Cheaha State Park

Date: Friday–Sunday, October 12–14, 2012
Location: Cheaha State Park, Talladega National Forest, Alabama
Trails: Cave Creek (partially), Skyway Loop
Members: Charlie, Larry, Mimi
Guests: Kirk

Considering the weather forecast for a near perfect fall weekend when I telephoned on Thursday, it came as no surprise to find out that all the advertised reservable lodging and improved campsites at Cheaha State Park were fully booked.

The park website indicated that the 25 semi-primitive tent sites (water only, no electricity) were only available on a first-come, first-served basis. But on a lark, I inquired whether even these could be reserved and was told "yes, we just haven't updated our website yet." I will try to resist further comment about how government spends my tax dollars. So Mimi and I at least had someplace to go after what is a three hour drive. We advised the other probable attendees as best we could.

Reserved or not, by the time we arrived on Friday around 12:45, only three sites were unoccupied. The semi-primitive/picnic area is not the levelest of places and rocks compete rather successfully with the softer grass as ground cover. Those three remaining sites were the least desirable. We chose the one with the fewest rocks and more moderate slope, that being P122. We survived, but our opinion of this section of the campground slid downhill along with our sleeping bags all night.

P122 in morning fog

In spite of an expected overnight onslaught, we set up our wind magnet "circus tent", the 10 x 14 foot you-can-stand-up-in-it one. The wind was courteous enough to wait until the evening and overnight hours (when it made up for lost time).

Mimi at Cheaha Trailhead We still had time for a two hour stroll. We backtracked along the Scenic Highway to the Cheaha trailhead, less than half a mile from the park. At the start of the trails, there is this delightful stone and metal arch with imprinted leaves from the major trees of the forest plus an assortment of footprints certainly worth a photo.

Since we were not really intending any serious hiking and without proper footgear or anything else, we gingerly hiked about a mile of the Cave Creek Trail. A few Wood Thrushes and other birds justified carrying the binoculars. On the return, we opted to connect with the Pinhoti for a very brief stint which avoided a little bit of the highway hiking. Cave Creek seemed to be a reasonably easy ramble through the woods and we would hope to explore the whole trail at some future date.

For dining, Cheaha sports a perfectly decent restaurant, open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The food is better than fast food quality and not overpriced. We chose to cook our own meals at the campsite on Friday night and for Saturday's breakfast. After that, we took the easy route.

Charlie showed up at dusk on Friday and set up his considerably smaller (though not less expensive) tent with us on the same site. He incurred a small "extra tent" fee but we had plenty of space. We welcomed his First-Up canopy and two nights of firewood.

Kirk met us at the camp store at 9 AM on Saturday for the day hike. After changing our minds several times, we decided on the Skyway Loop trail which, while not a loop in itself, is part of a 17 mile loop which includes the Stairway to Heaven section we hiked last year. Our intent was to hike in a counter-clockwise direction from the Lake Chinnabee Recreation Area to the Adams Gap trailhead, about 6.5 miles of switchbacks and ups and downs.

After leaving a vehicle at Adams Gap, we drove the ten or so miles to the rec area and paid our $3 day use fee (for which you get a rest room). The lake was gorgeous with its reflections of Alabama's early autumn mix of red, yellow, orange, and brown foliage, highlighted by plenty of the surrounding greenery.

Charlie, Larry, Kirk

We checked out the $8 a night campground which appeared quite satisfactory; of course at this point, anything with less than a 10% grade looked good.

Skyway Loop stream Though not indicated very well on the signage, the Skyway Loop is accessed via the Chinnabee Silent Trail, the junction occurring after about a quarter mile. The Skyway has white AT-like blazes though hardly in abundance. At stream crossings and occasionally elsewhere, the blazes can be either red and/or blue. Once in a while, we would lose the usually discernible path and have to look around. Almost always that meant we had a stream to cross. All such crossings had sufficient stepping stones so that no one soaked their socks.

We spent the day hiking up and down through pine/oak forest and next to some really pretty streams. Some of the forest had been burned some years back in response to the Southern Pine Bark Beetle infestation. These more open areas, still with some charred remnants, were quite visually appealing now that they have started to recover.

The hiking came in as "moderate" in my book, the uphill grades maybe a little too much to call it "easy". We took our time and arrived at Adams Gap in the late afternoon, finishing the last quarter mile formally on the Pinhoti. Back at Cheaha, after a dinner of house specialty Bald Rock Cheese Burgers, we drove over to the RV campground for hot showers.

Rain overnight, probably not as bad as the wind tried to make of it, made sure we would have a wet tent to pack up and take home to wait for a sunny day the usual situation in other words. The sun came out just as we loaded the soggy tent into the car. I wish I could figure out a way to make money off constantly recurring coincidences such as this.
View from Skyway Loop
In conclusion and this is my opinion of course, I think Cheaha is a great place for hiking but I am obviously less enamored of the tent camping facility. The restaurant is a real convenience, especially when the alternative is to try to cook outdoors in 20 mph wind. The scenery is excellent. We will probably be in this area again but may consider other places to camp such as the Lake Chinnabee Rec Area or even the state park's Turnipseed Hunters' Camp which is a bit spartan but at least horizontal.

For these and other photos, please see our Picasa Web Album Cheaha 2012.

Submitted 16 October 2012
Text: Larry
Photos: Mimi, Charlie, Larry

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