Bicycling the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail
With all of the lousy weather we have been having, we haven’t had much of a chance to go bicycling. On Saturday afternoon, Rob put the bikes on the bike rack on the van and off we went to the Backcountry Trail a part of the Gulf Shores State Park.
To avoid the traffic on 59 and shorten the ride, we opted to take the Foley Beach Expressway toll bridge ($3.50) over the Intracoastal Waterway canal. This is a great time saver if your destination is eastern Gulf Shores or Orange Beach, but the cost in our opinion a bit steep. If you are not in a hurry just take the Expressway as far south as Roscoe Rd or Bradford Rd and cut back over to 59 to take the free bridge over to Gulf Shores. Then take your first left and follow Canal Rd.
The Backcountry system includes several trail heads (see the map below) and we decided on the Orange Beach Sportsplex access since it was closest to us at Bella Terra and was located centrally within the trail system.
It was a nice day for a bike ride, partly cloudy, cool with a slight breeze. The 15 miles of multi-use Hugh S. Branyon Back Country Trails have 6 different routes and traverses through 6 different ecosystems. At the Sportsplex, we picked up the Gulf Oak Ridge Trail which winds its way 2.75 miles through mossy oaks atop the island’s highest bluff, 34 feet above sea level. Every half mile or so there were wooden benches and in some cases, wooden swings where you could stop and rest. The trail is newly paved, wide and is a relatively easy ride.
Along a portion of the trail, there’s an area where there obviously was a fire which we thought might be a controlled burn. In talking to some people (Roger and Kathy) later in the day, we learned that the fire occurred last year during their dry season because of a person carelessly using a grill. What a shame! But probably after a few years of new growth, there most likely won’t be any evidence of a fire.
Once we reached the end of the trail, we headed back the way we came but instead of stopping at the Sportsplex parking lot, we continued on the Twin Bridges Trail which is about 1 mile long and then turned on to the Catman Trail. We wanted to go as far as the Butterfly Garden and Pavilion. It is here that the Catman Trail intersects with the Rosemary Dunes trail. The pavilion was screened in with picnic tables but the Butterfly Garden wasn’t what we expected – there were just a few shrubs bordering the walkway to the pavilion. Maybe it was too early in the season for anything to be blooming.
Another couple started talking to us – Kathy and Roger from Iowa. They’ve been coming to the area in their motor home for the past six years and usually stay at the Gulf State Park. It was interesting to hear that like several other couples we have met along the way, they prefer to stay at State Parks. There were several in Florida that they recommended – Rainbow Springs, Stephen Foster, and St. Joseph’s Peninsula were a few that they specifically mentioned. They had also stayed at Williston Crossings several weeks ago.
They told us about “Lefty” a female alligator which can be seen on the Rosemary Dunes Trail (1.75 miles), so we decided to ride a ways on that route. Initially the trail was lined with tall pines but after about a mile, the terrain resolved into a more marshy coastal type environment – perfect habitat for “Lefty” who is named that because she is missing one of her left legs. It wasn’t long before we spotted several bicyclists stopped near a bridge. Sure enough there was the 6 or 7 foot long Lefty in the shallow water lazily sunning herself. Nearby was one of her two foot offspring laying on a partially submerged branch.
Since it was getting late and yours truly was getting a little tired, we decided that we would save the rest of the trails for another day. So we reversed our direction and headed back to the Sportsplex where we hopped in the van and headed back to the hacienda.
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