Southeast USA Hikes: Table of Contents
1. Gulf State Park
2. Historic Bok Sanctuary
3. Poverty Point State Historic Site
Trail: Catman Road Trail
Location: Gulf State Park
Nearest City: Orange Beach, AL
Length: 5.6 miles
Overview: A flat, easy hike on paved trail featuring coastal scrubland.
Trail Information: http://www.alapark.com/parks/feature.cfm?parkid=22&featureid=15
Note: At last check, this site had not been updated for the trail reconstruction after
Hurricane Ivan; see below for details.
Directions to the trailhead: From downtown Orange Beach (east of the state park), take
SR 161 north 0.9 miles to Marina Road; there is a traffic light at this intersection. Turn
left to enter the parking lot for the Catman Road Trailhead. The other end of this trail can
be accessed at the Orange Beach Sportsplex. To reach the Sportsplex, continue north on
SR 161 another 0.8 miles to SR 180 and turn left on SR 180. Take SR 180 west 2 miles
to the Sportsplex entrance on the left. The trail leaves from the rear of the second large
blacktop parking lot.
The hike: For obvious reasons Gulf State Park is probably the most famous and most
popular state park in Alabama. While most of the Alabama Gulf Coast features
developed areas, the state park protects 2.5 miles of sugar-white sand beaches for
everyone to enjoy. The park draws large crowds, especially during the summer, so don’t
expect to comb these beaches alone.
In addition to the main attraction, the park also has several campgrounds, a cabin
area, a lodge, and a golf course. All of these accommodations are usually booked many
weeks in advance during the summer, so make sure to make reservations well ahead of
time if you plan to use the park’s sleeping accommodations. Better yet, plan a visit in the
fall or winter when temperatures are still fairly warm but the crowds are much smaller.
While the hiking trails at Gulf State Park will never be the park’s main attraction,
they do provide a nice alternative for those who do not wish to just sit on the beach all
day. Unfortunately, this has not been the case for all of recent history. In September
2004, the eye of hurricane Ivan came onshore just a few miles east of the park. As a
result of the high winds and water, the mature coastal forest that once covered much of
the inland part of the park was obliterated along with the five nature trails that explored
Fortunately, the park chose to turn this adversity into opportunity, and upon my
visit in fall of 2007, a new, larger system of trails was under construction. While the
previous trail system consisted entirely of short nature trails, the new trail system will
link the state park with the nearby county recreation areas and provide the opportunity for
longer backpack hikes. The first section of the new trail to open is the Catman Road
Trail described here. Make sure to keep an eye on this park in the near future and watch
the new trail system develop.
From the Marina Road trailhead, the blacktop trail goes around a metal auto gate,
passes an information board, and begins heading into the scrubby coastal forest.
Throughout this hike the canopy is dominated by a sparse scattering of various types of
pine trees including slash, loblolly, and shortleaf pines. The dense understory contains a
large number of palmettos along with some holly and magnolia.
The first 0.6 miles of trail are dead straight, as the trail follows the old roadbed of
what used to be a westward portion of Marina Road. An old road sign can be seen to the
left of the trail about 200 feet from the trailhead. For the first 1.5 miles, wooden mile
markers will mark your progress at quarter-mile intervals. The trail stays in the shade
about half of the time and passes through the sun for the other half. The prevalence of
sun on this trail is another reason to plan your visit during the cooler offseason.
At 1.6 miles, the trail comes to a picnic pavilion that appears to be in the middle
of nowhere. Actually, the trail you have been walking on is wide enough to get vehicles
to this point, and once the trail system is complete, this will be a major trail intersection
as the Rosemary Dunes Trail will exit left to form the backpack loop. The pavilion is
screened to keep out insects, and modern restrooms and a drinking fountain are located
just off the trail to the left. For now, the swing in front of the pavilion makes a great rest
stop for either your trip out or your retrace back.
