5 Ways to Beat the Cold on Winter Hikes

Please note: due to local and state guidelines surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic, some information below may not be accurate. Before you travel and plan your next adventure, make sure to check each business/park/campsite for any closures or guidelines and for the most up to date information. Enjoy your next winter hike in Alabama this season!


When winter arrives hiking and backpacking just get better. On high mountain trails, the bare trees allow you to see for miles, and the cold, clear air creates perfect conditions for brilliant sunsets. Plus, you don’t have to suffer the heat and mosquitoes that descend on trails in summer.

Still, some people avoid trails in winter because they think cold temperatures will make them uncomfortable. But, if you take certain steps and follow the advice of seasoned hikers, you can beat the cold and remain warm, content and safe during cold weather.

As you contemplate a winter outing, consider the following five tips offered by veteran hikers.

1. Layer Your Clothing

The key to staying comfortable on the trail in winter is to regulate your body temperature so that you’re never too cold nor too hot for long periods of time. To do this, you should dress in layers and add or remove clothing as you begin to cool down or warm up.

During winter, your layering system should include a thin top and bottom (long underwear) to wear as your base layer; a shirt and pants made of lightweight or midweight material to wear over your your base layer; an insulated jacket; and a waterproof shell jacket. (You can also use an insulated jacket that’s also waterproof.) If there’s a chance you’ll encounter rain, pack waterproof pants as well.

Because we lose much of our heat from our extremities, it’s also important to pack a warm hat, gloves and warm socks. (On an especially cold night, you can put these on to warm up quickly.)

When you pack for a hike or backpacking trip, be sure that your shell jacket is easily accessible. If you stop for a long break, you can throw on your shell to block wind and retain some body heat. If you do get sweaty as you’re hiking, change into dry clothes when you get to your campsite, because this will help prevent your core body temperature from dropping.

2. Wear Synthetic or Wool Clothing

During winter hikes, wear synthetic or wool clothing, rather than cotton. Marcus Woolf


You should always avoid wearing cotton and opt for clothing that includes synthetic fabrics or wool. When cotton clothing gets wet, it retains moisture, sucks heat away from your body, and takes forever to dry.

Synthetic fabrics will dry quickest, and in cold weather they won’t steal your warmth as much as cotton would. In recent years, wool clothing has become more popular for cool and cold conditions because modern merino wool is much softer and more comfortable than wool of the past. Also, wool is a great insulator and will continue to help keep you warm if it gets wet.

To keep your feet warm and to prevent blisters, use merino wool socks or synthetic socks because they’ll pull moisture away from your feet, whereas cotton socks just get soaked.

3. Stay Hydrated

It’s harder to stay hydrated in the winter.


It might not seem obvious, but you need to take in adequate fluids to stay warm in cold weather. If you get dehydrated, it’s possible that your core temperature could drop, and you could be more susceptible to hypothermia. Also, dehydration can cause you to get disoriented, dizzy and lethargic. When this happens, you’re more likely to make bad decisions or get lost while navigating in the backcountry.

Many people associate dehydration with hot weather, but you can easily become dehydrated in cold temperatures. This is partly because people tend to drink less frequently when they hike in winter. According to experts, cold weather can cause a person’s thirst response to drop as much as 40 percent.

Also, if the humidity is low enough, the fluids you lose will evaporate rather than sit on your skin, and you won’t realize you’re sweating. When people don’t recognize that they’re sweating, they don’t drink as much.

To help you stay hydrated, it’s a good idea to use a hydration bladder with a drinking tube, such as a CamelBak system. Because this type of product allows you to drink while on the move, it will cause you to drink more often than you would if you used a water bottle.

4. Be Prepared to Make Hot Drinks

Even if you’re not camping overnight, it’s a good idea to take a stove or other fuel source on long day hikes so you can prepare hot chocolate or other warm drinks. If you or someone you’re hiking with gets too cold, you can quickly raise the person’s core temperature with a hot drink, especially one that delivers lots of calories. To help a hiking partner warm up even more quickly, you can tuck the person into a sleeping bag.

