If you are planning a trip to the Alabama Gulf Coast, ditch the condo rental or hotel room and try some of the incredible camping experiences the area has to offer. There is a campsite to suit every taste, from resort-style campsites with tennis courts and swimming pools to glamping sites, historic campsites, and even backcountry camping in a wilderness environment with wild animals lurking about.
1. Gulf State Park
For resort-style camping, there is no better location along the entire Gulf Coast than Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores. But you’ll have to make your reservations well in advance of your visit. The park is arguably the most popular in the state; there is a considerable waitlist, and for good reason. The sugary white beaches and turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico are absolutely stunning, and the campground is located only 1.5 miles north of the beach.
But the beaches aren’t the only draw in the area. Only a short drive west of the park is an oasis for wildlife, the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. There are 28 miles of paved walking and biking trails through the wetlands and dunes of the park on the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail. And of course, you’ll be only minutes from the coast’s famous restaurants and nightlife.
Gulf State Park has 496 improved campsites for both RVs and tent campers, each site outfitted with electricity, water, and picnic tables. Most have full hookups for RVs. With that many campsites, you’ll need a lot of bathhouses, and they have them -- 11 in all, and all are air-conditioned, a must for three quarters of the year on the hot and humid Gulf Coast. Other amenities include laundry facilities, a large swimming pool, and tennis courts.
Pro Tip: The best sites are the waterfront ones along the beautiful shimmering waters of Middle Lake. These include site numbers 11 through 37 and 220 through 226. Additional waterfront sites, numbers 469 through 496, are located along the park’s boat canal, where you will have an easy put-in for your kayak or paddleboard.
For the latest price schedule, additional information, or to make reservations, contact the campground at (251) 948-7275 or visit the online reservation site.
2. Meaher State Park
Located on the banks of historic Mobile Bay is the smallest of Alabama’s state parks, but one that makes the perfect base camp from which to explore the area’s 300+ years of history and incredible wildlife: Meaher State Park.
Despite its size, the campground at Meaher is extremely popular due to its location. It is right in the middle of Mobile Bay at the gateway to the second-largest delta in the country, the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta. Campers can travel to the west to visit downtown Mobile and take in Mardi Gras or the city’s unique and quirky dining and nightlife. Or they can head east to shop in the quaint eastern shore towns of Daphne and Fairhope. And directly across from the park is the Five Rivers Delta Resource Center with an educational exhibit hall, a theater where outdoor and nature-related movies play almost constantly, and a gift shop. The center also offers pontoon tour boats and kayak rentals so that you can view alligators in the wild.
Meaher State Park has recently renovated bathhouses and boasts 61 improved RV sites and 10 improved tent sites. As I said, it is a small park, so the sites are close together, but what it lacks in size it makes up for with the beautiful sunsets you’ll see on the banks of the bay.
Pro Tip: The best sites for witnessing the Mobile Bay sunsets are the odd-numbered sites from 7 to 35, and also numbers 52 and 54. A real favorite is site 52, which is farthest away from the highway and more secluded.
3. Dauphin Island Campground
An amazing family camping adventure awaits on Alabama’s barrier island at the Dauphin Island Campground. Dauphin Island is located near the mouth of Mobile Bay as it flows into the Gulf of Mexico, and the campground is only a short walk from its beautiful snow-white beaches.
What makes camping on Dauphin Island special is the proximity of the campground to all the fun attractions the island has to offer. You can easily walk or bike to all of them. The campground is adjacent to the Audubon Bird Sanctuary. Recognized as a globally significant bird habitat, the sanctuary plays host to 445 species of birds and has a 3-mile trail system that weaves its way around beautiful reflective lakes and the beach.
On the campground’s eastern side is the historic Fort Gaines. The fort has guarded Mobile Bay for 150 years, including during the famous Civil War Battle of Mobile Bay. Directly across from the fort is the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, an educational estuarium and aquarium with plenty of exhibits on ocean life plus a touch pool where your grandkids can enjoy petting the stingrays.
There are 151 sites at the campground, and 99 of those have full hookups. The campground has a brand-new bathhouse that is centrally located as well as a playground, picnic pavilion, basketball court, and free Wi-Fi. The campground also has plenty of room for primitive camping.
