Prior to our journey taking us to Alabama, I had only visited the city of Huntsville back in the day while working in the defense industry. My vision of Alabama was that it was a flat wet lands with some really red dirt. I never had an appreciation of how wonderful the state of Alabama is. On this visit, the people we met have been super friendly, the landscape incredibly beautiful, the capital city amazing and of course the white sandy beaches of the Gulf shores are not to be missed.
When we left Nashville to continue our journey south, we had no idea what we were heading into. I looked over the trusty Atlas, spotted a little note indicating that Cheaha Mountain was the highest peak in Alabama. I also noticed that the mountain had a State Park with a campground. The highest peak in Alabama has to mean panoramic views and you know me, I like panoramic views. So, that is where we decided to head first.
Having only been to Huntsville, I thought most of Alabama must be the same, covered in wet lands. Good if your passion is fishing, but for us, we like to hike and wet lands are not our first preference. However, as soon as we left I-65 to start our trek east to Cheaha Mountain the terrain instantly changed, going from flat wet lands to forested rolling hills. As we got closer to the Talladega Forest the hills became steeper and the views more stunning.
When we entered the Talladega National Forest, I would finally decide once and for all that I should have bought a diesel engine over the Hemi. Pulling a trailer up a steep grade at only 25 mph, but at 4500 rpm is a little unnerving. Having tested Chrysler powertrains numerous times at these extremes, I remember always saying to myself, I would never drive my personal vehicle this way. But here I was, screaming up these hills (very slowly) saying to myself, “why am I operating my personal vehicle this way?”
Turns out the Cheaha State Park is literally at the very top of Cheaha Mountain. You couldn’t have described a more perfect setting to call home for a few days. A short bike ride or a short hike in any direction from the campground would produce an awesome panoramic view and of course, belly button contemplating moments.
The Cheaha State park was built in the 1930’s as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a program set up as part of the New Deal to provide work for young men of families struggling during the Great Depression while also developing and conserving the nations natural resources for generations to come. Many of the original structures are in use today.
The old fire tower now contains a museum dedicated to the young men of the CCC.
Each night we would run down to the lodge that the CCC built on the west side of the mountain to be treated to some wild sunsets, unique each night.
The Cheaha State Park and the Talladega Forest are full of hiking trails. One I highly recommend is a short’ish hike from the lodge down to Lake Cheaha. The trail is a little tough, but well worth the effort for the workout and the view back up the mountain when you pop out at the lake. In this case the hike up was much easier than the hike down.
We found a couple of shorter day hikes that took us to two waterfalls, the Cheaha Falls and the Devils Den. Unfortunately, Alabama and most of the southern US were experiencing a long and severe drought, consequently, there was absolutely no water flowing at either of the falls. You could tell from the terrain and the erosion characteristics that during a good rain storm these water falls would be spectacular to witness.
The campsite was pretty amazing too. After paying higher prices in Ohio and Kentucky for less, it was a great surprise to get this awesome site with full hook-up (electrical, water and sewer) for only $30 per night.
Next time you plan to zip through Alabama to get to the Gulf, add a day or two to head into the Talladega Forest and visit the Cheaha State Park. You will not regret it.
Please share your experiences with the Talladega Forest below. We would love to find out if we missed anything good.