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Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail Retains Top Spot in USA Today Readers’ Choice Awards

Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail Retains Top Spot in USA Today Readers’ Choice Awards

For the second year in a row, the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail in Baldwin County, Alabama, has been chosen as the top recreational trail in the country in the 2024 USA TODAY 10Best Readers' Choice Awards. The awards were announced Wednesday, April 17.

“We are extremely proud the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail was awarded this honor for a second straight year,” said Greg Lein, State Parks Director for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR). “Together with our partners in Orange Beach and Gulf Shores we have worked to offer access to some of the most unique habitats and recreational opportunities along Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Thank you to everyone who voted for the Backcountry Trail again this year!”

The south Alabama trail took first place over nine other trails located throughout the United States, including the 78-mile Greenbrier River Trail in West Virginia, a former railroad now used for hiking, biking and horseback riding and Missouri’s 240-mile Katy Bike Trail, one of the longest Rails-to-Trails projects in the country.

Established in 2003 as a multi-use recreational trail connecting Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and Gulf State Park, the trail is a system of paved and unpaved paths and boardwalks providing trail users with access to several distinct ecosystems and outdoor recreational opportunities. Named in honor of Hugh Branyon, who served as superintendent of Gulf State Park for more than 30 years, the Backcountry Trail system features 29 miles of trails that are located within the park. Plans are currently in the works to expand the Backcountry Trail system.

Recreational opportunities along the trail include biking, hiking, wildlife watching, playgrounds, fishing, camping and more.

“Recreational trails provide many positive benefits to our communities and our economy,” said Chris Blankenship, ADCNR Commissioner. “Trails like the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail help connect cities and residents with the natural environment and provide recreational opportunities that are important to our well-being. They also help create jobs related to outdoor activities. This recognition from USA Today puts a spotlight on just how important access to outdoor recreation has become nationwide.”

In recent years, trail use has become more popular as a form of outdoor recreation. Approximately 59 million people use hiking trails each year in the U.S. Mountain biking also has an extremely dedicated user base willing to travel to well-planned trails. Hikers and mountain bikers contribute millions of dollars annually to the U.S. economy through the purchase of footwear, bikes, hiking gear and travel-related expenses.

ADCNR’s State Parks and Forever Wild tracts are home to hundreds of miles of multi-use trails located throughout the state. Some of the most popular examples include mountain biking and hiking trails at Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham and the Forever Wild Coldwater Mountain Nature Preserve and Recreation Area near Anniston. Both trail systems have been recognized by the International Mountain Biking Association as offering some of the best mountain biking in the Southeast.

ADCNR also offers a variety of horseback riding and paddling opportunities such as the horseback trails at Wind Creek State Park on the shores of Lake Martin and the State Lands canoe trail system that includes a 19-mile stretch of the Perdido River and the Bartram Canoe Trail on the Mobile-Tensaw Delta – the second largest river delta in the country.

Outside of the ADCNR trail system, the state is home to many of the top hiking, biking and paddling destinations in the Southeast.

The Alabama section of the Pinhoti National Recreation Trail – one of the top backcountry hiking trails in the country – stretches 171 miles from Coosa County to Cherokee County and continues into Georgia before connecting with the Appalachian Trail on Springer Mountain.

Beginning near Anniston and traveling 33 miles through Calhoun and Cleburne counties to the Georgia state line where it connects with the Silver Comet Trail, the paved Chief Ladiga Trail was Alabama’s first extended Rails-to-Trails project for hiking and biking. This paved trail intersects the Pinhoti and offers a unique way to explore the various trail towns along its path.

Extending more than 630 miles from the northeast corner of the state to the Gulf of Mexico, the Alabama Scenic River Trail is the longest one-state river trail in the country for paddling and motorized vessels. It comprises sections of the Coosa, Tallapoosa, Alabama, and Mobile rivers and was designated a National Water Trail in 2012.

In north Alabama, the planned Singing River Trail is a 200-plus mile greenway system that will connect the town of Bridgeport in the northeast part of the state with Sheffield near Muscle Shoals. Plans for the trail include access to outdoor recreation as well as state and natural history education opportunities.

“It continues to be an exciting time for the development and improvement of recreational trails throughout Alabama,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “They are one of the best ways to explore the wide variety of landscapes that our beautiful state has to offer. From the Appalachian foothills in northeast Alabama to our coastal habitats, there is a recreational trail suitable for all skill levels from beginners to the most experienced trail users. We encourage everyone to take advantage of the recreational opportunities Alabama’s trails have to offer.”

To view the results of the 2024 USA TODAY 10Best Readers' Choice Awards for best recreational trail, visit

For more information about the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail at Gulf State Park, visit or call the park at (251) 948-7275.

ADCNR 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


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