Driving between Orange Beach and its twin city of Gulf Shores, you pass through Gulf State Park (alapark.com). Here, the beachfront high-rises and shopping centers give way to unobstructed views of sand dunes, a blinding white sand beach and the blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The park serves as a natural buffer, bookended by the rampant development of Gulf Shores to the west and Orange Beach to the east. Gulf State Park lodging options come in the form of elevated housing units that the park refers to as either cabins or cottages depending on the size.
The state park has 20 cabins, 16 on the shore of 900-acre Lake Shelby and four across the road in the woods. Lake Shelby is set back from the beach in a tranquil spot beyond the noise and bustle of the main highway and nearby towns. It's a 2.5-mile drive from the cabins to the beach, but just a short walk to the park's golf course. The lake is open to boating, fishing and swimming. Linens are provided in the one-, two- and three-bedroom cabins with full kitchens, bathrooms and screened-in porches. The screened-in porches are a nice perk during the mosquito-infested summer months by the lake -- it's a good idea to bring bug spray and citronella candles.
Cottages at Gulf State Park are similar to the cabins, just bigger, pricier and more modern. Like the cabins, they have full kitchens, bathrooms and linens. All 11 cottages are on Lake Shelby, have two screened-in porches instead of one -- along with a deck -- three bedrooms and three bathrooms. The cottages are a good option for larger families or groups that need room to roam inside, especially in the kitchen and living room areas.
Reservations and Info
Peak season is between the Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. The rates rise a bit during this period and reservations are encouraged, and the minimum stay is a week. Outside of peak season, the minimum stay is two nights; three nights for holiday weekends. The four cabins in the woods are dog-friendly; none of the cottages allows pets. A few handicap-accessible units are available. Call 800-252-7275 for reservations or visit the Alabama State Parks website.
Attractions in the Park
Gulf State Park claims it has the largest pier on the Gulf of Mexico at 1,540 feet long with 41,800 square feet of space. The pier is popular with locals and tourists as a fishing and sightseeing destination. It has a sheltered concession area, a bait and tackle shop, and restrooms. Perhaps the best kept secret in the Gulf Shores/Orange Beach area is the backcountry trail system. Known as the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trails, the system came about as a collaboration with the City of Orange Beach and lets hikers and nature lovers explore miles of trails through marsh and swamp lands, maritime forest and dune fields.
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