Lake Shelby: Gulf Shores' Natural Treasure

Located a short walk from the Gulf of Mexico and Alabama's white-sand beaches is the Gulf State Park's Lake Shelby.

Kids play at Lake Shelby in Gulf Shores

This natural treasure has hosted families, fishermen and fun seekers for generations. Boy Scouts have camped around the lake, farmers markets have sold locally grown produce, and groups of all sizes and ages have enjoyed innumerable picnics under the trees. Lake Shelby is a beloved piece of the Alabama Gulf Coast landscape.

When you combine Lake Shelby with Little Lake and Middle Lake, there are nearly 900 acres of water inviting guests to swim, fish and boat or paddle. Lake Shelby is actually one of the closest freshwater lakes near saltwater on the Gulf of Mexico. But that's not all of the interesting facts surrounding this piece of coastal paradise.

Even though Lake Shelby is a freshwater lake, because of its proximity to the Gulf, saltwater intrudes on the lake and makes it home to both freshwater and saltwater fish, including largemouth bass, bream, crappie, redfish and speckled trout. You'll even find blue crab in the lake. It's been rumored that bass weighing as much as five pounds have been caught in the lake! To fish the lake, you'll need a freshwater fishing license. This can be easily purchased at the bait shop on the Gulf State Park pier for just $2 per day or $35 for an annual permit.

Lake Shelby offers a picturesque and peaceful way to spend the day when you opt to paddle around the lake. Bring a fishing kayak and drop a line, or rent a stand-up paddleboard or kayak onsite. Make a day of it at the lake and bring along food to grill in the picnic area. Picnic tables and a pavilion make it easy to relax while making memories with family and friends. You'll even find a spot for Fido at the lakeside dog park, The Dog Pond!

Boy playing at Lake Shelby in Gulf Shores

A Swim Back in Time…Way Back in Time

According to the Office of Archaeological Research at the University of Alabama Museums, some interesting finds have been noted about Lake Shelby's past. Director Matt Gage said the site around the lake represents a large shell midden (mound) where people congregated to share food and ideas and to trade items from all over the region during the Middle to Late Woodland time periods, as well as into the Mississippian period (AD 400-1100). Rangia shells (bivalve mollusks or clams) make up the majority of the food remains found in the shell midden; however, some terrestrial vertebrates common in estuarine environments were also found, including alligator, deer, birds and turtles. The residents who built the shell midden were a part of a large and vibrant culture that spread across the Gulf Coast as well as inland across the Southeast.

Fast forward to the 1930s when the Intracoastal Waterway was completed and we have modern-day trade, just not at Lake Shelby. Today, the lake serves as a place to join with friends and families, reel in the night's dinner and make memories and traditions that'll last for generations.

Don't miss an opportunity to visit Lake Shelby during your next Gulf Shores and Orange Beach vacation. Lake Shelby parking permits are $4 a day or $7.50 for the week.

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