Pro Tip: Dauphin Island is home to some incredible restaurants, and a local favorite is JT’s Sunset Grill. JT’s serves up some of the freshest seafood around and the best show in town -- the sunset over the Gulf, which you can witness from the patio.
4. Historic Blakeley State Park
Located on the banks of the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, the Historic Blakeley State Park provides visitors with a more rustic camping experience.
The park encompasses more than 2,100 acres of land that was once the site of the town of Blakeley. Established in 1814, the town became a major port city that challenged its cross-bay rival, Mobile. Several outbreaks of yellow fever, however, caused the town’s population to decline, and by 1860, the town was virtually abandoned to be reclaimed by nature. The Confederate army established Fort Blakeley here in 1864, and soon after, it became the site of the last major battle of the Civil War.
Today, campers and visitors to the park can hike and bike over 20 miles of trail through wetlands and along the banks of the delta, plus tour the historic battlefield.
The Apalachee Campground offers full hookups for RVs in a quiet wooded location. Tent campers can enjoy eight improved campsites at the recently renovated Bartram Campground. Each site has a fire ring, picnic table, water, electricity, and a recently renovated bathhouse. For something more rugged, primitive camping is available at the Harper Campground.
Pro Tip: If you’d like to spend a couple of nights at Blakeley but are not into camping, check out the park’s new rustic cabins. Each cabin has two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, and satellite television.
For fees and additional information, visit the park’s campground website. To make camping or cabin reservations, contact the park office at (251) 626-0798.
5. The Outpost
The Outpost at Gulf State Park offers glamping with a twist -- it’s primitive glamping.
Located only 1.8 miles from the park’s main campground, the site offers three heavy-duty safari-style tents complete with four cots each. But here’s the catch -- you must hike or bike to the site on the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail. That’s right! You will have to bring along whatever you need to make your stay more comfortable, including drinking water. The Outpost does have showers and a bathroom, and each site has Adirondack chairs, firepits, and is stocked with firewood, but they do not have electricity.
Without the amenities that you would find in the main park, this campsite is still well worth reserving. You’ll be in a remote, wild area where bobcats, raccoons, and deer roam free. And even though you are a few miles north of the Gulf beaches, The Outpost is set up on beautiful fine white sand surrounded by scrub oaks, a few pines, and wild rosemary, giving you an amazing view of the night sky.
To learn more, visit the website or contact Gulf State Park at (251) 948-7275.
6. Fort Morgan Bell Tent Getaway
For a glamping experience with a little more refinement, take a trip out west from Gulf Shores on the Fort Morgan Peninsula and spend the night at the Fort Morgan Bell Tent Getaway. The Getaway is a pet-friendly destination with a huge tent that sits atop a slightly elevated platform. It includes one main room with a queen-size bed, a small double bed (cribs can be provided upon request), a dresser, a television, a microwave, linens, towels, and Wi-Fi. Guests have access to a shared bathroom that is in the hosts’ house and a communal deck, swimming pool, and hot tub.
From the tent, it’s only a short walk to the beach and only minutes away from dining and entertainment in Gulf Shores, Fort Morgan, and the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge.
Pro Tip: The Fort Morgan Bell Tent Getaway rents beach chairs and beach umbrellas. They also have kayaks for rent so that you can paddle with the dolphins in Mobile Bay.
7. Bartram Canoe Trail Floating Campsites
It covers an incredible 250,000 acres, and an intricate web of sloughs and bayous vein through its ecosystem of bottomland hardwood forests and moody cypress-tupelo swamps. It is a true wilderness bordering the city of Mobile -- the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, also known as America’s Amazon.
If you are looking for a wilderness camping adventure, then the Bartram Canoe Trail is for you. The canoe trail consists of 200 miles of narrow bayous where you and your kayak can float past beautiful Spanish-moss-laden trees. Bald eagles and red-tailed hawks keep a close watch on your progress, as do American alligators lurking just below the water’s surface, culminating in an incredible night deep within this wilderness setting.
There are six overnight trails that will lead you to unique floating campsites where you will have the darkest sky around for a brilliant star-filled view. Don’t worry about the alligators -- the campsites float way above the water level, so they can’t climb aboard.
Pro Tip: Even though the trails are covered with signs, the delta is not for the neophyte paddler. You should have knowledge of orienteering (using a map and compass) and should bring along a GPS. The sites can only be reserved for one night. The mosquitoes in the delta can be overwhelming, so bring plenty of repellent.