Cheaha State Park

Date: Friday–Sunday, September 16–18, 2011
Location: Cheaha State Park, Talladega National Forest, Alabama
Trails: Pinhoti, Chinnabee Silent, Bald Rock, Pulpit Rock
Members: Charlie, Dianne, Gary, Larry, Mimi

Observatory Tower at Cheaha State Park The club had planned a car camping/day hike weekend at Cheaha State Park but, as usual, had not gotten much further than that. It turned out that Charlie's friend, Mark, was organizing a Meetup hike along the Pinhoti trail for that Saturday. Mark had joined us for one of the club hikes earlier in the year so we decided to take him up on this one.

The rest of the weekend was spent exploring the attractions of the state park itself, the restaurant in particular.

Cheaha State Park is located in the Talladega National Forest about fifteen miles south of I-20 near Anniston. It is billed as a resort park and features a hotel, meeting facility, cabins, chalets and both developed and semi-primitive campgrounds, the latter having only water, not full hook-ups. Charlie and Dianne stayed at the hotel ("very nice") and the rest of us in semi-primitive land ("not bad at all").

Mimi and I arrived around 1:30 PM on Friday. Not all campsites are created alike and we must have moved four times before we found one that was both level and soft enough for our taste. (For future reference, site P120 is the one everyone would want – big, flat, more sandy than rocky, and with a kill-for view.) The semi-primitive campsites cost $15 per night plus tax, with a discount for those over 62.

We ended up at P112 and Gary at P102. Mark and dog Santi scored level site P124 down closer to the hotel. Cold water rest rooms were available close by but we had to drive a mile or so to the developed campground to use the hot water showers – a real delight, that I should have such water pressure at home.

After setting up, we wandered around the park, scoping it out. One of the chalets was open and it appeared quite enticing with two bedrooms, kitchen, bath, and TV-equipped living room, all housed in an A-frame. Of course, some of us would rather sleep in a tent on the ground, but still ...

We topped off dinner with a substantial campfire, increasingly necessary as the post-sunset temperature began to fall and the wind picked up. We experienced moderately strong winds all night and it was a little chilly but not bad.
Cheaha State Park

Up at early light; camp breakfast. Met up with others at 9 AM for the hike. We drove south on AL 281 to the Turnipseed parking, dropped some cars, and rode to Adam's Gap where we picked up the Pinhoti trail. We climbed the section appropriately called the "Stairway to Heaven" with its steep ascent and rewarding views at the top. From there, we descended to the junction with the Chinnabee Silent trail which we followed back to the cars. The distance came in at something between eight and ten miles. Climbing the stairway was tough but, for some of us, the descent on the Chinnabee Silent was worse.

Mark and Larry at Cheaha State Park Okay, this wasn't the most compatible group of people. The four of us from our club are used to a more leisurely pace with plenty of time for stopping to see things and learning about nature. There is another school of hiking that views it more as an athletic exercise. The idea is to get from point A to B as quickly as possible and the hazards posed by hiking trails such as rocks and low-hanging tree branches are considered as something akin to an obstacle course. The six from the Birmingham Adventure Group were in that league. Needless to say, they finished way ahead of the rest of us and I think we all were a little annoyed with each other. I am not knocking this walk fast style at all but it's not for me; you simply don't get a chance to enjoy all that's around you. I'll take a walk in the woods any day over a run. On the other hand, I don't imagine that Jennifer Pharr Davis who just broke the AT speed record spent much time checking out scenic overlooks and could care less. Whatever works for you.
Gary and Charlie at Cheaha State Park
Showers after the hike. Most dined in the restaurant where the food was good but the service a bit chaotic. Mark told us that's normal. Another roaring campfire and to bed around 9 PM. Not so chilly but more windy all night.

Woke early morning in a cloud but the sun soon took care of that. After breakfast, we drove over to the Bald Rock trail which is a high-end boardwalk (Gary called it a "poster child for the ADA"). About 1500 feet long, it leads out to a platform with a spectacular 180 degree view of the Talladega Forest in the valley below.

Possibly even better was the Pulpit Rock trail, a scant half mile out to an overlook, though with a bit of steepness near the parking area. It was the same valley of course though from a different angle and we could see Lake Cheaha some 1000 feet below. There is a trail down to the lake but no one had much enthusiasm for a mile long trail with that much change in elevation.

One more meal at the restaurant before heading home. Buffet style. Quite decent at $9.95 each, especially considering the captive audience opportunity of cash-strapped Alabama.

There are numerous ways to get to Cheaha from where we live near Double Springs. All require about three hours and put another 150 miles on the tires.
Cheaha Lake from Pulpit Rock
For these and other photos, please see our Picasa Web Album Cheaha 2011.

Submitted 21 September 2011
Text: Larry
Photos: Mimi

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