At 1.75 miles, the old Marina Road continues straight as an unpaved service road
that ends at the state park campground. The paved Catman Road Trail makes a pair of
right turns and crosses several marshy areas via wooden boardwalks. The name Catman
comes from a legendary half-wildcat-half-man creature that supposedly roams the coastal
marshland. I did not encounter any catmen on my hike, but I did see a lot of dragonflies
and some Spanish moss on this section of trail.
The trail is more interesting after it leaves the old road because it features more
curves, newer pavement, and more marshland. At 2.75 miles, the Catman Road Trail
exits right for the Orange Beach Sportsplex. The Gulf Oak Ridge Trail continues
straight, but it is still under construction and, at the time of my visit, ends literally in the
middle of nowhere after another 0.75 miles. Eventually the Gulf Oak Ridge Trail will
proceed another 3 miles and provide the trail link to the golf course, campground, and
cabin area of the park. For now, you can decide where to turn around, but you should
continue at least to the next boardwalk, which is the longest boardwalk in the current trail
system. Once you have explored to your content, either find your car shuttle at the
Sportsplex, or turn around and retrace your steps back to the Marina Road Trailhead to
complete the hike.
Trail: Pine Ridge Nature Trail
Location: Historic Bok Sanctuary
Nearest City: Lake Wales, Florida
Length: 1.5 miles
Overview: An interesting, fairly easy walk through a splendid, cultivated garden.
Sanctuary Information: http://www.boksanctuary.org/index.html
Directions to the trailhead: From the intersection of US 27 and SR 60 in Lake Wales,
take US 27 north 1.8 miles to Mountain Lake Cutoff Road. Turn right on Mountain Lake
Cutoff Road. Take Mountain Lake Cutoff Road 0.7 miles to Scenic Highway (CR 17)
and turn right on CR 17. Take CR 17 0.8 miles to Burns Avenue and turn left on Burns
Avenue. Follow Burns Avenue 1.4 miles to the garden entrance on the left. Turn left to
enter the garden. Follow the garden road to its end at a large parking lot beside the
Visitor Center. The hike begins at the Visitor Center.
The hike: Believe it or not, the name Mountain Lake Cutoff Road accurately describes the
area featured by this hike. Though only 298 feet above sea level, Historic Bok Sanctuary
stands on the highest point of Lake Wales Ridge, a large knob that sits in the center of the
Florida peninsula. Indeed, several points in the garden give commanding views of the
surrounding orange groves and residential communities in the lowlands below.
Historic Bok Sanctuary is the legacy of Edward Bok. An immigrant to America
from the Netherlands in 1863 at the age of 6, Mr. Bok quickly became a successful
publisher with a winter home at the nearby mountain lake. In 1922, Bok created a bird
sanctuary on these grounds. Not content just to preserve birds, fertile dirt was brought in
by the truckload to create a world class garden that was dedicated in 1929 as Bok Tower
Gardens. Since renamed Historic Bok Sanctuary, the centerpiece remains a beautiful 205
foot marble tower. Though not open to the public, the tower’s carillon regularly plays
beautiful melodies that can be heard throughout the sanctuary.
Surrounding the tower sits a gorgeous flower garden and a short 0.75 mile Pine
Ridge Nature Trail. The gardens also have an extensive trail system, so many routes are
possible. This hike gives you a tour of all major points in the garden as well as a trip
along the nature trail.
Start from the back of the Visitor Center and begin hiking uphill through the
gardens on the blacktop trail. This trail passes the sanctuary's dedication plaque and
several benches as well as some colorful flowers, all of which are well-shaded by some
mature trees. Once atop the hill, the blacktop trail turns to mulch as the trail approaches a
reflecting pool that sits in front of the tower. This is a very scenic spot on the trail, as the
pink marble tower and beautiful surrounding flowers reflect in the pool.
Go to the left and detour through the white and round gardens before taking a
right to approach the tower from the east. Turn left and follow the trail around the tower,
possibly stopping at a bench in the oak grove to listen to the carillon in the tower, which
plays every half hour.
