HUGH S. BRANYON BACKCOUNTRY TRAILS
A park enhancement that also bears the superintendent’s name. The Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trails offers a view of the park that is often overlooked.
“Several years ago, we teamed up with the City of Orange Beach to start a backcountry trail system to go through the wilderness part of the park,” Branyon said. “These are areas that people have no idea are even here. We have beautiful oak hammocks that people are going to just be in awe of when they first see it. The trails run along marshes, secondary sand dunes, swamps, over creeks."
The trails are Catman Trail, which runs to Orange Beach, an extension that runs alongside the Orange Beach Sportsplex, the Gulf Park Oak Ridge Trail that runs to the back of the golf course, and the Rosemary Trail, which runs south of Middle Lake and Little Lake and comes out on the beach road. The total distance is 7.8 miles on the trails, which visitors who walk and bike are already enjoying.
TRAILS LOCATED IN THE CAMPGROUND
HURRICANE RIDGE TRAIL
Hurricane Ridge Trail was constructed after Hurricane Frederic hit the Gulf Coast in 1979. The hurricane created this natural ridge by depositing sand, twigs, and vegetation from the force of the tidal surge. The 130 mph winds and the many tornadoes uprooted hundreds of trees. Many of these dead trees can still be seen today. Their gray, rotting trunks are one of the many reminders of the power contained in nature’s storms.
As you enter this trail, take the time to notice some of the interesting plants that grow in this area. Try to find animal tracks in the sand, or look for birds, such as woodpeckers and mocking birds, feasting on insects in the trees.
Hurricane Ridge Trail begins at the camper check-in station and follows a ridge for approximately ¾ of a mile until it dead ends at Middle Lake Trail. Enjoy the excitement of discovering parts of nature that are common to Gulf State Park on this trail.
MIDDLE LAKE TRAIL
One of the major trails in Gulf State Park is Middle Lake Trail. It begins at the Nature Center and follows Middle Lake unit it intersects with Hurricane Ridge Trail. As you walk along the small canal, look for alligators floating along the surface. They are seen in the warm months of summer but are experienced at hiding in the grasses along the edge of the canal. Look for their eyes and nose on the surface of the water.
BEAR CREEK TRAIL
Bear Creek Trail is a unique trail because it used to be an old paved road heading to Orange Beach. Since it is paved, this trail is the most accessible to the handicapped and campers with small children in strollers. Also, along this trail are several signs that will help you identify many of the local trees and shrubs. As you walk along, look for the trees that have a rough gray bark on their trunks. Notice the shiny, dark green leaves. These small leaves remain on the trees year-round giving the trees the name Live Oak.
Covering many of the trees and shrubs on this trail is a thick, woody vine called Muscadine Grape Vines. These wild vines are abundant throughout Gulf State Park. The fruit matures in late summer and is slightly larger than domestic grapes. Some of the animals that enjoy these wild grapes are the gray fox, black bear, coyote, raccoon, and many different types of birds.
Bear Creek Trail starts at the main campground road and intersects with County Road 2 after strolling about ¾ of a mile. You can return to the campground by following County Road 2 or by turning onto either Bobcat Branch Trail or Alligator Marsh Trail.
ALLIGATOR MARSH TRAIL
This is a unique trail that winds beside a small canal offering the right environment for small alligators, turtles, frogs, and other small animals. Watch for these animals on logs and along the banks of the canal.
Tall marsh grasses grow along many areas of this trail. Some of this grass is easy to identify by its saw-toothed edges. If you have found some of this grass, you have discovered Saw Grass. Be careful! This grass can easily scratch you finger or leg if you rub against it too hard.
BOBCAT BRANCH TRAIL
Bobcat Branch Trail is a wonderful trail that connects Bear Creek Trail to the main campground road. It winds through ¾ of a mile of Live Oaks, Blackberry Brambles, and Holly. As you walk this trail, look for some of the dead or dying trees. These trees provide a wonderful supply of insects for birds such as woodpeckers. One of the largest and most impressive woodpeckers found in this area is the Pileated Woodpecker.
Tallow Trail connects Bobcat Branch Trail to the main campground road at the camper check-in station. This ¼ of a mile trail follows a small creek in the campground. If you walk quietly along this trail, you may see some birds such as the green heron fishing for dinner. The creek is also a home to many different types of frogs, turtles, and lizards. In the sandy areas of this trail, you might notice several different animal tracks. Many animals such as raccoons, bobcats, deer, and rabbits use this trail as an easy path into the campground.
This trail wanders among Holly Trees, Live Oaks and Pines. Watch for small rabbits, lizards and turtles on this trail. On this trail, you may be lucky enough to see a water bird such as a rail or a non-venomous snake like a banded water snake.
Along this one-mile trail you will see various types of ferns and moss. On the soft pliant earth beneath your feet, you will notice an amazing root system of the trees. You will also see palm-like leaves growing close to the ground along the sides of the trail. This plant is called Saw Palmetto. As the leaves fall to the ground, they provide a wonderful habitat for small animals such as snakes, frogs, and lizards.
MIDDLE LAKE OVERLOOK TRAIL
This trail is our newest trail. It was completed in March 2000 by a group of winter campers. Middle Lake Overlook Trail crosses over Armadillo Trail and ends at a small pavilion overlooking Middle Lake. Try to be quiet as you approach the lake and you may see turtles basking in the sun or a small alligator swimming nearby.
Middle Lake is one of three freshwater lakes in Gulf Resort State Park. It is approximately 150 acres. The largest lake, Lake Shelby, is about 750 acres, and the smallest is Little Lake. These three lakes are fed by underground springs. The water flows out of the lakes into Little Lagoon and eventually ends up in the Gulf of Mexico. As you look out of Middle Lake, you will notice that the water has a very dark, reddish/brown color. This coloration is due to the release of tannins from the decomposition of plants.
The world of nature is truly fascinating. If it is to remain wild and untouched, we have to depend on people like you. Please remember to help keep nature beautiful by putting litter in proper containers. Land that is open for everyone to enjoy is fast disappearing. State parks preserve land for the citizens of Alabama and our gracious visitors from other state and nations. hese wooded trails, campgrounds, and other facilities are here for your enjoyment. Please help us take pride in treasuring and protecting YOUR state parks.
WATCH OUT FOR ALLIGATORS - THEY ARE DANGEROUS !
It is reckless to approach alligators closely. Even though they may appear to be tame, alligators and other wildlife may suddenly turn and inflict serious injury.
DO NOT FEED THE ALLIGATORS OR OTHER WILDLIFE.