelby will lure you in with its 900 acres of calm, freshwater and two launch sites for kayaks and paddleboards. The lake feeds into canals that flow through the park, and the coastal breeze creates drift currents that make for a relaxing water experience. Kayak and paddleboard rentals are available on the grounds and are a great way to explore the park. You can also bring your own watercraft to launch from the lake if you prefer.
For sensational saltwater fishing, look no further than the newly constructed Fishing and Education Pier, with 2,448 feet of fishing space available along the rails. The pier also features indoor seating, concession and retail areas, and comfort stations, and ADA accessibility. Bring your fishing gear and live bait along in the Airstream to catch Flounder and Mackerel at the pier. Freshwater anglers can enjoy the scenic views of three freshwater lakes at the park: Lake Shelby, Middle Lake, and Little Lake. Lake Shelby is your best bet for reeling in a keeper, and common catches include redfish, bass, bream, speckled trout, and catfish.
Leave the RV behind and travel through six distinct ecosystems along the 25 miles of the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail. Take in the beauty and adventure of coastal hardwood swamps, freshwater marshes, and butterfly gardens while keeping an eye out for wildlife such as white-tailed deer, bobcats, or basking alligators. Bikes are available for rent from the Camp Store if you prefer to take to the trails at a faster pace. For a more leisurely stroll, simply head to the beach and walk along the sandy shoreline.
Take a dive in the Gulf of Mexico directly off the three miles of sugar-white sand beaches, or hunker down with a good book and soak up some sun along the scenic shoreline. Freshwater lake swimming is another great option for cooling off during the warm summer months, just be sure to look out for alligators! For some more fun in the water, check out the newly renovated swimming pool and splash pad, surrounded by lounge chairs and wooden pergolas.
Pull up your trailer to the family-friendly beach for days of fun and sun. You can access the beach by the parking lot near the Beach Pavilion. The palm tree-studded Beach Pavilion features a large concession stand, air-conditioned bathrooms, showers, and shaded picnic tables, all with ocean views. Beach equipment rentals of lounge chairs, banana boats, kayaks, and parasailing will ensure there is something for everyone to do at these gorgeous beaches.