The crashing surf and wide sugar sand beaches of Gulf Shores draw vacationers from around the southeast United States. Most opt to stay in the myriad high-rise hotels facing the ocean, competing with hundreds of other guests for barbecue grills, a chair near the pool or a spot in the elevator. For a more relaxed, low-key stay, opt instead for a campsite near the beach.
Gulf State Park
Gulf State Park covers a large swath of beaches and inland forest around Gulf Shores. The park has nearly 500 campsites for tents, campers and RVs, plus cabins, cottages and boathouses for rent. A few campsites are waterfront, facing Lake Shelby, though the Gulf of Mexico's beaches are about a mile and a half from the campground. Each site comes with a picnic table and a pedestal grill. Visitors can walk on paved paths through the pine tree and palmetto forest, drop a fishing line in Lake Shelby, cook out at a beach pavilion, cool off in the swimming pool, or bring a picnic to spread out along the sand.
Big Lagoon State Park
Big Lagoon State Park sits just over the state line in Florida. The park protects an inland lagoon and and a long stretch of Gulf-front sugar sand. Big Lagoon offers 75 campsites for tents or RVs, each located within the shade of towering pine trees near Long Pond. Campers are just a short drive away from the beaches of Florida's Perdido Key. Each campsite includes water, electricity, a fire ring and picnic table. Visitors have access to canoe and kayak rentals, fishing in the lagoon and a boat launch. The park's three-story observation tower provides views of the protected seashore and the Intracoastal Waterway.
Fort Pickens Campground
The Fort Pickens Campground sits in the National Park Service's Gulf Islands National Seashore, just outside of Pensacola Beach, Florida. The campground here includes 180 sites for RVs or tents, and each spot has electric and water hookups. The campground is steps away from the beach on the barrier island of Santa Rosa. Visitors have access to amenities like toilets, showers, a dump station, hiking trails through sand dunes, picnic pavilions and a fishing pier. You can also explore the pentagonal structure of Fort Pickens, built in 1834 to defend Pensacola Bay.
Options for RVs only
If you're not looking to tent camp in or around Gulf Shores, you have several options for campgrounds that accommodate RVs only. The secluded Fort Morgan RV Park is low key, with just 35 campsites near Mobile Bay's shallow, brackish water. Gulf Shores' Southport Campground sits on Portage Creek, which runs roughly parallel to the beaches along the Gulf of Mexico. On site, you have access to coin laundry, hot showers and two club rooms with kitchens. The club rooms are often the site of club dinners and bingo games. The public beach is less than 10 minutes away by car. And at the Island Retreat RV Park, RV hookups include power, water, sewage and cable television, and all guests have access to WiFi, a picnic area, laundry facilities, bathhouse, playground, swimming pool and large clubhouse.
- Island Retreat
- Southport Campground: Facilities
- Fort Morgan RV Park
- Alabama State Parks: Gulf State Park Campground
- Florida State Parks: About Big Lagoon State Park
- Florida State Parks: Big Lagoon State Park Brochure
- Recreation.gov: Fort Pickens Campground, FL
- National Park Service: Fort Pickens Campground
- Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images