“A great way to see the transition from pine forest to maritime forest to dunes.
— Hardin Waddle
Swimming · Views · Wildlife
This is some of the best beach habitat left along the Gulf Coast around here. There are some amazing dunes at the end, but before you get there you get to see the transition of ecosystems from a pine forest to a stunted live oak maritime forest to the scrub of the back dunes and then the sea oats on the fore dunes. This run is a great way to experience what the coast looked like before all of the condos and parking lots. Gator Lake is fresh and has lots of alligators, and the basin on the other side of the trail is brackish and has fish and crabs.
Need to Know
Watch for cars on the trail for the first part. There are some private houses that use it as an access trail (they have a key to the locked gate). Also, don't underestimate the heat or the mosquitoes on this trail if you go in the summer. This is a much nicer trail in the winter.
When you park in the shady dirt parking area, you'll see a gate across a two-rut road heading off in the direction of the beach. This section is not that pretty or special, and you may encounter biting flies. Keep going, and you'll get to a junction with the Centennial Trail and a no-flush restroom. Go a little further and now you can see the observation deck on Gator Lake.
After this point, the trail is the narrow levee separating the fresh and brackish water. You'll pass the junction with the Gator Lake Trail
and then you're in the back dunes. Just past a resting bench, the trail becomes singletrack through the dunes. This is the best part; you can't even see the beach yet because the dunes are so tall. You'll pass the old foundations of some long lost homes, and then you'll crest the dune and see what looks like miles of empty beach. Many days you'll have it all to yourself.
This trail is flat, but because of the heat, bugs, and running through the sand, it really is somewhat intermediate. If you are hearty, though, you'll get the chance to see what the beach looked like in its original state.
Flora & Fauna
Lots of specialist beach plants can be seen here. Ospreys use the lake for fishing and often nest nearby. Many other birds and mammals can be seen early in the morning. Reptiles, and even amphibians are around as well. This is a great trail for Alabama coastal wildlife viewing.