Dauphin Island is otherwise known as the “Sunset Capital of Alabama” and is renowned for its picturesque views, stunning beaches, and thriving bird and sea life, making the island a highly popular tourist destination.
Given the island is 14 miles long with many interesting places located throughout, it makes sense to question if driving there is possible.
To access Dauphin Island by car, you’ll drive across the Gordon Persons Bridge from mainland Alabama, which connects to the island. The bridge is 3 miles long and has some spectacular views making it worth the drive! Alternatively, you can take a car ferry from Fort Morgan, Alabama, to Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island, with a 40-minute crossing time.
Driving to the island via land crossing
The only way to drive from the US mainland to Dauphin Island is via the 3-mile-long Gordon Persons Bridge.
If departing from Mobile, Alabama, it’s a 33-mile trip via AL-193 S to the bridge, making this a quick and effective method to arrive on the island, vastly cutting travel time down compared to driving to the ferry dock and taking the 40-minute ferry crossing.
By driving via land, you’ll miss out on the spectacular views that the ferry provides but instead get to look out over the serene Mobile Bay along the way.
The driving time to Dauphin Island
The island is part of the Mobile metropolitan area, and the majority of routes will connect through Mobile, Alabama, and then you’ll run over bridge systems before making it onto the island.
Here’s the expected travel distance and time when driving to the island from key mainland locations via the Gordon Persons Bridge.
- Mobile, Alabama – 39 minutes (36 miles)
- Mississippi – 3 hours 28 minutes (206 miles)
- Atlanta, Georgia – 5 hours 23 minutes (361 miles)
- Jackson, Mississippi – 3 hours 39 minutes (216 miles)
- Montgomery, Alabama – 3 hours 5 minutes (201 miles)
- New Orleans, Louisiana – 2 hours 24 minutes (149 miles)
- Tallahassee, Florida – 4 hours 11 minutes (277 miles)
Taking a car ferry to the island
Taking a car ferry is an alternative method to reach the island. Once on the ferry and parked up, you’re free to walk around and enjoy the sea views.
The Mobile Bay Ferry company (link) offers a service for carrying cars and passengers, which runs from Fort Morgan, Alabama, to the historic Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island.
Two ferries are in operation, the Fort Morgan and the Marissa Mae Nicole. The crossing time is roughly 40 minutes. One of these two ferries will be operating at all times throughout the year, and both are in service during the Summer months.
Vehicle tickets cost:
- $15.00 for vehicles under 22 feet
- $20.00 for vehicles over 22 feet
- $7.00 for motorcycles
To board the ferry on foot, it’s $6 per person, and children under three years travel free.
Parking on the island
There is parking available on the island at different spots. For beach access, island residents enter free of charge and will have parking permits, but for regular passengers, car parking is $10 per day for a beach parking pass, being a practical choice as it allows you and those onboard to relocate and park at all three island beaches without excess charges.
Additionally, there’s a $150 parking pass available that covers parking during the Spring-Summer season. During the off-season, parking is free of charge.
You can purchase passes at all three beaches, which operate during regular business hours.
Is driving your car necessary?
Whether taking your car to Dauphin Island is necessary depends on your plans after you arrive on the island.
Given the island is 14 miles in length and only 1 ¾ miles wide, there’s a lot of ground to cover if you want to explore it. Driving on the island is straightforward, and there’s only one four-way stopping point to deal with, which makes it ideal for a car journey.
From the ferry dock, you’ll find easy walking access to attractions such as Fort Gaines, the Sea Lab research center, and the Audubon Bird Sanctuary.
However, the central area of the town and its amenities are a further distance, so it depends on your personal circumstances and how much walking you’re comfortable with. The beaches are also spread out and aren’t within practical walking distance from each other. The closest one is going to be over a mile down the main road from the port.
As a compromise, Instead of using a car, another option would be to take your bike with you, as this will greatly cut down walking time.
Renting golf carts
Dauphin Island offers a large selection of specialty street-legal golf carts, including luxury, lifted, and sports model cart rentals to help you maneuver between various locations.
Prebooking is available, and up to 6 passengers can ride on the carts. This form of travel is a fun alternative to driving a car and is perfectly suited to the island setting.
Prices are as follows:
- 1-day rental $200
- 2-day rental $325
- 3-day rental $450
Rental packages for longer periods of up to a month are also available.
Places to drive to on the island
Here are 3 locations that are worth driving to once you’re on the island.
Audubon Bird Sanctuary
The island is regarded as a great place for bird watching, and the Audubon Bird Sanctuary (link) is a grand size of 164 acres and has more than 350 species known to roam the territory! Along your walk, you’ll pass through forests, dunes, marshland, swamps, and a freshwater lake.
On-site parking is available and connects with a 1,000-foot boardwalk that runs past the surrounding area.
Sea Lab Aquarium
The Alabama Aquarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab (link) is a must-see on the island. The sea lab features an accessible public aquarium with a hands-on sting ray pool, 31 aquariums, and more than 100 forms of wildlife. Admission for adults is $12.00, and for children 5-18, and students with a valid ID, it’s $6.00
The location is within walking distance from the ferry dock, and parking is available and free of charge.
East End Beach
There are 7 miles of public beaches running along the island, but the East End beach is a fan-favorite.
You’ll find lounge chairs, umbrellas, and showers on the beach. There’s a cove, calm waves, and shallow waters. It’s a lovely place to dip your feet in the sea, enjoy a swim and soak up some sun.
Parking is available at the site, and from there, you’ll walk along the pier and onto the soft sands of the beach.
Dauphin Island is a popular Summer tourist destination, with popular amenities and beaches located far away from one another, so for a day’s trip, taking a car makes sense. This way, you’ll cover the majority of the island.
Once you arrive, cart rentals are also available and can be a fun alternative method of travel.