Where the trail forks on the west side of the tower, go to the left and soon arrive
at the Exedra, a peaceful memorial where some of Bok's relatives are buried. Opposite
the Exedra is Sunset Overlook, which provides a broad view of the Florida plains to the
Continue straight back to the blacktop trail, begin following it downhill, and take
the first mulch trail on the left. This trail takes you into the more remote section of the
garden and to the beginning of the nature trail. Still in deciduous woodland, the trail goes
downhill, passing a trail that joins from the right. Take the next trail to the right, which
passes by a primitive restroom set in the middle of the forest.
Turn on the first trail that goes off to the left and take it a short distance to
Window By The Pond, which is a shelter house with a large glass window overlooking a
duck pond. When I was here, I saw three different kinds of ducks, several blackbirds,
some cranes, some turtles, and an alligator. This terrific spot is worth a few minutes of
your time, and the chairs make for a nice rest during your hike.
Exit the shelter and turn right. This is the start of the Pine Ridge Nature Trail, a
guide pamphlet for which is available at this point. Follow the trail as it curves to the
right through a longleaf pine forest. Notice the occasional palmetto tree, which is
actually a slow-growing palm tree, in the understory.
After crossing a red clay service road, the trail enters a small sandhill forest
community, a very endangered ecosystem. This area is dominated by longleaf pines and
some oaks, neither of which provide a thick canopy from the sun. Along this section of
the trail, you can look to the left to see the orange groves that Florida is famous for.
Also, you can see some areas where controlled burning has been utilized to protect the
sandhill forest community.
Where the trail forks, continue straight on a trail marked "Pine Ridge Trail
Extension." The trail to the right is a shortcut to the parking lot. The trail goes downhill
and crosses the paved entry road before forking again near a flagpole. Turn left here for a
short uphill hike through sunny grassland to a knoll that offers a great view of the tower
to the west. When done admiring the tower, retrace your steps to the main trail and turn
left. From here, only a short, level hike remains through the pines to the parking lot to
complete the hike.
Trail: Poverty Point Walking Tour
Location: Poverty Point State Historic Site
Nearest City: Epps, LA
Length: 2.5 miles
Overview: An easy hike through and over Indian mounds that mark one of the earliest
settlements in Louisiana.
Directions to the trailhead: In northeast Louisiana, take I-20 to SR 17 (exit 153). Exit
and go north on SR 17. Take SR 17 north 11 miles to the town of Epps. Where SR 17
intersects SR 134 in the town of Epps, turn right to go east on SR 134. Take SR 134 east
4.25 miles to SR 577 and turn left on SR 577. Take SR 577 1 mile to the signed entrance
for Poverty Point National Monument. Turn right to enter the monument, and park in the
only parking lot.
The hike: As you drive the rural northern Louisiana roads into Poverty Point, it is hard
not to notice the persistent flatness of the land. The Indian mounds at Poverty Point
provide a stark contrast to the flat surrounding landscape. Even the smallest mounds on
the site, which were originally 5 or 6 feet high, stood out to early white explorers as signs
of an earlier civilization.
Unfortunately for us, the practical needs of frontier life take priority over
historical preservation, and in the mid 1800’s many of the mounds that comprise the site
today were disturbed by the plow in an effort to make this land productive. In fact, the
name Poverty Point comes from the name of a farmstead that was built on this site in
1843. Names like Poverty Point and Difficulty Creek more often than not provided
accurate descriptions of the lives pioneers found as they tried to work the land.
Today the mounds protected by the state of Louisiana as Poverty Point State
Historic Site and serve as a monument to one of the earliest mound building civilizations
in North America. For those who have difficulty walking, a paved route through the site
is traversed by a tram several times each day, allowing everyone access to the site. The
rest of us should consider the walking tour described here. Since much of this trail passes
through sunny fields, this is not a hike for a hot summer afternoon. In season, the trail
provides a pleasant 2.5 mile hike that passes every point of interest in the site.
