The natural beauty of the Gulf Coast extends beyond the beach into a wildlife refuge, walking and biking trails, a state park and more.

The Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge is located near Fort Morgan on State Hwy. 180. The refuge consists of approximately 7,000 acres of coastal lands, ranging from constantly changing beach dunes to rolling pine-oak woodlands. (Go here for Fort Morgan beach house rentals)

The refuge was established for the protection of Neotropical migratory songbird habitat and threatened and endangered species. Bon Secour represents an important stopover and staging habitat for Neotropical migratory songbirds during the fall and spring migration along the Alabama coastline. Migratory birds utilize this area for resting and building fat reserves critical to successful migration.

The refuge also provides crucial habitat for the endangered Alabama beach mouse that inhabits the beach dune and scrub/shrub habitats found along the Fort Morgan Peninsula.

Loggerhead, green, and Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles nest on Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge beaches. Conservation strategies to protect these turtles under the Endangered Species Act include on-site nest monitoring and protection, as well as fostering a public ethic through educational programs.

Entrance to Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge is free. All public programs conducted by the refuge, such as the Fall/Winter bird walks, are also free of charge.

Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores abounds with recreational opportunities, including two miles of beaches. But there is more than sand and surf in this unique park: golf, fishing – both saltwater and fresh water – trails and more await visitors.

The park’s golf course offers 18 holes of championship play as well as a snack bar and pro shop with a PGA professional on staff. (Looking for a beach rental near a golf course? We have that.)

Fishing enthusiasts will find both freshwater and saltwater fishing. Lake Shelby provides 900 acres of freshwater fishing, or anglers can cast a line directly from the beach or from the Gulf State Park pier.

Ten miles of walking and biking trails are located within the park (part of the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail), where a variety of wildlife may be spotted at any time, including raccoons, bobcats, deer, rabbits, alligators and even black bears.

The Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail is composed of six distinct ecosystems making up more than 15 miles of trails. The trail system is a collaborative effort between the city of Orange Beach, Gulf State Park and property owners along the trail’s alignment.

Historically, the area’s indigenous peoples, as well as explorers and settlers of the region, utilized the trail. The Backcountry Trail is steeped in lore and local legend. For decades, a creature believed to be part man, part wildcat, “The Catman,” has allegedly lurked along the paths and swamps of the backcountry woodlands.

Although guided eco-tours are available by reservation (call 251-981-1063 to schedule), you can also explore on your own.

Beach condos and houses are available throughout Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Fort Morgan and Perdido Key and serve as great headquarters for exploring nature beyond the beach.