It goes without saying that anyone heading to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama will likely want to take advantage of the miles and miles of pristine beaches that stretch along the Gulf of Mexico. However, what happens when you venture here in the middle of November and it is 50 degrees outside? It’s hardly warm enough to don your bathing suite and head down to the beach, so you need to look for alternatives to entertain yourselves.
Well, this is exactly what happened when we visited Gulf Shores and Orange Beach recently but fortunately we were able to experience several other attractions that definitely serve as excellent backups should the climate not be conducive to helping your suntan. In fact, after reading this article, I hope these recommendations make you consider visiting this stretch of Alabama coastline at any time of the year because from our experiences, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are both locations that are much more than just a hub for perfect beaches!
Here are a few suggestions to wet your appetite and hopefully inspire you to visit Alabama in the near future. Some of the top attractions in Gulf Shores involve anything but the beach, so whether you are an avid golfer, a history buff or simply like exploring the outdoors, there is something for everyone!
Peninsula Golf Club
I am a huge golf fan and any opportunity I get to hit the links, I look forward to taking advantage of it! The moment I heard about Peninsula Golf Club in Gulf Shores, I was excited about the potential of playing this resort type complex. 27 holes set along beautiful Mobile Bay, this golf course oozes class, beauty and a challenge for even the most gifted of golfers.
Our tee time was scheduled for 11:00AM on a chilly Friday morning, but pulling into the parking lot about 20 minutes prior to teeing off, I knew we would be in for a real treat. Everything about the golf course was perfectly manicured from the greens to the tee boxes and even the aesthetic touches around the clubhouse and practice areas.
As we drove our cart to the first tee, the starter told us to take our time and enjoy the two 9-hole courses we would be playing today – the Lakes and the Marsh. This resort has a third course, the Cypress and each day the three courses are rotated out to ensure that they all remain in pristine condition (kudos to the greenskeepers for maintaining such a high quality resort!)
Another nice touch on the first tee was a barrel full of ice and cold apples that provided a refreshing start to your round. Despite the frigid conditions, this still proved to be beneficial later in the round to give an extra boost of energy.
Without going into too much detail of my round, the first 9 holes were a little disappointing as I struggled to find any sort of consistency with my driver and irons. However, the second nine was a drastic improvement as we made our way around the Marsh course, culminating in the highlight of my round on the 18th when I hit a driver, 3-wood to 8 feet on a par 5. It would have been a fitting end to an awesome day had I rolled in the eagle putt but it wasn’t to be and I walked off the green satisfied with just a birdie.
A score of 81 on my first round at Peninsula wasn’t anything to be too upset about and I look forward to heading back here in the near future to hopefully improve on that score!
If you are a golfer of any standard, I highly recommend taking your clubs to Gulf Shores and sampling this beautiful golf course. Peninsula Golf Club is one of the best courses in terms of natural beauty and overall condition of the course that I have played.
Historic Fort Morgan
After a relaxing morning on the golf course, head along Highway 180 to what feels like the end of the world but instead provides an enthralling experience as you explore Historic Fort Morgan.
Fort Morgan is a well-preserved historic site that was an active location in four wars – the Civil War, Spanish-American War and World Wars I and II. Construction of this site was completed in the early 19th century and today this still stands proudly as an iconic preservation site along this stretch of coastline.
As we walked around the site and learned more about the history of Fort Morgan, it became apparent that this was most famous for the role it played in the Civil War Battle of Mobile Bay. I am not a history buff but stood there in the spot where torpedoes would have been fired across the Bay was certainly a memorable experience.
Battery Schenck located outside the main entrance to the fort was a rapid fire battery capable of firing ten rounds a minute and was named after First Lieutenant William Schenck who was killed in action.
The entrance to the main part of Fort Morgan is a long tunnel that takes you through the embankments into the ‘sally port’ of the fort. The moment you exit the tunnel you are surrounded by the magnitude of Fort Morgan and it really is an impressive spot to peer around the panoramic views. The casemates of Fort Morgan were once smoke filled rooms, whereas now they are simply historic ruins that are trying to preserve some sort of resememblance of their original condition.
A trip to Gulf Shores would not be complete without exploring Historic Fort Morgan. There is so much history to be found here and you never know what hidden gem you may come across as you wander around these grounds that were once the site of major warfare.
Biking the Backcountry Trails
While we may not be the next winners of the Tour de France, we love to head outdoors on our bikes and explore. When we were given the opportunity to rent bikes courtesy of Beach Bike Rentals and experience the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Backcountry trails, we were certainly up for the challenge.
After collecting our 3 speed bikes that would be our form of transportation for the next few hours, we grabbed a map of the trails and headed out to explore. There are a variety of routes and trails that you can take throughout the backcountry. The map details the trails through Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry park as “seven distinct trails through six different ecosystems” so with our backpack and camera accompanying us, we ventured on our way.
The first thing you notice as you start out is the overall quality of the trails. Paved trails are throughout and all are wide enough to allow for bikers and pedestrians to comfortably pass each other without fear of colliding!
The trails vary in terms of distance but all have very unique names ranging from Rattlesnake Ridge (fortunately we passed through here without any scary encounters!) to Coyote Crossing. In total there are about 15 miles of trails you can experience, plus a couple of other options that allow you to go even further along Highway 180 by Peninsula Golf Club.
Here is a map of the trails so you can plan out your route prior to embarking on your adventures: Backcountry Trail Map.
As you meander around the trails, make sure you keep a close eye out for ‘Lefty’, a legendary three-legged alligator that lives along the trail. A plethora of other wildlife along with a flora and fauna trail that will keep you intrigued as you explore every nook and cranny the Gulf Backcountry has to offer.
Three awesome alternatives to relaxing on the beach! In fact, after experiencing all of these during our recent visit to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach I am glad the weather didn’t allow for much beach time because I think we would have missed out on these amazing attractions.
Of course I was sold on golf the moment I heard about Peninsula Golf Club but Historic Fort Morgan and Biking the Backcountry Trails were two hidden gems I was delighted we were able to experience. Check out these attractions – you won’t be disappointed!
If you would like to see more pictures from our experiences at each of these three attractions, please visit our Gulf Shores and Orange Beach 2014 photo gallery here.
Disclaimer – We would like to thank Gulf Shores and Orange Beach for hosting us on this trip. In addition, thank you to Peninsula Golf Club, Historic Fort Morgan and Beach Bike Rentals for providing complimentary access to these attractions. These are solely our personal opinions/experiences and we were not financially compensated for this post.