5. Sleep Smart

While it’s tempting to sleep out under the stars, it’s wise to sleep in a tent in winter. Kelicia Samuelson


If you’re camping overnight, carefully consider you’re sleeping gear to ensure that you stay warm at night. While it’s tempting to sleep out under the stars, it’s wise to sleep in a tent in winter because it will protect you from the wind and unexpected rain or snow showers. Plus, the tent will trap some of your body heat.

When you choose a sleeping bag, ensure that its temperature rating suits the conditions you’ll face. If you tend to sleep cold, choose a bag with a rating that’s a bit higher than the temperatures you’ll encounter. Or, buy a sleeping bag liner to slip inside your bag and increase its temperature rating.

If you’re feeling especially cold, you can sleep wearing a hat. For additional warmth, you can put on extra clothing, such as long underwear, socks and gloves.

Before you hit the sack, you can also drink a hot beverage to warm your core. Just be aware that it might cause extra trips to answer the call of nature. Another trick to stay warm is to fill a water bottle with hot water and stash it near your feet in your sleeping bag.


Find the best winter hike gear at Alabama Outdoors. We want everyone to enjoy the outdoors, and we work to build loyalty one connection at a time. Visit one of our stores or take advantage of our shipping or curbside pickup! #BeOutdoors

Written by Marcus Woolf for RootsRated in partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield of AL and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

4 Alabama State Parks you won’t want to miss this winter



  1. Monte Sano State Park

    A small and accessible park, Monte Sano State Park is a great winter getaway. Be it a secluded weekend or a day trip, there are plenty of hiking and biking trails. Try the South Plateau Loop as well for a scenic overlook on the south side of the park. Check conditions before hiking though, and avoid using muddy trails in the winter. Relax in the North Alabama Japanese Garden or try something new and check out the Disc Golf Course!



  2. Lake Guntersville State Park

    While a frigid day on the lake may not sound ideal, there’s plenty more to do at Lake Guntersville State Park. From superb fishing to 36 miles of hiking and biking trails, you can see everything the park has to offer. The real fun this winter is their Eagle Awareness Event. This series of 3-day long events run every weekend from January 21 to February 13th. The guided eagle safari field trips show you local eagles in their natural habitat. And the indoor educational programs include live eagles and raptors up-close. So take advantage of the season and don’t miss this spectacular event!


  3. Cheaha State Park

    The state’s highest peak isn’t just a great day trip, it’s the perfect spot for a winter weekend getaway. From cabins, chalets, and resort rooms to the incredible views in the primitive campsites, there are plenty of ways to enjoy this scenic wonderland. Soak in the views from hiking trails like the Bald Rock Outlook or swing by Laurel Falls. Bring the whole family, including the dog, and enjoy some fresh air at the Bosarge Memorial Dog Park!


  4. Oak Mountain State Park

    Recently expanded, Oak Mountain State Park is the perfect spot for winter hikes. From the Green Trail that takes you by Peavine Falls to Maggies Glen, there are serene and spectacular views everywhere. But Oak Mountain is more than trails. With expansive fishing spots, a Treetop Interpretive Nature Trail, the educational Oak Mountain Interpretive Learning Center, and a world-class BMX course, you’ll want to stay for a while. Don’t miss out on special events like bird-watching, a polar plunge, or a scenic 5K this winter!


Wanting to get out and explore? Find what you need for your next winter adventure hereWe want everyone to enjoy the outdoors, and we work to build loyalty one connection at a time. Visit one of our stores or take advantage of our shipping or curbside pickup! #BeOutdoors

How to Layer Clothing (and Why You Should)

Woman zips rain jacket on Norweigan mountaintop.

If you’re working, exploring or playing outside, your clothing is arguably your most important equipment. If you layer your clothing correctly, it can keep you warm (or cool) and dry. Layering divides up your clothing so that you can add or remove as much as the weather calls for without your clothes getting too bulky or leaving you too exposed. Here’s our guide on how to layer!

Illustration explaining clothing laters.


Base Layer


This is your first layer of clothing, the items you wear directly against your skin. The base layer for cold weather conditions is typically tight against the skin. That way, it reflects more heat back to the body. Base layers for warm weather should be looser so that air can flow between the garment and your body, helping you cool down. Think thermal/long underwear, t-shirts, socks and gloves. What you’re looking for is something that will add a little warmth but also wick moisture away and dry quickly. You Couple hikes in rain gear.may feel fine when you’re doing some sort of exercise, but once you start cooling down, any moisture held against your skin is going to make you that much colder. Look for items made from polyester or Merino wool. We love Icebreaker’s iconic line of Merino wool base layers, including shirts, technical tops, and leggings.

