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Cheaha State Park Provides Mountaintop Getaway

By DAVID RAINER

Tired of the hustle and bustle of life? Ready to get away from it all?

There’s likely no place in Alabama better for a little peace and solitude than Cheaha State Park this time of year.

Settle in with a good book near the fireplace in one of the 10 stone cabins or rent one of the six chalets for a panoramic view from atop Alabama’s tallest mountain. There are also 30 hotel rooms, Bald Rock Lodge with 12 rooms that accommodate multiple guests, as well as a restaurant with observation deck on the mountain ridge.

“Cheaha is a unique park because it’s the highest point in the state of Alabama,” said David Odom, park manager. “The views and vistas in the park are second to none in the state.

“And, it’s 18 miles to anywhere from here. The nearest store is 18 miles away, except for the store right here in the park. We are secluded.”

One of the first parks acquired by the state, the park’s history starts in 1933. The original buildings in the park were constructed by the workers of the Civilian Conservation Corps and their legacy can still be seen all around the park in the many stone structures – cabins, Bald Rock Lodge and the observation tower and CCC museum. All of the CCC structures have been recently renovated with modern amenities without spoiling the historic charm.

At 2,407 feet above sea level, that feeling of being in the clouds is pervasive for those who enjoy the stunning sunsets and the rise of the moon that seems almost touchable.

“I think what people enjoy most about Cheaha is the relaxed atmosphere of the park,” Odom said. “You’re away from it all, away from the phone, away from the TV.”

Yet, for those with adventurous spirits, there’s plenty to offer, as well.

“We have several short hiking trails in the park,” Odom said. “We have a real pretty half-mile trail that goes out to Pulpit Rock. Then we have Rock Garden Trail. There’s also a trail that goes under Rock Garden and goes down to the lake. That’s a very steep and rocky trail but a very beautiful trail. It’s just not for the weak-kneed or faint of heart.

“We have mountain bike trails in the park with a 6.2-mile trail that’s mostly a real technical single-track, a really pretty trail on the side of the mountain. In July we have a mountain bike race, one of the seven southeastern states points races. The race here ends the season. It’s a 6-mile circuit where they race around the top and side of the mountain.”

One of the most notable additions to the park was dedicated in 2000. The Doug Ghee Accessible Trail, a handicap-accessible boardwalk 1,520 feet long that terminates at Bald Rock, overlooks Anniston and Oxford, as well as Talladega Superspeedway.

“One of the first people who got to go down it was an 80-something-year-old lady from the valley who used to come up here when she was a teen-ager,” Odom said. “They would ride a wagon up the old roads and then walk out to Bald Rock. She had married and moved away. Her three daughters brought her up and she rode her wheelchair out to the overlook, the first time she’d been to Bald Rock since she was a teen-ager.”

Also, the park is located in the middle of the 280,000-acre Talladega National Forest, which offers hunting, hiking, camping. The national forest has 135 miles of hiking trails in the immediate vicinity of the park. The Pinhoti National Recreation Trail is more than 110 miles long with another 18-mile section on the southern end that extends to the Georgia line.

For those who prefer to “rough it,” Cheaha has 73 improved campsites, semi-primitive camping, and primitive camping.

The flora in the 2,799-acre park is currently a mixed pine-hardwood transition forest.

“The transition will be away from pine to hardwood,” Odom said. “The predominant pine on the mountain is a white pine, which is not good for pulp production. The dominant oak up here is the chestnut oak. We have the regular white oak, red oak, pin oak, blackjack oak, all those, too. We have four different types of hickory trees. We have a lot of dogwoods, rhododendrons, mountain laurel. We have a flame azalea that has a unique color, an orange color that grows on the mountain ridge. It’s a wild azalea that usually blooms in late April. People have tried to transplant them, but they won’t grow if you take them down into the valley.

“The dogwoods bloom around Easter and the mountain laurels bloom in May, so we have a spring color season, as well as a fall color season."

The abundance of oaks has produced a bumper crop of acorns this year, which means the park is teeming with white-tailed deer and gray squirrels, just to name a few of the species that can be seen in the park. Birdwatchers can also find plenty of species to view from pileated woodpeckers to wild turkey.

The park’s peak season is during fall colors, which usually starts the second weekend in September and runs all the way to Thanksgiving.

“This time of the year, we get some travelers from up north who have found the park and will come stay with us a couple of days on their way south,” Odom said. “In the spring, those same people will come back by on their way north.

“All our cabins stay very busy until after Christmas. We have one family from Louisiana with relatives in the area that will bring a fully decorated Christmas tree up in a U-Haul and stay in a chalet.”

The high demand for the cabins and chalets requires careful planning for those who want to stay in those facilities.

“Our cabins and chalets are booked almost year-round,” he said. “If they want a cabin or chalet, especially during the fall colors, they need to call three or four months in advance to book a facility.

“We have some guys who stay here while they hunt the national forest. We have some folks who just come here to enjoy the lake and swimming pool in the summer. And, of course, we’ve got people who stay with us every spring and fall race at Talladega and they book for the next race before they leave.”

For more information on Cheaha or any of the other 21 state parks, visit www.alapark.com.

NOTE: David Odom is now retired and Hartley Frederick is currently the Park Manager at Cheaha State Park.

 

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