Gulf Coast Gator Ranch: Exploring the Swamp in an Airboat

Last winter we spent several weeks exploring the Alabama and Mississippi Gulf Coast. During our stay, our daughter Tricia flew down to join us for a few days. She had just one request: a swamp tour in an airboat. We found exactly that at the Gulf Coast Gator Ranch & Airboat Swamp Tours in Moss Point, Mississippi.

A Lagoon Full of Alligators

As the only car in the parking lot when we pulled up to the plain-Jane building, I hoped we weren’t heading into a tourist trap. But, it was early morning… on a weekday… in January. Hardly a time when any attraction would be flooded with tourists.

We paid for our tickets and headed out the back door to explore the area while we waited for our captain to call us.

What we found was a long, narrow walkway the followed the length of a fenced-off lagoon.

We had heard that alligators brumate during cold weather. Brumation is a sort of hibernation. Their metabolism slows, they don’t eat, and they stay inactive. Some remain in the swamp with only their snouts above the water.

Alligator brumating in the lagoon

Others winter in dens on riverbanks. So, what we saw in the lagoon were alligators just hanging out, barely moving. And across the lagoon, several laid on what looked like an island. Although, if we didn’t know better, they could have been mistaken for logs.

Alligators brumating in the water and on the banks of the lagoon

Gator Ranch is an Alligator Sanctuary

It turns out the Gulf Coast Gator Ranch isn’t at all a tourist-trap-come-and-see-our-alligators-in-captivity place. Rather, it’s a rescue and sanctuary for alligators that have been injured and can no longer safely live in the wild.

In fact, any babies born to the residents can’t live in the wild either. Instead, they’re raised on-site and will remain in the lagoon, as well.

Baby alligators at Gulf Coast Gator Ranch

The Gulf Coast Gator Ranch Swamp Tour

After just a few minutes of us staring at the non-moving alligators, our captain met up with us for the swamp tour. It turned out to be a private tour… because we were still the only visitors.

Remembering the fun Skip and I had on an airboat ride at Everglades Holiday Park in Florida a few years ago, I was looking forward to this.

We started out slowly, and then the boat picked up speed. I love a speed boat… except we were making sharp turns, with the boat tilting. Yikes! Any thought of taking a video ended, because I was hanging on for dear life. I sat between Skip and Tricia, and my maternal instinct kicked in. I kept grabbing at my 40-something daughter, so she wouldn’t fall into the water.

Airboat swamp tour at Gulf Coast Gator Ranch

How deep is the water, I later asked our captain. Oh, about an average of 18 inches. Well, at least we wouldn’t drown if we fell in.

But then, there was the matter of the brumating alligators. I imagine they could be startled awake… and might enjoy a human snack.

The intention of the swamp tour was to see more alligators. But we didn’t see many alligators on the swamp area we explored. Okay, exactly zero. Unless you count the one when our captain told us if we look carefully in that brush over there, that’s one of our females hiding.

So I looked. I think I saw it. Maybe. Or was that a large branch? Besides hanging on for dear life during the trip, it was a blast. Sort of like a roller coaster, where you’re scared to death while it happens. But when you get off, you say wow, that was a lot of fun.

The Gulf Coast Gator Ranch Katrina Story

It seems that almost everywhere we visited on the Gulf Coast had a Hurricane Katrina Story. Here’s the story of the Gator Ranch.

Just one week before Katrina hit, the ranch changed hands. It had been a gator farm where gators were raised for food. The new owners intended to make it a sanctuary.

But when the hurricane hit, all the alligators were swept out of the ranch by the floodwaters. They ended up in people’s yards, parking lots, all over. Because they were a danger to people, local authorities gave the okay for people shoot the gators if they were in their yards. So, most of the alligators were lost.

The oldest ranch resident, however, was found in the ranch parking lot. That gator now is over 40 years old.

If You Visit the Gulf Coast Gator Ranch

Located on US-90 in Moss Point, Mississippi, the Gulf Coast Gator Ranch is the only alligator ranch and airboat swamp tour in the state. Not up for the airboat ride? You can opt for a walking tour of the ranch instead. I would recommend doing that in warmer weather, though, when the alligators are more active. For me, though, the airboat ride was what made it fun! (Yes, I say that after it’s over.)

Hour change seasonally. Check the website for hours and admission fees.

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