Mid Layer


This next layer is generally responsible for insulation. It traps air warmed by your body when it escapes from the base layer. More than one mid layer can be worn at a time, depending on how cold you are. The mid layer should also be moisture-wicking and quick-drying. You don’t want moisture to get trapped between the base and mid layers. That’ll just weigh you down and feel uncomfortable. Ideally, you want a garment that isn’t too heavy or bulky, too, since you’ll have to carry it if you don’t wear it. Look for items made from polyester fleece or stuffed with either a down or synthetic fill.


Outer Layer (Shell)Hiker sits, writing, on mountaintop.

This layer goes on top of everything else and is responsible for keeping wind, rain and snow off of you. Because they are made to repel moisture and block winds, shell layers are typically not very breathable. That means that they’ll reduce the effectiveness of any wicking properties of other clothes you have on. Shells are divided into three different styles: hard, soft and insulated. One material that is particularly favored in this area is GORE-TEX. It tends to be one of the more breathable materials that still stops moisture and wind from reaching the body. Arc’teryx offers some GORE-TEX shells.


Using a combination of these three layers of clothing will allow you to prepare for both expected and unexpected weather without leaving you wishing you’d brought along that one thing you left behind.


Text by Bo King


Wanting to get out and explore? Find what you need for your next winter adventure here.

Winter camping is a great way to see more nature and fewer people

Winter camping is a great way to see more nature and fewer people

The trails are devoid of human life, animals wander freely through the woods, and snow falls soundlessly on the treetops—it’s wintertime in the great outdoors. But despite the sparkling vistas, uncrowded trails, and the beauty nature offers to hikers in this time of the year, many never experience the wonder that the fourth season offers because of one tiny detail: the cold.

What most people don’t know is that a little know-how, the right equipment, and simply wearing multiple layers can help with the challenges of camping in the winter. With some planning, you’ll easily stave off frostbite, sleepless nights, and never-ending shivers, all while enjoying beautiful natural sights.

Don’t fear the cold

“Winter is one of the best times to be outdoors,” says Tayson Whittaker, winter camping enthusiast, and founder of outdoor gear and clothing company Outdoor Vitals. He cites seclusion, wildlife activity, and the peace and quiet of a landscape covered in snow as some of the reasons you’re just as likely to find him setting up camp in the snow as next to a field of spring flowers.

To him, it’s easy to explain why more people aren’t outside, experiencing the magic of seeing a herd of elk feeding amid freshly fallen snow: “It’s plain and simple fear—fear of being cold, of doing something they haven’t, of the unknown, of the hypotheticals,” Whittaker says.

But to be fair, there are plenty of hypotheticals regarding cold that would deter someone from camping in the middle of winter: frostbitten extremities, feet that won’t thaw, a chill that never abates, nights spent awake and shivering in a frosty tent, wet gear, and worst of all, hypothermia. Whittaker has personally suffered through most of these situations, but he says preparation can make it easy for anybody to avoid them.

Choose the right gear

A sturdy tent is important if you don't want to wake up buried in snow.
Popular Science

While warm temperatures rarely require hefty sleeping bags or insulated sleeping pads, winter temps demand you be familiar with your gear and what it can handle. But fear not—this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to spend a lot of money on new equipment. “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Whittaker says. “A lot of times, you can take the gear you have and stretch it to work in that forth season.”

Start with a warm enough sleeping bag for the temperatures you anticipate. (Keep in mind men’s and women’s bags are rated differently, since women tend to sleep colder.) If you don’t think your current bag will do, you still might not have to shell out several hundred dollars for a new one—you can often spend less than $50 on a sleeping bag liner or a backpacking quilt and layer the bags.

But that’s just half the battle. A sleeping pad designed for winter is what separates you from the frozen ground, so it’s also of the utmost importance. Choose an insulated variety with an R-value (an insulation rating used from everything to sleeping pads to the fiberglass you stuff in your walls) of at least four, or simply stack an inflatable pad on top of a closed-cell foam pad for extra insulation from below.

