3. Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail – The Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail was established in 2003 for the enjoyment of residents and visitors. Passing through Gulf State Park, the trail system – as well as the number of people using it – has grown through the years.
Offering wide, mostly paved, pathways, it’s easy to bike or hike this trail system. Depending on the route you choose, you might encounter the butterfly garden or get a chance to “meet” a local celebrity: Lefty the Alligator. Geocaching is also popular along the trail, with many caches located throughout.
New boardwalk trails have been added over marshy areas, providing views of areas not easily reached before. Pergolas and benches built along the boardwalk provide great spots to watch the wildlife from shade — very important, especially on hot summer days when that Alabama sun is brightest. The boardwalk trails now include two pedestrian bridges to make it easier to cross State Highway 182 to and from the beach.
Plan your visit: The Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail has a number of easy access points along the beach. It’s open every day and is free.
4. Gulf State Park Pier – When I think of places to explore on foot, a fishing pier wouldn’t normally make the list. But the Gulf State Park pier isn’t any old pier – it’s the second longest fishing pier on the Gulf Coast, offering incredible views of the beach and the Gulf waters. Of course, it includes all the fishing things you’d need, including electricity, fish-cleaning stations and bait.
But there’s a lot more to see and do at the fishing pier!
I visited for the first time on a recent trip to Gulf Shores and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Besides the views and watching people fish, it’s a great place to see water birds up close. These birds are smart, and they know they’ll find an easy dinner if they wait patiently. It’s the bird version of carryout!
Along the pier, visitors can learn about the dunes, sea turtles and other local wildlife, and how to be a good steward when you “Leave Only Footprints.” A snack bar, restrooms and a small gift shop round out the offerings at the pier.
Plan your visit: The pier is located at 20800 E. Beach Blvd. in Gulf Shores. Parking is free, as is access to the restrooms, bar, snack area and gift shop. A daily fishing permit costs $8 ($4 for 12 and under) and an all-day sightseeing pass is $3 (free for 12 and under).
5. The Wharf at Orange Beach – Technically, The Wharf isn’t exactly a hiking or walking trail. But it is a shopping and entertainment venue that will get you up and on your feet! Stroll along the sidewalks of this complex to do some window shopping — or real shopping if you’re so inclined. Grab a bite to eat, indoors or out, at one of the many restaurants. And take some time to play miniature golf or ride the giant Ferris wheel.
Stop in at Burris Farm Market at The Wharf for some local, fresh-made goodies like strawberry shortcake, blueberry preserves, or salsa (to name just a few).
Stick around for the SPECTRA Light Show in the evening. The choreographed light show is partnered with surround sound music to turn Main Street into a magical stage. The show changes seasonally.
Plan your visit: The Wharf is located at 23101 Canal Road in Orange Beach. Two parking garages offer ample parking. Limited on-street parking is also available in front of the shops and restaurants. Window shopping is free! Prices vary for other activities.
Whatever you plan, enjoy exploring this beautiful area on foot. Take time to look for birds, turtles and Lefty the Alligator. Listen to the sounds of the sea. And stick those toes in the sand, too. After all, you’re at the Alabama beaches, so sandy toes are a must!