9 Fantastic Mobile-Tensaw River Delta Adventures
Just a stone’s throw (so far) from the main city of Mobile on the Gulf Coast is a real wilderness area that many people outside of Alabama don’t even know exists. It is one of the largest untouched wetland wilderness areas in the country – the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta.
Author and journalist Ben Raines coined the name “America’s Amazon” for this unique wilderness wonderland.
The delta encompasses 260,000 acres of breathtaking cypress and tupelo swamps and is the most diverse river system in the country where alligators – hundreds of them – lurk just below the surface. Hundreds of miles of marshes, wetlands, bayous and swamps flow into the Gulf of Mexico and are home to more species of fish, turtles, snails, crayfish and mussels than any other river system from North America.
Countless species of birds find this humid, often wet climate, as do black bears and wild boar.
And then there is the story. Deep in the wilderness, in the absolute middle of nowhere, lie ancient Native American mounds where a civilization once thrived thousands of years ago, the area where the last great battle of the civil war and the wreckage of the last slave ship. , the Clotilda, to arrive in America.
The delta is a fascinating region and despite the eerie sound of its nickname, it is a wonderful place that anyone can explore. Here are eight adventures where you can experience the American Amazon for yourself.
1. Five Rivers Delta Resource Center
To truly appreciate the uniqueness of the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, you need a bit of a step back before you start exploring. Begin your adventure by visiting the Five Rivers Delta Resource Center at Spanish Fort.
Known as the “Gateway to the Delta,” this magnificent state-run facility offers panoramic views of the lower delta from the walkways that surround its three buildings. Inside, you’ll find exhibits that introduce you to the delta, its plants and wildlife, and the human history that helped Alabama‘s port city grow.
The center also has a cozy theater where nature and historical documentaries are shown throughout the day, or you can select a title and they will play it for you.
Pro tips: The center is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and admission is free. On the third Sunday of every month, Five Rivers hosts the Animal Ambassadors program where you can meet living creatures that call the delta home. Check their online calendar for upcoming dates and other events.
2. Mound Island
The Mobile-Tensaw River Delta has seen its share of human history over the centuries. One site is hidden in the absolute middle of nowhere, an island that was once inhabited by humans over a thousand years ago – Mound Island.
Native Americans arrived on the island around 1000 AD and built towering mounds of earth by hand, one basket of earth at a time. Some were as tall as 45 feet high, where the tribal leader would live, and shorter mounds like the mound B, where religious leaders lived and held rituals. While the mound was shorter, it was still impressive. It was as long as a football field. In all, 18 burial mounds have been built on the island.
Pro Tip: The visit to the mounds is a fascinating journey through time with a one kilometer walk through the Amazon environment. To get there, however, you either have to kayak or take a tour boat. I’ll talk more about these options in a moment, but your best bet is to take a tour boat where historians bring the history of the mounds to life and can better highlight what you see.
3. Blakeley Historic State Park
A little south of Mound Island, in the Spanish Fort, is Blakeley Historic State Park. At one time, Blakeley was a bustling port town that was actually larger than its Cross Bay rival, Mobile. In the mid-1800s, the town was ravaged by an epidemic of yellow fever and was left to nature.
In 1865, this same area was the last bastion of hope for the Confederacy to retain its last remaining port city, Mobile, on the Gulf Coast during the Civil War. April 9andas General Lee’s army surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, the Battle of Blakeley took place, making it the last major battle of the war.
Today, a myriad of hiking and biking trails criss-cross the battlefield and some of the best-preserved breastworks and redoubts with interpretive panels describing the events of that day. Information for a self-guided tour is available online.
Pro Tip: Admission is $4 for adults; $3 for children 6-12, veterans and active duty military; and children under 6 are free.
4. The Last Slave Ship
The story of the slave ship, Clotilda, seems almost unlikely. Even though the importation of slaves had been banned in the United States, in 1860 Thomas Meaher bet that he could bring new slaves into the country undetected. He did it on the schooner Clotilda, the last slave ship to arrive in the country.