Next, mind your tent: “Make sure you have a shelter that can handle a bit of a snow load,” Whittaker says, warning that if it can’t, the entire structure could cave. Four-season tents are designed to handle harsh winter conditions and the extra weight of snow, but they are expensive and less commonly stocked at your local outdoor retailer. A three-season shelter will do the job, too, as long as it’s freestanding. But Whittaker recommends avoiding single-wall tents or semi-freestanding tents that don’t have sturdy frames, since they are more likely to bow and collapse under a few inches of build-up.

As for boots, opt for an insulated pair. If they have removable linings, keep them in your sleeping bag at night so you don’t have to put your feet in cold boots in the morning. You can also keep your boots in a zip-top bag inside your sleeping bag to prevent them from freezing in extra cold temperatures.

Keep everything dry

No matter how big the fire, forget about your wet clothes until you go back to civilization.
Popular Science

Wet gear is often the first sign that trouble is on the horizon. That’s because if your jacket, sleeping bag, or boots get wet in the winter, they won’t dry out as quickly as they would in warmer weather. In fact, if temperatures are below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, they’ll freeze before they dry.

That’s why keeping everything as dry as possible is crucial. And that goes for clothing and gear alike. These are the maxims you need to abide by:

  • Keep tents, clothing and sleeping bags in waterproof stuff-sacks inside your backpack.
  • Don waterproof gloves and keep a spare pair handy in case they get soggy.
  • Wear waterproof boots and gaiters to keep the snow from soaking your socks and always carry several extra pairs.
  • Be particularly careful with the clothes you sleep in. A warm base layer and a dry pair of socks are vital when it’s time to turn in for the night. Don’t even try sleeping in the same damp clothes you hiked in—you’ll be in for a long, miserable night.

Layer it up

“Have a layering strategy,” Whittaker says about clothing. Don’t just throw on a long-sleeve shirt and a jacket—you’ll have no wiggle room if you get too cold or too warm. Instead, start with a warm synthetic base layer, add a mid-layer such as a fleece, wool shirt, or mid-weight jacket, then top it all off with a waterproof layer. Make sure you remove layers when you start to sweat and add them back on when you begin to cool down.

But whatever you do, avoid cotton. Once the material gets wet, it doesn’t dry easily, which means that unless you want to suffer from hypothermia, you won’t be able to wear it again.

Whittaker also suggests ditching some of your down when you’re winter camping—if it gets wet, it loses its insulating power. Instead, opt for synthetic insulation in jackets and other clothing layers. Whittaker does make a case for down socks which, according to him, are the only down garment he wears in the winter. He recommends them for use inside your tent and to keep your feet warm overnight.

As for your hands, treat them like you do the rest of your body, and dress them with layers. Start with a snug synthetic base layer such fleece or nylon, which will wick moisture, provide warmth, and allow dexterity when it’s time to light your stove or set up your tent. Then layer with a waterproof glove or mitten, adding one additional layer in between for extra warmth if you feel you need it.

For your feet, start with a synthetic layer, then a thick pair of wool or synthetic socks. Make sure your boots are big enough to accommodate these layers (one size larger than what you would normally wear should do) or circulation may be restricted, which will not only be uncomfortable, but will keep you feeling cold.

Tips for winter camping

Sleeping with your phone is not always the best idea, but consider winter camping the one exception.
Popular Science

One of the upsides to camping in the snow is that you won’t have to bring as much water as you would in warmer weather. You can use clean, fallen snow and melt it in a pot over the fire until it comes to a boil—this will kill viruses and bacteria and make it safe for drinking or cooking.

Speaking of snow, stomp down on and compress the snow where you plan to place your tent so you start with a flat surface and don’t sink throughout the night. Don’t forget the area around your vestibule, either—it’ll give you a place to stash your bag and climb out of your tent without tumbling into deep snow.

If you’re worried about fingers and toes getting too cold, bring along single-use hand- and foot-warmers, or fill a water bottle with hot water before bed. Place it in your sleeping bag to help warm you up at night, but make sure the lid is on tight so you avoid getting burned or soaking your gear.

