The Complete Guide to the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail
Only minutes from the beautiful Alabama Gulf Coast beaches is a trail system that seems far removed from the rest of the world and the bustling beach scene of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach: The Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail.
The Backcountry Trail, or BCT, gives visitors a chance to leave the world behind and meander down lanes lined with towering pines, scrub oak, palmetto, and thick, green deer moss. You'll ride past shimmering freshwater lakes, coastal swamps and wetlands where cattails sway in the breeze. You'll be surprised and amazed to spot white tail deer, bobcat, coyote, wild boar, otters, and yes, even alligators, as well as one of a hundred different species of birds including osprey, bald eagles, and heron. Yet it's all very close to the beach destinations of the Alabama Gulf Coast.
A Special Place
The trails of the BCT wind through six distinct ecosystems including longleaf sand ridges, coastal dunes, live oak maritime forest, pine flatwoods, freshwater marshes, and coastal hardwood swamps. What this means is that there is an enormous diversity of flora and fauna to be seen. Beautiful white-topped pitcher plants with their long, conical stem will be seen near the marshes waiting for their next meal, usually an unsuspecting fly. Florida rosemary bushes grace almost every trail. While not used for cooking the plant still has that familiar rosemary fragrance. Not sure what you're seeing? The trails have been outfitted with interpretive signs to help you identify plants and wildlife.
How it All Began
The area in which the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail lies was once inhabited by Native Americans thousands of years ago. Their early hunting paths later became logging roads for European settlers in the 1700s and centuries later some of those roads, including Catman Road, were “rediscovered” and converted into the trails of the BCT. In 2003 the first section of the trail was completed and was named for the former Gulf State Park Superintendent who had a burning passion for the outdoors, Hugh S. Branyon. Branyon served in his position from 1970 until his retirement in 2009.
The Trail Today
From that simple beginning the trail began to grow outward and through the efforts of people like Orange Beach Coastal Resource Manager Philip West, the city of Gulf Shores, Gulf State Park, and the city of Orange Beach, the trail system has become a major Gulf Coast destination and now links both cities. In 2010 it was designated a National Recreational Trail and more recently was added to the list of Alabama Coastal Birding Trails. The “trail” itself is not a single path but more of a series of multi-use trails, more than 28-miles of them in fact that interconnect with one another as they wind their way through those ecosystems. Multi-use means just that—the paths are suitable for walkers and cyclists and is fully ADA accessible. No motorized vehicles are allowed. A map of all the trails can be found online here