Alabama's Talladega National Forest

A high point offering a year-round getaway for lovers of southern wildlife, lush forests, and redeye bass.
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A high point offering a year-round getaway for lovers of southern wildlife, lush forests, and redeye bass.

Little Known Fact: The Creek and Cherokee tribes fought a war over the area that is now Talladega National Forest.

After spending the day exploring a section of Alabama's 102-mile Pinhoti National Recreation Trail, I understood why two Native American tribes shed blood over this beautiful land. Creek and Cherokee tribes supposedly fought a war over these mountains ~ the southernmost thrust of the Appalachian chain ~ to establish a territorial border between their two nations.

Located in the 217,000-acre Talladega National Forest between the southern metropolises of Birmingham and Atlanta, the Pinhoti (meaning "turkey home" in the Creek language) Trail stretches from Dugger Mountain on the north to the hospitable community of Friendship on the south. In between lies some of the most beautiful, least-trodden backpacking country in the Southeast.

White turkey tracks painted on trailside trees guide hikers through the entire Pinhoti system. Overall, the hills of the Talladega are more gently rolling than those of the rugged Blue Ridge chain to the north. The hiking is a little easier, but still challenging. The highest point on the trail is Cheaha Mountain, a mere 2,407 feet, located in Cheaha State Park. The mountain is also the geographic center of the Talladega Forest and the highest point in Alabama. But the lack of altitude doesn't mean this place is short on beauty.

The mountains are graced with several small creeks that twist and tumble through the valleys. Stream crossings are particularly common on the section of the Pinhoti north of Cheaha State Park.

The 8 to 10 miles of trail through the state park south into the Cheaha Wilderness Area offers a bird's-eye view of the mountains and is one the most popular sections of the Pinhoti. Off the Pinhoti, the Odum Scout Trail leads to beautiful, ever-flowing High Falls.

Contact Information:

District Ranger

U.S. Forest Service

450 Highway 46

Heflin, AL 36264

(256) 463-2272

Fax: (256) 463-5385

District Ranger

U.S. Forest Service

1001 North St.

Talladega, AL 35160

(256) 362-2909

Fax: (256) 362-0823

Lower Appalachian Mountain Club

Box 2402

Sylacauga, AL 35150

Location:

Talladega is in eastern Alabama, about 50 miles east of Birmingham and 70 miles west of Atlanta, Georgia.

Getting There:

From Birmingham, take I-20 east for about 50 miles to County Road 326 to the district ranger office in Talladega. Or stay on I-20, then take US 431 south through the forest to Talladega Scenic Drive. From Atlanta, take I-20 west for about 80 miles. Take the Heflin exit to the district ranger office there, or remain on I-20 into the forest to Talladega Scenic Drive (Rt. 49). From the north, take US 278 from Gadsden, Alabama, to Piedmont. From the south, take US 280 to Sylacauga.

Seasonal Information:

A trip on the Pinhoti through the Talladega should be planned according to season. Spring arrives early (mid-March) and colorfully. This is the time to keep to the valleys and enjoy the lush new growth. But in autumn, take the ridge trails and absorb the colors.

Although spring and fall are the best times to view flora and summer can be on the hot side, any time of year is good. Subfreezing temperatures occur only on an average of one to four full days each winter. The annual rainfall is 53 inches.

Wildlife:

The forest is also rich in virtually every species of wildlife indigenous to the region, including white-tailed deer, turkeys, squirrels, rabbits, grouse, and bobcats. The pine forests of these hills have been specially managed to provide badly needed nesting areas for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.

The waters are prime habitat for the Coosa redeye bass, a diminutive cousin of the smallmouth. To improve habitat, foresters have built dam-like structures out of small stones in the shallow portions of these creeks. Often referred to as the "brook trout" of warm-water species, redeyes are great sport on light-spinning tackle.

Insects:

Contact park office for information.

Plant Life:

A lush mixture of oak, hickory, redbud, maple, sweet gum, sycamore, dogwood, mountain laurel, and mature pines blankets the landscape.

Muscadines, huckleberries, blueberries, blackberries, wild cherries, wild strawberries, gooseberries, black walnuts, and persimmons keep the wildlife ~ and hikers ~ well fed.

Facilities:

You may camp anywhere along the trail.

There are also two designated campgrounds near the Pinhoti. Eight sites offer water and toilets at $5 per night. A more primitive campground is located at Turnip Seed, off the scenic drive. These free sites offer water and pit toilets.

Parking:

Contact park office for information.

Permits:

You'll need a permit for camping during the hunting season ~ November 15 to January 1.

Policies:

  • No horses, all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles, or mountain bikes are permitted on the Pinhoti Trail.
  • No hunting is allowed from trails or roads, but hunting is allowed during hunting season in the areas traversed by the trail.

Hazards:

  • Bring your own water. Some trail sections are dry for up to 8 miles.
  • The rattlesnake, cottonmouth (moccasin), and copperhead all are poisonous snakes found in Talladega National Forest.
  • Hikers are encouraged to wear hunter orange during hunting season for their safety.

Leave No Trace:

All LNT guidelines apply.

Maps:

Trail maps are available from the Shoal and Talladega District Offices.

USGS maps of Borden Springs, Piedmont, Piedmont SE, Heflin, Choccolocco, Hollis Crossroads, Oxford, Cheaha Mountain, Ironaton, Clairmont Springs, and Talladega SE cover the area.

Other Trip Options:

The Talladega Scenic Byway winds approximately 26 miles along the backbone of the southern end of the Appalachian Mountains. The drive climbs to Cheaha Mountain and Cheaha State Park ~ the highest point in Alabama. In fall, this drive bursts with color as the oak, maple, hickory, and persimmon change color. In spring, the dogwood and redbud are equally beautiful ~ and the crowds are smaller.