But you’re not the only one who has to keep warm: make sure your batteries, GPS, cell phone, and other devices don’t freeze, since they won’t hold a charge if they’re cold. During the day, keep them near your body in an interior jacket pocket, and store them in your sleeping bag at night. Most bags even have a special zipper pocket near your chest for this purpose.

Get out there

Don’t let winter weather keep you indoors. Instead, protect your stuff from the damp, choose gear wisely, layer up, and don’t let the thermometer readings frighten you out of enjoying the season.

“If you can backpack in the other seasons, you can backpack in the winter,” Whittaker encourages. “It’s not as scary as you think.”


Written by Alisha McDarris for Popular Science and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Wanting to get out and explore? Find what you need for your next winter adventure hereWe want everyone to enjoy the outdoors, and we work to build loyalty one connection at a time. Visit one of our stores or take advantage of our shipping or curbside pickup! #BeOutdoorsrs

Featured image provided by Popular Science

10 Great Hikes Near the Alabama Gulf Coast

20180524-Alabama-Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge

There is a wonderland of nature at the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge.


If your plans for the summer or fall include a trip to the Alabama Gulf Coast, you’re no doubt looking forward to long days on the beach sunning and swimming in the surf. But, during your stay you might want to experience something a little different—a change of pace. How about taking a hike?

There are some amazing hikes out there only a short drive from Alabama’s sandy shores, all within an hour’s drive or less. Here are some of the best you should check out.

1. Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge

Only 10 miles west of the Gulf Shores Public Beach on Alabama Highway 180 there’s a wonderland of nature, the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. More than 6 miles of trails lead you through maritime forests teeming with birds and wetlands filled with brilliant wildflowers. When you hike through the refuge, be sure to walk the banks of Little Lagoon Lake and Gator Lake, where the water reflects the brilliant blue sky. Then, stroll along the sugary white sand of the Gulf beaches, where you’ll encounter dozens of species of sea birds, and it’s possible to observe endangered animal species like the loggerhead sea turtle.

2. Perdido River Trail

How about a day, or two, or more, on the Alabama Gulf Coast’s first backpacking trail? The Perdido River Trail parallels its namesake blackwater river for 20 miles as it meanders through beautiful, dark Atlantic white-cedar swamps. Occasionally, the trail visits white sandbars where you can enjoy lunch and swim in the cool water. Several trailheads along the route make it possible to do shorter day hikes of a few hours, or you can break the trip up into several different overnight backpacking treks. Trail shelters dot the trail and are available on a first-come, first-served basis, or you can camp on the sandbars at the shelter locations.

3. Betty and Crawford Rainwater Perdido River Preserve

Just south of the Perdido River Trail, on the Florida side of the river, you’ll find an impressive preserve managed by the Nature Conservancy. The Betty and Crawford Rainwater Perdido River Preserve includes footpaths and boardwalks that guide you through an incredible landscape with towering longleaf pines, rare panhandle lilies, sawgrass flats, and the amazing Black Lake, which is so still that it reflects a mirror image of the sky and the foliage that lines its banks.

4. Trout Point Nature Trail

Located on Naval Air Station Pensacola, the Trout Point Nature Trail is a 1.5-mile boardwalk with panoramic views of Big Lagoon and the fragile Gulf dune ecosystem. The path loops around white sand dunes that are so brilliant on cloudless summer days that you’ll need to wear sunglasses as you walk among them. As you meander through the dunes you’ll see wild rosemary, scrub oak, and a needlerush marsh with its deep root system that helps protect the shoreline from erosion. When you visit Naval Air Station Pensacola, go to the main gate, show your ID, and let them know you’re there to hike Trout Point.

5. Fort Pickens/Florida Trail

On this section of the Florida Trail at historic Fort Pickens, you’ll explore an interesting piece of the past and enjoy plenty of beautiful Gulf Coast scenery. The fort is the largest of four strongholds built to defend Pensacola from foreign (and later Yankee) invaders. Its history begins just after the War of 1812 and culminates with its service during World War II.

You can walk a long way on the Florida Trail, but here, along the western end of Gulf Islands National Seashore, you can do a nice 2.2-mile, out-and-back stretch from WWII’s Battery Worth to the fort itself. During the walk you’ll take a sandy footpath through wetlands, pass peaceful bayous, and make a little side trip to the banks of Pensacola Bay.

