The Backcountry Trail at the Best Alabama Beaches
Looking for a way to recharge after months of quarantine? On our recent trip to the picturesque Alabama beaches, we spent the good part of two days exploring the Backcountry Trail at the Best Alabama beaches.
For these Grans in their 60s, it was invigorating to try something new at the beach. With the wind in our faces and our cameras in tow, we spent an enlivening couple of days on electric bicycles with the eagles, turtles, reptiles, birds, and even had a fabulous meal dining safely outdoors at a restaurant along the trail.
Alabama beaches are a tradition passed from generation to generation
For many of the over-50 crowd who grew up in the Southeastern US, an annual beach trip to the Gulf Shores/Orange Beach area of Alabama was what most everyone did for their childhood vacation: the hotel arrangements were made, the car packed, the kids loaded in the station wagon or minivan, and away we went. We made cherished memories spending all day exploring the magnificent, white beaches and walking back to the hotel or rental house at the end of the day — memories imprinted on our hearts.
After we returned home, the treasured memories of fishing from the pier at the Gulf State Park, sandcastles, suntan lotion, long beach walks, and beautiful sunsets were remembrances that would last us the entire year — until it was again time for the annual trip. Memories such as these are one of the many reasons we return to the beach every year.
Now there’s a new activity to add to your list of memories for you and your family at our Alabama beaches: Explore the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail by either biking or hiking the trail.
Click here for a map of the Backcountry Trail.
Biking and hiking the Backcountry Trail
Some of our most memorable days are spent off the beaten path and surrounded by nature. The Backcountry Trail provides that feeling of rejuvenating your soul as you wander, wondering what kind of wildlife and nature you might discover. Simply feeling the Gulf breeze in your face begins the transformation.
The pathways over marshes put the biker or hiker just above a plethora of natural wonder. The Gulf Shores water tower reminds us we are just a few short steps away from all that is civilization — but it feels like another world.
The Backcountry Trails made our bike riding adventure easy. The 28 miles of wide-open pathways and plenty of places to stop for a break are spread throughout the trails.
Peaceful Stops Along the Trail
The trails wind around three lakes, giving bike riders plenty of places to explore diverse habitats. In addition, the trail is part of the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail and the Coastal Connection National Scenic Byway.
Ancient mossy oak trees line the pathways where families pay homage to the memory of loved ones. Simple reminders of fishermen who have lived and made a living along the best Alabama beaches are found along the way.
Wildlife and fauna on the Backcountry Trail
The six ecosystems of the Backcountry Trail provide habitat for a multitude of wildlife and fauna just waiting for you to discover around the next turn. The trail winds through miles of paved pathways of wet-pine Flatwoods, live oak maritime forests, coastal dunes, longleaf sand ridges, freshwater marshes, and hardwood swamps. Some of the wildlife to look for on the trails would be:
- a multitude of birds
- gopher tortoise
- white-tailed deer
- wild boar
- several species of snakes
Within about 20 minutes of leaving our hotel at The Lodge at Gulf State Park (which is connected to the Backcountry Trail), our ride was interrupted by the appearance of a bald eagle right in our path. As we pulled our bikes over to try to get a few photos, she gathered a large limb in her talons and flew right above us. It was as if she wanted these excited photographers to make sure we saw her building her nest.
To read more about nature encounters along the Gulf Coast, check out these articles below:
Ride or walk the paths used by Native Americans
The Backcountry Trail was developed using old logging roads and paths. Native American sites were discovered along the route, and it is thought that these paths were used thousands of years ago before the settlers arrived. When the settlers arrived in the 1700-1800s, they used these roads and the Original Catman Road. You can walk these same trails with your children and grandchildren and explore the old log roads.
There were signs of the continuing clean-up after Hurricane Sally hit the area. Although bracing for storms is a part of life along the Gulf Coast, Hurricane Sally was the first to hit landfall in Alabama in 16 years.
Original Catman Road Legend
The younger generation (and even some of us young-at-heart Grans) love to hear the old legends of the area. One of the legends is how Catman Road received its name. The legend says that on the Eve of the Great Cat Hunt, the Medicine Man concocted a serum to give to the young warriors to instill “great strength and stamina” for the hunt. An overzealous young warrior decided to sneak more of the concoction. The warriors reported he was last seen running away with a pack of wildcats. Stories soon emerged of tribesmen seeing a “cat-like” man on the road. So keep your eyes open on Catman Road.
Attractions along the Backcountry Trail
There’s a great stop along the trail at Boulder Park for kids and adults. Climb on the small, medium, and large boulders placed specifically for climbing. In addition, there is a pavilion for some to rest while the kids play. The park is located near the intersection of Catman Road, Twin Bridges, Rattlesnake Ridge, and Rosemary Dunes.
At the intersection where the four trails meet, you’ll find the Butterfly Garden, where butterfly-attracting plants anoint the trail with color for all seasons. In addition, there is a nature pavilion where you can watch butterflies and birds from a swing — so don’t forget to check the schedule before you go to catch an informative show about local nature and the environment.
Paddleboards are available for rent from local businesses or bring your own for a beautiful scenic tour. Fishing with scoop nets along a shallow area provides an afternoon of fun for youngsters.
