Gulf State Park was recently named to TripAdvisor’s Hall of Fame. Only one of seven parks in the 22-park Alabama State Park system to receive the honor, Gulf State Park was awarded based on user reviews and opinions.

It’s no wonder Gulf State Park has earned this recognition, especially with the recent major enhancements that have been made to improve pedestrian access throughout the 6,150-acre park.

Already home to 28 miles of trails, showcasing nine different ecosystems, Gulf State Park features new trailheads and places to pause with interpretive way finding signage along the way. The park is also accessible to all levels of physical ability.

Recent new enhancements include the new Interpretive Center, which is a new gateway to the park. The center coordinates interpretive elements and interactive exhibits to tell a comprehensive story about the park.

The entire building is the launching point for visitors to move across the newly opened pedestrian bridge that connects the beach to the majority of the park and the 28-mile trail system.

This eastern bridge complements the western pedestrian bridge that opened earlier this year. Both bridges were included in the Gulf State Park Master Plan in direct response to a public survey describing the number one barrier to pedestrian and bicycling in the park as lack of safe passage across East Beach Boulevard.

These two bridges provide separated access for park visitors to the entire trail system and a unique amenity for all park guests.

The Interpretive Center is seeking full Living Building certification under the Living Building Challenge awarded by the International Living Future Institute.

Widely regarded as the world’s most rigorous environmental certification, the challenge consists of seven performance categories: water, energy, materials, place, beauty, equity and health and happiness. Together, these categories ensure a building performs at the most aspirational levels.

In order to meet the challenge, the Interpretive Center will provide 105 percent of its energy, treat 105 percent of its water and was constructed using healthy materials. As of January 2018, there are only 16 fully certified Living Buildings and, if successful in meeting the challenge, the Interpretive Center will be the first of its kind in the southeast.

A series of exhibits in the elevated plaza and multi-use room describe how the building responds to the Living Building Challenge and explore the interaction between nature and the built environment.

The Interpretive Center is one part of the overall enhancement project. The Dune Restoration was completed in 2016 and is being monitored to inform adaptive management techniques.

The Learning Campus, which includes overnight accommodations, indoor and outdoor classrooms, laboratories, meeting space and a restaurant that is open to the community, is under construction and will be complete in December 2018.

Trail enhancements are a major component of the project. Designed to improve and encourage pedestrian access to the entire park without use of vehicles, the expanded trail network provides accessibility for all levels of physical ability.

There are now multiple car-free loops, three educational pause places along the trail network that create destinations highlighting different ecosystems, 38 interpretive signs along the trail network, and way finding signs and trailhead maps that have been installed.

Pause places are educational and recreational destinations along the trail network that encourage exploration. Each pause place is designed to celebrate the unique surroundings and features seating, shade structures and interpretive elements.

Gulf State Park beaches are also some of the most beautiful in the area. There are even more activity options within the state park, including a visit to the Gulf State Park Fishing Pier for a fishing experience, kayaking on Lake Shelby and bird watching, for example. The Dog Pond dog park is also located at Lake Shelby, where dogs can run an agility course or even swim in the lake.

A two-bedroom Gulf Shores condo is perfect for a couple’s getaway or a family of up to six+ people to come and explore the enhancements at Gulf State Park.

Although any time of year is a wonderful time to visit the area, a trip in the fall, during the Alabama’ Gulf Coast’s “adventure season,” is a perfect time for an extended visit of up to one month or more.