6. Naval Live Oaks

Another great historical hike along the Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida can be found at Naval Live Oaks. This 1,300-acre preserve was the site of the first national tree farm back in 1828 when the U.S. Navy needed the wood for its fleet.

You can combine several paths in the preserve for a 6-mile hike that includes the Old Borrow Pit Trail, the Beaver Pond Trail, and the Andrew Jackson Trail, where the famous general marched his troops during the War of 1812.

7. Big Lagoon State Park

As you hike Big Lagoon State Park’s 5 miles of trails you’ll traverse a wetland lined with wildflowers, visit the banks of Long Pond and Grand Lagoon, and pass through a forest of short sand pine, needlerush, and the gnarled trunks of sand live oaks. The journey brings you to the four-story Big Lagoon Observation Tower where you get a panoramic view of the park, the lagoon, and the Gulf. There is also a nice beach here where you can swim and cool off on those hot Gulf Coast summer days.

8. Garcon Point

Garcon Point sits on the tip of a peninsula that demarcates the waters of Blackwater Bay and East Bay just east of Pensacola. The highlight of the 1.7-mile loop hike is the diverse foliage, which includes longleaf pines, oak hammocks and prairie grasses that wave in the breeze. Keep your eyes peeled for rare carnivorous pitcher plants and sundews that bloom in and around small bogs.

9. Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park

Just across the border of Alabama and Florida is Tarkiln Bayou State Park, a 4,000-acre wet prairie habitat with more than 100 species of rare or endangered plants and animals. Along the park’s 7 miles of trails, you not only walk through wet prairies, but also cypress forest, pine seepage and pitcher plant bogs.

10. University of West Florida Dunes Preserve

If you just can’t get enough of the Gulf’s beaches, head to the UWA Dunes Preserve for a 3.4-mile (one-way) hike along the protective dunes. Once again, the trail is part of the Florida Trail and is located only 13 miles east of Fort Pickens, offering a nice walk along the beach and the perfect opportunity to end your day with a gorgeous sunset.


Need to upgrade your summer adventure gear? We can help! Alabama Outdoors wants everyone to enjoy the outdoors, and we work to build loyalty one connection at a time. Visit one of our stores or take advantage of our shipping or curbside pickup! #BeOutdoors


Written by Joe Cuhaj for RootsRated in partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield of AL and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Alan Cressler

Why Winter is Best for a Trip to the Sipsey Wilderness


This rich ecosystem draws plenty of visitors during Alabama’s peak hiking and camping seasons.

Please note: due to local and state guidelines surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic, some information below may not be accurate. Before you travel and plan your next adventure, make sure to check each business/park/campsite for any closures or guidelines and for the most up to date information. Enjoy your winter adventure to the Sipsey Wilderness!


Alabama’s Sipsey Wilderness stands out in the Deep South as an anomaly of natural beauty and conservation. Hiking past hundred-foot rock faces, river canyons, hemlocks and countless waterfalls, you may think you are deep in Appalachia rather than northwest Alabama.

A little backstory on the Sipsey Wilderness: in 1975 it became the first designated wilderness area east of the Mississippi River. It now consists of roughly 25,000 acres within the larger Bankhead National Forest. The Sipsey River and several tributaries run throughout the diverse terrain, ranging from thick, brushy forest to river canyons to rocky ridgelines to hardwood swamp bottoms. Massive lime and sandstone rock formations—and the dozens of resulting waterfalls—are defining features of the Sipsey Wilderness.

This rich ecosystem draws plenty of visitors during Alabama’s peak hiking and camping seasons. But the environment of the Sipsey and its special combination of natural features also makes it a great destination for colder months. If you’ve only visited the ‘Sip in spring, summer or fall, here are several reasons you should consider visiting in winter.


You’ll Avoid Hot, Sweaty Conditions


Even if it is freezing cold, hiking and camping are much more enjoyable when you’re not sweating buckets from the very first step. Paul Gandy


As uncharacteristic as it may feel, the Sipsey is still in the heart of the South, and the humidity in late spring and summer often make it feel especially hot. But, by the time the leaves begin to turn, the humidity has usually dissipated and the temps stay cooler. Winter in northwest Alabama can be quite frigid at times; I have personally frozen my butt off by underestimating it before.

