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Alabama’s Cheaha Wilderness: A Southern Secret

The little-known Cheaha Wilderness Area is the gateway to Alabama's largest trail system.

QUICK TAKE: Cheaha Wilderness Area, AL

DRIVE TIME: Cheaha Wilderness Area is about 100 miles (11/2 hours) east of Birmingham.

THE WAY: From Birmingham, take I-20 east past Anniston. Take US 431 (exit 191) south for 2 miles to AL 281. Follow AL 281 south half a mile past Cheaha State Park, then turn east onto AL 42 and travel 3 miles. Turn left onto Forest Service Road 646. Travel 2 miles to the Lake Chinnabee Recreation Area. Parking is $3 per car per day.

TRAILS: With more than 130 total trail miles in the area, trips of almost any length are possible. Some 102 miles are along the Pinhoti, the longest hiking trail in the state.

ELEVATION: The high point on the route is 2,135 feet near Odum Point, and the low point is near Lake Chinnabee (750 feet).

CAN’T MISS: The Chinnabee Silent Trail offers breathtaking views of Cheaha Creek’s waterfalls.

CROWD CONTROL: April and May are peak hiking months, but you’ll leave the crowd behind once you pass the first vista (and swimming hole) half a mile from the Chinnabee Silent trailhead. From February 1 (end of hunting season) through early spring, you’ll probably have the trail to yourself.

MAPS: Pinhoti Trail Map #4 covers the entire wilderness and then some (see ranger district address below, or pick one up near the trailhead at the Cheaha State Park Country Store on US 281; $4.75).

PIT STOP: Drive into nearby Anniston for good pizza at Mata’s on Quintard Avenue.

WALK SOFTLY: October 15 to January 31 is hunting season. Wear brightly colored clothing.

MORE INFORMATION: Talladega Ranger District, USFS, 1001 North St., Talladega, AL 35160; (256) 362-2909. From November 15 to January 31, a hiking permit is required; free by mail from the district office, or pick one up before your hike (ranger station is closed on weekends). Also, Alabama Trails Association, (205) 221-6196, or wild-flower@mindspring.com.

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