April 2013
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Experience the Beach


The largest fishing pier in the Gulf of Mexico is ideal if you don’t want to get on a boat.

 

Gulf State Park is a Great Place to Vacation Without the Crowds Found at Hotels or Condos

Has it been a long winter of feeding cattle, fixing fences, and stretching budgets to cover food, fuel and groceries? Maybe it’s time for a trip to the beach without breaking the bank. When I was 10 years old, my parents, my sister, as well as my uncle, aunt and two cousins took a break from the hayfields and went on a budget trip to the beach.

The eight of us traveled south to the beach in a 1975 Chevy pickup with a camper shell on the bed. This was not an extended or crew cab but a single cab. Three rode up front and the remaining five rode in the non-air-conditioned, pickup bed under the protection of the camper shell and on top of a bed mattress. My uncle was a skilled welder who decided to bring a heavy, steel grill along for the ride (inside the camper.) Every time we rounded a curve, my aunt would stretch out her legs to brace the grill from falling on us in the pickup bed. You’d think on that long ride on a bed mattress, you could get some sleep, but the thought of getting crushed by a 200-pound steel grill did an amazing job of keeping us awake and alert. The only real difference between the hay field and the trip to the beach was the absence of hay in the back of the truck.

Times have changed and, fortunately, modes of transportation and methods of lodging have improved. If you’ve considered a trip to the beach and don’t really want to deal with packed motel rooms and clogged elevators and lobbies, try Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores. There are 6,150 acres in this park with two miles of beaches and the largest fishing pier in the Gulf of Mexico.

Playing in the Park

In a nutshell, the park has modern campgrounds, cabins, cottages, back-country trails, 18-hole golf course, tennis courts and a 900-acre lake for fishing on Lake Shelby. We had the opportunity to stay at one of the cabins on Lake Shelby, and it was one of the best beach trips I’ve taken.



 



Clockwise from bottom left, The view from the cabin is Lake Shelby, the beach skyline and the ocean on the other side of the skyline. Roomy cabins and plenty of conveniences make this an ideal place to stay in the park. You are likely to see a gator sunning in Lake Shelby.

You can enjoy a cup of coffee on the deck of the cabin overlooking Lake Shelby and, across the lake, you see the high-rise condominiums lining the beach. The best part of the cabin is you are in the quiet of nature while you sleep or relax and you can take a 1 ½-mile drive and be on the beach. You can view an alligator or two sunning on the surface of the water as you enjoy the view of Lake Shelby.

Late at night while you are relaxing at the cabin, you have to strain to hear the distant sounds of the night life taking place on Orange Beach, and it made me glad we were hearing only the crickets and feeling the soft, salt breeze blowing from the park setting.

If you have kids, they will truly enjoy swimming in the pool, visiting the interactive nature center and walking the piers in search of gators.


The kids have a blast playing on the clean, sandy beaches.

 



Jake Howle catches a fine red snapper on the fishing trip.
 

Food for Thought

There are a few food sources you need to visit while you are there. The Original Oyster House (www.theoysterhouse.com) will give you plenty of seafood choices, but certainly try their namesake, the oysters. Lulu’s at Homeport Marina (www.lulubuffett.com) has an open air feel, and you get live entertainment while you eat a cheeseburger in paradise. Lucy Buffett, Jimmy’s little sister, runs this grill, and it’s a great spot to grab a souvenir T-shirt. Sea-N-Suds (www.sea-n-suds.com) stands on pilings on the beach, and it’s a great place to eat with a close-up view of the Gulf of Mexico.

On your way home, definitely eat at Lamberts in Foley (www.throwedrolls.com). This is the home-cooked meal restaurant that throws the rolls at you in addition to playing jokes on the patrons such as pretending to throw a jug of tea in your lap which is actually a fake tea pitcher. You’ll get more than you can eat, and they don’t take credit cards – just cash or a check.

Fine Fishing

 


Left, Reel Surprise Charters delivers value for the money with fish meat to take home. Above, Just like the hayfield, the salt water can dry you out, and it’s important to stay hydrated even on the water.

You have many options for fishing in Gulf Shores. You can fish from the park pier, on Lake Shelby, in shallow water or go for the big creatures in deep water. For a first-time fishing trip, I would recommend getting on a party boat. It is one of the least expensive ways to fish the deep water, especially if you have younger members in the group. If you charter a large party boat, the larger size vessel can help offset the rocking of the boat and hopefully prevent seasickness.

I found an ideal offshore fishing boat at Sand Roc Cay (www.sanroccay.com) under the helm of Captain Randy and Reel Surprise Charters. The boat we went out on was the Gulf Winds II; it was a 65-foot vessel that did an excellent job of smoothing out the Gulf waters. We caught plenty of red snapper, had knowledgeable and helpful deck hands, and just had an all-around pleasant experience on the big water. For more information, contact Captain Randy’s staff at 251-981-7173.

Experiencing a trip to the beach through Gulf State Park is truly memorable and you won’t break the bank doing it. For more information about Gulf State Park, visit www.alapark.com or call 1-800-ALAPARK. Once you get on the ALAPARK website, you can get access to any of the phone numbers and facilities in the Gulf State Park family. Now would be a great time to visit before hay hauling season starts.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.