Even if it is freezing cold, hiking is much more enjoyable when you’re not sweating buckets from the very first step.

The other benefit of cooler temps is that you can fully take advantage of a campfire at night. In hot, humid months after a day of sweaty hiking, the thought of a campfire isn’t exactly comforting. But, in the winter a campfire is a source of rejuvenation, a makeshift community center of eating, laughing, and unwinding, not to mention warmth.


Fewer Nuisances


In the winter a campfire is a source of rejuvenation. Paul Gandy


In the Sipsey Wilderness, the only threats as far as wildlife are snakes, ticks, and mosquitoes. While mosquitoes are more of a nuisance than anything, they can certainly compromise your sanity on a long, summer hike. Of course, as the hot temps disappear with the onset of fall, the “skeeters” follow suit.

The activity from ticks also dissipates in the colder months, although they can be found year round. You should check yourself during and after any outing in the Sipsey, but at least in the winter, the little bloodsuckers should be scarce.

Snakes pose the most significant health threat to humans of any wildlife in the area, with three venomous species native to North Alabama: the copperhead, timber rattler and the water moccasin (aka the cottonmouth). During the warm months, constant vigilance for these snakes is paramount. However, they stay inactive during the winter months, so count snakes as something else you don’t have to worry about much in the winter.


Unobstructed Views

In the winter, visibility increases exponentially, and the forest takes on an entirely different aesthetic. Paul Gandy


While they mostly affect the aesthetics of the wilderness, the leaves from trees (or a lack of them) can have a big effect on your Sipsey experience.

During the fall months, the Sipsey Wilderness brightens with every hue of yellow, red and purple, as the leaves of the deciduous trees and shrubs turn. But once they fall, visibility increases exponentially, and the forest takes on an entirely different aesthetic.

Because you can see farther in the woods, you can better appreciate the natural wonders the Sipsey has to offer. For instance, hiking south on trail 206 in the leafless hardwood bottom, you can see the towering rock formations like Ship Rock and the Eye of the Needle in the distance.

In the winter, the bare trees also allow good views of the many beautiful waterfalls in the wilderness, including favorites like Fall Creek Falls and Feather Creek Falls. Typically, waterfalls in the Sipsey are more impressive after a good rain, and the wilderness still receives enough occasional rainfall in winter to make the falls really crank.

Much of the Sipsey Wilderness was once logged, so it’s largely comprised of second-growth forest. However, there are some stands of old-growth timber in certain areas, including Buck Rough Canyon and the banks of the Sipsey River. These are rare havens for such trees, with untouched tulip poplars, beech, hickory, oak and even hemlocks growing to spectacular heights. With most of the leaves on the ground, it’s easy to make out where these old-growth stands start and end by obvious differences in tree height, circumference and breadth.


The visibility in the winter also helps with navigation on the trail. Paul Gandy


Many hikers come specifically to check out a large and renowned tulip poplar, known simply as “the Big Tree.” The regional icon stands more than 150 feet tall with a circumference that exceeds 26 feet. The Big Tree paired with the nearby 90-foot East Bee Branch Falls makes a great destination for an out-and-back hike.

The visibility in the winter also helps with navigation on the trail. As is the case with many Wilderness areas, the trails in the Sipsey have minimal signs and markers, putting a premium on being able to recognize landmarks.

Due to the tricky navigation, it’s a good idea to do your homework before a trip and compile maps and trail descriptions. As you begin planning a winter trek, be sure to check out the Sipsey Wilderness Hiking Club website for details on trails.


Wanting to get out and explore? Find what you need for your next winter adventure hereWe want everyone to enjoy the outdoors, and we work to build loyalty one connection at a time. Visit one of our stores or take advantage of our shipping or curbside pickup! #BeOutdoors

Written by Thomas Lambert for RootsRated in partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield of AL and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Chuck Clark

Definitive Guide to Cheaha: Part 1

By Cameron Sullivan

(Cameron Sullivan is a member of Alabama Outdoors’ eCommerce team and enjoys contributing his creative writing talents to our blog. He is also an avid trail runner and outdoor enthusiast.)