Meaher brought 110 captured Africans from the Mobile River into the delta the night the slaves landed as he set fire to the ship in an attempt to destroy the evidence.
More than a century later, the wreck of the Clotilda has been discovered and efforts by local authorities and the descendants of those slaves are underway to protect and preserve this incredible piece of American history.
Pro tips: Special trips to the Clotilda wreck are scheduled at Blakeley Historic State Park. Visit their events calendar regularly to catch the next scheduled trip.
5. A paradise for birdwatchers
With the vastness of undisturbed wetlands, marshes, and rivers, you might imagine the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta to be a birdwatcher’s paradise — and you’d be right.
The Audubon Society ranks the delta as one of the nation’s most productive wildlife habitats. Over 300 bird species have been recorded in the delta
The list of birds is impressive. You may spot Marbled Ducks, Baird’s Sandpipers, and Swallow-tailed and Mississippi Kites. The list is lengthened increasingly.
The Alabama Birding Trail has established several stops around the delta where you can tick a few species off your list.
Pro Tip: Bird watchers and those with an interest in wildlife should save the last weekend in September for the annual Coastal Alabama Bird Festival. The event is based at the Five Rivers Delta Resource Center, which hosts a number of birding and wildlife presentations, as well as countless field trips in the delta.
6. Explore by tour boat
As mentioned earlier, most exploration of the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta is done by boat. One of the best ways to experience it is to make a reservation aboard the Delta Explorer.
Cruises are based in historic Blakeley State Park and offer a wide variety of excursions to suit everyone’s interests. Try the Delta Adventure cruise where you may encounter black bears, bald eagles, ospreys and, of course, alligators. There are also tours of historic Civil War sites along the shores of the delta, cruises to Mound Island, lunch cruises and an evening cruise to experience an incredible sunset.
Pro tips: Local historian and author John Sledge leads fascinating and informative trips to the delta each spring and fall. Visit the Delta Explorer website for their latest historic cruise.
7. Kayaking in the desert
A real adventure awaits as you paddle a kayak through the dark and mysterious bayous of the delta along the Bartram Canoe Trail.
The trail consists of 200 miles of marked routes through groves of moss-laden Spanish oak and mysterious swamps of cypress and tupelo, all under the watchful eye of American alligators basking in the sun on logs and along the banks.
The canoe trail also includes floating and land campsites that you can book to spend a night under brilliant starry skies with the sounds of the delta surrounding you.
Pro tips: Even though the canoe trail is well marked, it’s still easy to get off the trail and get lost in the endless bayous. If you’re not an experienced paddler, it’s best to sign up for a guided tour with one of the reputable companies in the area like Wild Native.
8. Airboat Exploration
It’s time to get your heart pumping as you cruise the swamps aboard an airboat in coves inaccessible to boats. An airboat ride is just plain fun and you can still see the many species of wildlife that inhabit the delta.
Sign up for a boat ride with Air Boat Adventures or Airboat Express.
Pro Tip: Make reservations well in advance of your visit to ensure boats are running and there are places available.
9. Camping at Meaher State Park
A cozy state park is located on the Mobile Bay Causeway that connects the eastern shore of Mobile Bay to the city – Meaher State Park.
The park is located at the southern end of the delta and sports 61 motorhomes and several campsites, as well as four fully equipped cabins overlooking the bay. The park also offers incredible sunsets over Mobile Bay.
The great thing about Meaher is that it’s centrally located, so it’s easy to not only explore the delta, but also the many attractions in downtown Mobile (including Mardi Gras) and along the east coast in the charming towns of Daphne, Spanish Fort and Fairhope.
Pro Tip: Make your reservations well, and I mean well, before your trip. Campsites are retrieved as soon as they are available.
If you want to explore more of Alabama, check out these articles: