Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail Repeats National Accolade

Trail again named No. 1 by USA Today’s 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards

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In a state known for national championships, an Alabama recreational trail has repeated its national title. Alabama Beaches’ Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail in Gulf State Park was again named “Best Recreational Trail” by USA Today’s 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards.
Winning the nationwide competition for two consecutive years, the 28+ mile trail – spanning nine ecosystems through Gulf Shores, Gulf State Park, and Orange Beach – beat out a lengthy list of national competitors.
“We are excited that, for the second year in a row, USA Today’s readers have chosen the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail inside Gulf State Park as the number one recreational trail in the U.S.,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “Alabama is blessed with a diversity of natural landscapes and recreational trails. 2025 has been designated as the ‘Year of Alabama Trails’ by the Alabama Tourism Department, and this recognition is a great way to lead into that theme. We encourage everyone to visit Alabama and enjoy our trails, especially the Backcountry Trail in Gulf State Park.”
Nominees for all categories in the 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards are chosen by a panel of relevant experts which include a combination of editors from USA TODAY; editors from; relevant expert contributors; and sources for both these media and other Gannett properties. The nomination panel for each award category is displayed on its associated contest page. All voting is digital and the 10Best Readers' Choice Award contest is accessible on the website
“What an amazing honor for our destination,” said an excited Beth Gendler, President & CEO of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism. “Having our trail win this category last year was fantastic, but to again be nominated and voted as the top recreational trail in the United States is beyond words! This further confirms that Alabama’s Gulf Coast is truly more than just a beach. This award is a testament to the vision and partnerships of our two cities, Gulf State Park, and our state conservation and natural resources team. Awards like this show the value of and interest in outdoor recreation activities among both residents and visitors. The Backcountry Trail is such a tremendous asset to our destination.”
Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon echoed Gendler’s sentiment.
“Just like we are stewards of Alabama’s beaches, we are stewards of our public parks, and the Backcountry Trail is a shining example of what’s possible through cooperation between city and state organizations," said Mayor Kennon. “We always knew the trail was a gem for our area and after being voted in back-to-back years as the Best Recreational Trail in the nation by USA Today readers, we now know our gem has a mighty shine to it! The success of the trail would not be possible without the hard work, each and every day, of Orange Beach Coastal Resources and Gulf State Park staff who help keep it clean and safe for millions of visitors each year. Congratulations to everyone who had a hand in making the Backcountry Trail the best in 2024.”
For Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft, the Backcountry Trail provides a vital balance between development and nature.
“The Backcountry Trail provides the opportunity to experience the way the Gulf Coast was prior to the development of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach,” said Craft. “Gulf State Park and the Hugh Branyon Backcountry Trail system are an amazing buffer to the developed coast and create a vital balance between the natural environment and our developed communities.”
For one Orange Beach City employee, this recognition is more than he could have imagined.
“When we first started developing this trail system, I am sure none of us envisioned it would win national awards,” expressed Phillip West, Director of Orange Beach Coastal Resources. “Once again, we are extremely grateful and humbled by the enormous support for this project. Our staff, crew and partners at Gulf State Park really make this trail a jewel, not only for our area, but the entire state of Alabama as well. I hope other communities will look at this project as a model for collaboration and create opportunities to forge partnerships and work together to build an amazing asset for their community, citizens, and visitors.”
Here is the full Top Ten list of the Best Recreational Trails category, which can also be found online at
1.     Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail (Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Ala.)
2.     Chessie Trail (Lexington, Va.)
3.     Katy Trail (Missouri)
4.     Great Allegheny Passage (Maryland and Pennsylvania)
5.     Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail System (Greenville County, S.C.)
6.     Virginia Creeper National Recreation Trail (Virginia)
7.     Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail (Austin, Texas)
8.     Greenbrier River Trail (Frankford, W.V.)
9.     B-Line Trail (Bloomington, Ind.)
10.  Little Miami Scenic Trail (Ohio)
For more information on the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail, visit or

About Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism:

Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism serves as the official destination marketing organization for the cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach in addition to the unincorporated area of Fort Morgan. To learn more about Alabama’s 32 miles of white-sand beaches, visit either or This convention and visitors bureau is an accredited Destination Marketing Organization.

About the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources:

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Parks, State Lands, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. Learn more at

About the City of Gulf Shores

The City of Gulf Shores is Alabama’s SMALL TOWN, BIG BEACH community dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for residents, guests, and businesses. Located on Alabama’s beautiful coast of the Gulf of Mexico, the City strives to be a desirable place to live, work, retire and visit through cultivating a safe, clean and family-friendly atmosphere. Learn more about the City of Gulf Shores at

About the City of Orange Beach:

The City of Orange Beach prides itself on being the steward of Alabama's beaches. Incorporated in 1984, Orange Beach has grown from a fishing village to one of the South’s premiere coastal communities, providing a superb quality of life and amenities for residents along with a safe and pristine environment for visitors to enjoy. As the city motto states, “Life Is Better Here." Learn for yourself and find more information about the City of Orange Beach at

Kay Maghan
Kay Maghan (36 Posts)
Primary contact for all media and travel writers