Trekking to a state’s highest peak often sounds like an arduous trip. In many states, that peak can soar from 6,684 ft. at Mount Mitchell in North Carolina to 14,417 ft. at Mount Rainier in Washington or 20,310 ft. at Mount Denali in Alaska. The peaks in many states are coveted destinations that take planning and skill to reach the top. The peak of Alabama, at Cheaha Mountain, is no different. 

At 2,413 ft. high, Cheaha Mountain, nestled in the heart of Talladega National Forest, ranks 35th out of the 50 highest peaks in the United States. It is often called “the Island in the Sky” due to the dense fog that often forms in the region. It is wedged in northeast Alabama towering over the southern tip of Cleburne County. From the peak, you actually can’t see much due to the blunt tip of the mountain and the forest that surrounds it, but from the iconic Bald Rock, you can stare across one of the most incredible views in Alabama and get a glimpse of the state from a literal birds-eye view. 

Cheaha State Park is truly a gem, just isolated enough for a quiet getaway, and accessible enough for a weekend with friends and family. And that’s where my journey begins, traveling to Cheaha with a group of four friends, as part of an ad-hoc bachelor party for my 1st anniversary of my wife and mine’s elopement after delaying our original wedding due to Covid. Hardly roughing it, we promised ourselves we’d hike the toughest trails and spend more time outside than indoors to make up for it.  

So what does it take to get the most out of your trip to the top?

Where to camp + what to bring

For some, a journey to Cheaha State Park could be a layover from thru-hiking the legendary Pinhoti Trail. For others, it could be a day trip or a weekend escape. No matter what trail you take there, you’ll want to stick around for a bit. Some of the biggest sites like Bald Rock, Pulpit Rock, the Observation Tower, and Cheaha Lake are worth a day’s adventure. Either way, you want to make sure you have the appropriate gear for where and how long you plan to stay.

Cheaha State Park offers various improved and primitive campsites, most with water and bathhouse facilities, or you can even rent a cabin. 

Improved and primitive campsites:

The primitive campsites are close to the front and can be driven to easily. Picnic tables, fire pits, and water spigots were abundant and the spots were well-groomed and maintained. Despite the heat, the primitive spots sported robust tree coverage and shrubbery which kept the spots private. Some even featured incredible views over the side of the mountain.

The rentals at Cheaha State Park include: 

  • Rock cabins 
  • Rooms at the hotel
  • A-framed, fully renovated Chalets 

On our trip, we stayed in a two-bedroom chalet with 5 people, and fit comfortably. The chalet had a main living room with a tv and dining table, plus a kitchen, full bath, and two bedrooms. It even included an expansive porch where we spent most of our time. As a result, our gear needs were simple. We mostly packed food, drinks, games, and some essentials. 

From Alabama Outdoors, I rented two Nemo Astro sleeping pads and brought along two sleeping bags so myself and a friend could sleep comfortably on the floor. We spent two long nights on the porch playing card games lit by a Black Diamond Moji Lantern and some Black Diamond Headlamps

Gear for the trail:

When we hit the trails, I headed out in some well-worn Smartwool Light Hiking Crew Socks and trusty Keen Venture Mids, and carried everything in an Osprey Hikelite. And by everything, I mean a Hydro Flask 40oz Wide Mouth Bottle and 3 backup water bottles, plus a map and a portable fan. In an effort to pack light, I brought one pair of Patagonia Baggies that I wore almost the entire time. While all of our gear was for one full day of hiking, it was necessary. 

Cheaha State Park features over 10 miles of trails with various elevation changes and weather. So be sure to pack supplies like water, snacks, and sunscreen to stay safe. The essentials will ensure you get to enjoy everything the park has to offer.

What to do

So what is there to do in Cheaha? A surprising amount for such a small park.

Views at Bald Rock

The numerous trails are perfect for any level hiker, and the lookouts provide incredible views. Some of the easiest trails take you to cool spots like the Rock Garden or the Walter Farr Native American Relic Museum. Others take you to Bald Rock, Pulpit Rock, or even Cheaha Lake. Thru-hikers can even get on the Pinhoti Trail and mountain bikers can access a different set of cliff-side paths. