Location: Gulf Shores, Alabama
Webpage: National Wildlife Refuge
General Description: Along the Alabama Gulf Coast, Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge contains about 7,000 acres of coastal land. Ecosystems range from beach dunes to rolling pine-oak woodlands. Management is focused on protecting and preserving these unique habitats and associated wildlife, including the endangered Alabama beach mouse, the Loggerhead sea turtle, the Piping Plover, and the American alligator. The central section of the refuge has a small Visitor Center and three hiking trails. The Jeff Friend Trail is a one-mile loop providing spectacular views of Little Lagoon. The Gator Lake Trail is two miles round trip skirting the south side of Gator Lake. It intersects with the Pine Beach Trail which is a four mile round trip meandering through the maritime forest between Little Lagoon and Gator Lake, ending at a pristine beach. There are a number of interpretive signs along Pine Beach Trail and a trail guide with additional information about the history, ecosystems, and plants found along the trail.
1) The Visitor Center is very small with a few exhibits about the wildlife and plants found in the refuge. It also has a small gift shop with t-shirts, patches, and lapel pins of the refuge.
2) The Jeff Friend Trail is designed to be wheelchair accessible with gravel paths and wooden boardwalk across the wetter areas and along the beach. The views of Little Lagoon are well worth the hike.
3) The Pine Beach Trail is two miles both ways, however, we made a loop by following it to the intersection with Gator Lake Trail that loops around the south end of the lake. Then we hiked back along Mobile Street to the parking area at the highway. There is also a small parking area at the beginning of the Gator Lake Trail. We saw a few birds along the trail, especially around Gator Lake, but did not see the resident alligator.
4) On a warm December afternoon, the trails were a nice easy walk except for the soft sand on the Gator Lake Trail. The Pine Beach Trail is actually a well packed woods road that is easy on the legs.