After stopping in the Visitor Center to view the movie on the mounds and pick up
a trail guide, walk out the front door and angle left, heading for the picnic tables near the
parking lot. The trail is marked by white wooden posts with blue caps, two of which can
be seen from the trailhead. Although two of these posts can be seen from the trailhead,
the first post is actually out of view over a small ridge along the river. You reach this
first post by following the mown grass trail over the ridge, staying near the scrubby forest
on the left. This first post gives a nice view of Bayou Macon, the waterway that
originally brought Indians and later settlers to this site.
The trail curves right and climbs gently to Sarah’s mound, the first stop on your
tour of the mounds. This small, round, flat-topped mound is about 5 feet high and
features several tombstones on its top. In the days of early settlement, it was common
practice to bury dead people in the same location where Indians had once buried their
dead. If you are not too impressed by this mound, don’t fear: the bigger ones are yet to
The trail heads west passing post #4, a slave cemetery. When I hiked this trail in
mid-March, grape hyacinths covered the surrounding field in this part of the site. Cross
SR 577, then proceed to walk through the six concentric semicircle mounds that, on the
trail map, appear to form an amphitheater. While these mounds were once several feet
high, the plow has taken its toll here more noticeably than anywhere else, and today they
are virtually indistinguishable from the surrounding field.
Near post #7, the trail enters a young broadleaf forest with thin canopy. Post #7
talks about the causeway, a “mound” in the sense that it was built by Indians moving
basketfuls of dirt from nearby locations to this one. At the time of the settlement, the
causeway connected the main area to the outlying areas and created a small pond that
could be used for drinking water or food storage. Today, the causeway and a short
wooden boardwalk take us to the same areas without getting our feet wet.
At post #8, the trail emerges from the woods and reaches the western boundary of
the site, beyond which is a fence, a dirt road, and an active farm. The trail curves right,
following this boundary for about 300 feet, then curves right again to reenter the forest.
At post #9, display boards give information about Mound A, the largest mound on the
site, and some benches provide a nice place to rest provided the sun is not too hot.
The trail curves left to follow the paved tram path for a short distance then leaves
the pavement on the right side and begins climbing a series of wooden steps up the
southern side of Mound A. Viewed from above, Mound A looks like a bird with
outstretched wings. The head is the highest point and once stood about 100 feet above
the surrounding landscape. Again due to the effects of the plow, the current height is
about 70 feet. The view from the platform atop the mound is quite nice, though
somewhat obstructed by trees. Take some time to observe the mound and the
surrounding landscape from this birds-eye vantage point.
More wooden steps take you down the mound toward the east, so you ascend the
mound along one of the wings and descend over the tail. At the base of the mound, the
trail turns sharply left and passes a borrow pit, the source of the dirt that now comprises
the nearby mounds. Upon reaching the tram path for the second time, angle left and head
for Mound B, the other large mound on the site. While not as impressive as Mound A,
this flat-topped mound is 20 feet high and measures 180 feet in diameter, making it well
worth a visit.
The trail curves right as it leaves the mound and heads into some more mature
lowland forest. Spanish moss hangs from the trees here, and Harlan Bayou can be seen
through the trees on the left. While some parts of the trail could be a little wet,
boardwalks and bridges carry you over the worst part.
2 miles into the hike, the trail crosses SR 577 for the last time and angles left to
reenter the forest. This section of trail is marked with blue blazes painted on trees. The
trail passes back through the six concentric ridges; they are a little more noticeable here
because this land was not farmed for as long as most of the rest of this site was. At 2.3
miles, the trail intersects the tram path for the last time.
Shortly after this intersection, the trail passes an interesting point with Mound C
(now a small hump) on your left and the remnants of Floyd’s Trace, an old wagon road,
on your right. Soon the picnic area is reached, and a short level walk remains to return
you to the parking lot and complete the hike.