The Backcountry Trail has several trailheads, all of which have plentiful parking and direct access to the trail. For your convenience, there are six restrooms and two water fountains located on the trail or very close to it.
The Woodside Restaurant is the perfect stop for the family along the trail. Enjoy the fun, great food and drink, backyard games, general store, gift shop, free s’mores, and the best live local music.
Sit back, relax, and enjoy a great meal in the main dining room or the screened-in porch. For instance, we found a spot outside on the patio under the shade of the oak trees.
Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They also provide pet-friendly outdoor seating for your four-legged family members. Food, beer, and wine are available for carryout.
Geocaching is a fun hobby for many retirees or for anyone who can enjoy and appreciate a good treasure hunt. The Backcountry Trail is a popular spot for those tiny containers called “geocaches.” Sign up for a free account at www.geocaching.com.
So go for a treasure hunt along the Backcountry Trail — you never know what you’ll find!
Where to rent a bike for the Backcountry Trail
We chose electric bicycles for this trip — which doesn’t mean that you don’t have to pedal! — but the trip is just a little easier by choosing one of four electric speeds to help move you along just a little bit faster.
Beach Bike Rentals is located on Perdido Beach Highway in Orange Beach, 30 yards from the Gulf State Park Rosemary Trail entrance. You can rent your bike and then hop right over to the path without loading or unloading bicycles on your vehicle. They also offer a variety of different style bikes for all ages and abilities. Delivery and pick-up are also available to Ft. Morgan, Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, and Perdido Key. So contact Beach Bike Rentals at 251-968-1770.
More information about family activities in the Gulf Beach area can be found here:
Where to Stay at the Best Alabama Beaches
The Lodge at Gulf State Park, A Hilton Hotel
We enjoyed a perfect stay at the new Hilton hotel located right on the gulf, The Lodge at Gulf State Park. The hotel has a modern, European vibe that incorporates color, texture, and contrast to create that transition from outdoor to indoor space. The decor elevates your relaxation experience to unwind and breathe in nature. The buildings are positioned to take advantage of gulf breezes for ventilation and to bring natural lighting indoors.
Choose a guest room or suite with beach or park views, each with a spacious tub or shower and 50-inch TV. The suites feature a private balcony, some with bunk beds to better accommodate the entire family. Room service is available — or relax in the coffee/wine bar in the lobby overlooking the beach. Exercise in the fitness center, or take a dip in the infinity pool. The business center is available daily, and the convenience shop is open. Choose from 40,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor event space, including the largest ballroom on the Gulf Coast with a beach view.
Innovative Dining at The Lodge
Dine indoors or outdoors while enjoying beautiful gulf views from onsite restaurants.
- Foodcraft offers space both indoors or al fresco on the patio. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Foodcraft showcases local farmer and fishermen bounties.
- Perch provides a dining experience for guests with Gulf views from the second floor. Indoor and terrace seating is available.
- In the main lobby, Roasted Oak Coffee & Wine Bar is a modern coffee bar where guests can order a selection of locally crafted coffees, infused teas, house-baked breakfast goods, and light lunch offerings. In the evening, Roasted Oak transforms into a local wine bar featuring carefully selected wines, craft beers, and light bites.
- The Dragonfly Pool Bar & Grill is poised to open for the season and provides casual, pool-side dining.
Some services are not available during the pandemic. Please call and check if that is important to your visit.
Gulf State Park Cabins along the Backcountry Trail
The cabins at Gulf State Park can be seen from several points while riding along the Backcountry Trail.
A wide range of lodging, from studio units for two to three-bedroom cabins are spread throughout the landscape. The cabins are under renovation after Hurricane Sally at the time of this posting; however, they will be open for booking in late 2021.
Cabins are within walking distance of the trails, restaurants, and the Gulf State Park Campground’s laundry facilities.
Camping — Bring an RV or a Tent
Gulf State Park Campground offers 496 full – hookup campsites with paved pads. In addition, the wide paved roads through the campground are perfect for families to bring bikes or those of us who were out exploring.
All full hookup camping pads are large enough for RVs with pullouts and have picnic tables and pedestal grill tops. Tent camping is welcome on all sites. For your convenience, there are 11 modern, air-conditioned bathhouses throughout the Campground.
Outpost Camp Sites Available to Rent
For the adventuresome, there are 11 outpost campsites with military-style tents available to rent. These campsites are ideal for those who love to primitive camp but will enjoy having the tents and four cots already set up for you. In addition, there are bathrooms and a shower on site for Outpost guests only.
Start your 2021 New Year with a bang! Book a trip to the best Alabama beaches, support Alabama Tourism, and enjoy all the adventures along the Backcountry Trail at the Best Alabama Beaches. We managed to eat all our meals outdoors and felt perfectly social-distanced. Let’s make up for the lost time and make 2021 count!
You can also read an article about Four Seasons on the Alabama Gulf Coast for Every Season of Life.
A huge thank you to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism for their hospitality during our trip to the best Alabama Beaches on the Gulf Coast. Our biking adventure along the Backcountry Trail was just what we needed during a pandemic! We enjoyed this visit as professional bloggers, but as always, our opinions are our own.