Marvelous Mobile Bay: Dauphin Island

A narrow, 14-mile-long outdoor playground juts from the mouth of Mobile Bay into the Gulf of Mexico

Near the mouth of Mobile Bay, Dauphin Island, provides a getaway atmosphere with attractions aimed at the family. Graced with all the necessities, Dauphin Island allows you to get away from the hustle and bustle of more developed areas.

Causeway and bridge to Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Back in 1699 the French explorer Le Moyne d’Iberville landed on the island and started a settlement called Massacre Island, which was later more tastefully renamed Port Dauphine. It served briefly as the capital of the French Louisiana Territory in the early 1700s. During the War of 1812, American forces captured it. The historic Fort Gaines, on the eastern end of the island, was built to protect Mobile Bay.

Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Dauphin Island Park and Campground is a great place to enjoy all the island has to offer. The 155-acre park offers an abundance of exceptional recreation offerings and natural beauty. The campground is uniquely positioned so that guests have access to a secluded beach, public boat launches, Fort Gaines, and Audubon Bird Sanctuary. The campground offers 150 sites with 30/50 amp- electric service and water; 99 sites also offer sewer connections.

Fort Gaines © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From here, head over to nearby Fort Gaines, with its 22-foot-tall exterior brick walls and storied military heritage that spans 1821 to 1946. The fort is most highly recognized for its role in the Battle of Mobile Bay, a famed Civil War naval conflict.

Fort Gaines © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It was during this three-week battle that Union rear admiral David Farragut roared the command, “Damn the torpedoes; full speed ahead!” (It’s interesting to note that the word “torpedoes” in this case referred to hidden enemy mines and not submarine weapons.)

Fort Gaines © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Start your self-guided tour by picking up a map at the gift shop. The comprehensive guide includes 26 points of interest along with facts about the fort’s tunnels, bastions, blacksmith shop, and disappearing gun mounts, among dozens of other features.

Fort Gaines © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can examine the huge anchor of Farragut’s flagship, gaze toward Sand Island lighthouse from atop the southeast bastion, or browse the museum. Fort Gaines numbers among the best-preserved 19th-century brick seacoast fortifications in the East.

Audubon Bird Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located nearby, the Audubon Bird Sanctuary consists of 137 acres of maritime forests, marshes, and dunes, and includes a lake, swamp, and beach. The trail system within the sanctuary has been designated as a National Recreational Trail. The sanctuary is the largest segment of protected forest on the island and the first landfall for neo-tropical migrant birds after their long flight across the Gulf from Central and South America each spring.

Audubon Bird Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a quick sampling of the sanctuary’s flora and fauna, you can hike the 0.6-mile interpretive loop trail that winds through the maritime forest where the dominant plants are loblolly and slash pines, live oak, southern magnolia, and Tupelo gum. It leads by slightly elevated boardwalk from the parking lot to Gaillard Lake. The wharf overlooking the lake is a favorite site for observing egrets, herons, blue-winged teals, pond turtles, and pig frogs.

Audubon Bird Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other trails include the 0.3-mile Dune Edge Trail, 0.8-mile Swamp Overlook Trail, 1.7-mile Upper Woodlands Trail; a 0.4-mile trail leads to Dauphin Island Campground and 0.5-mile trail leads to Fort Gaines.

Estuarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Estuarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab is a public aquarium and exhibit facility that allows visitors the opportunity to explore the four ecosystems of coastal Alabama—the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, Mobile Bay, the barrier islands, and Gulf of Mexico. Its features include a large exhibit hall, featuring aquariums swimming with local water life, and a living marsh boardwalk along the bay.

Estuarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most visitors begin their self-guided tour by watching a video titled “A World of Water”. It explains water’s journey from the delta through the 35-mile-long estuary to the Gulf. The estuary is so abundant that fishery scientists labeled the north-central Gulf of Mexico the “fertile crescent.”

Estuarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Highlights in the 10,000-square-foot exhibit hall include live snakes, baby alligators, and aquariums containing sharks and other exotic sea creatures. At a touching table, you can stroke the spiny shell of a horseshoe crab, a prehistoric species more closely related to scorpions than to crabs. 

Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

For all at last return to the sea—to Oceanus, the ocean river, like the ever-flowing stream of time, the beginning and the end.

—Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us

Mobile Bay: Gateway to the Gulf

Mobile Bay is an incredible gateway to the Delta, a bird sanctuary, and boating, fishing, and kayaking

Along the northern perimeter of Mobile Bay, a network of rivers forms a wildlife-rich delta that beckons canoeists and nature-lovers. Fishermen and sailboat enthusiasts relish the bay itself. On the south shore, where the bay meets the Gulf of Mexico, white sand beaches lure swimmers, shell hunters, and sunset photographers.

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the wetlands of Mobile Bay near Spanish Fort, Meaher State Park is a scenic 1,327-acre park offering facilities for both camping and day-use.

The Mobile Delta consists of approximately 20,323 acres of water and Meaher State Park is the perfect access point to this massive natural wonder. Formed by the confluence of the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers, the Mobile Delta is a complex network of tidally influenced rivers, creeks, bays, lakes, wetlands, and bayous. Since the Delta empties into Mobile Bay, it is a productive estuary with numerous species of fresh and saltwater fish, which makes Meaher State Park an fisherman’s dream.

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A 300-foot fishing pier with a 200 foot “T” and boat ramp make Meaher State Park an excellent location for fishing with Mobile Bay providing a productive estuary offering numerous species of fresh and saltwater fish. An Alabama freshwater fishing license is required; most common freshwater fish are abundant in the area. The boat ramp is located on the Blakeley River on the east end of the park. The ramp is accessible from 7 a.m. until sundown.

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A self-guided walk on two nature trails includes a boardwalk with an up-close view of the beautiful Mobile Delta. Enjoy watching the abundant aquatic bird life as well as alligators.

The day-use area features a picnic area and comfort station for visitors. 

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big-rig friendly Meaher State Park offers 56 modern campsites with 50/30/20-amp electric service, water, and sewer connections. Semi-circle pull-through sites exceed 100 feet in length. Most back-in sites are in the 60-65 foot range. The campground also features a bathhouse with laundry facilities and Wi-Fi. A tower is located on top of the bathhouse. There are also 10 improved tent sites with water and 20-amp electric service. Current RV camping rate is $35/night; tent sites $22/night. Weekly rates for RV sites are $182. Monthly rates for RV sites from November through March only are $623. Reservations are available by contacting the state park.

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For more outdoor adventures, the nearby Mobile-Tensaw, W.L. Holland, and Upper Delta Wildlife Management Areas offer hunting and wildlife viewing opportunities for those visiting the Delta.

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also located near Meaher State Park, just north of Interstate 10, is the Five Rivers- Alabama’s Delta Resource Center which features an exhibit hall, theater, gift shop, and canoe rentals.

The 80-acre nature complex is the gateway to the Delta, a 250,000-acre wetland playground designated a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service.

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Besides the more than 300 bird species, 126 fish species, and 500 plant species found there, the delta is the exclusive home of Alabama’s state reptile, the endangered Alabama red-bellied turtle.

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Begin at the Shellbank Visitors Center, where movies preview this free facility’s recreational opportunities. A stroll across an observation deck brings you to a museum filled with artifacts and displays depicting the delta’s rich cultural, historical, and ecological heritage. Picnic facilities, nature trails, and a gift shop occupy the site, too.

For up-close explorations, you can rent a canoe or kayak or launch your own. Canoe, kayak, and pontoon boat tours are offered.

Mobile Bay at USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While camping at Meaher State Park, take advantage of the abundant shopping and dining options in the Mobile metro area. The white sands of Alabama’s Gulf Coast are only an hour away. USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park, and GulfQuest National Maritime Museum are also located nearby.

Mobile Bay at Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether you plan to stay a week or a month, the area’s welcoming hospitality, sun-drenched climate, sparkling waterways, and wide range of activities will have you describing Mobile Bay as “the place where fun floats”.

Mobile Bay at Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

For all at last return to the sea—to Oceanus, the ocean river, like the ever-flowing stream of time, the beginning and the end.

—Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us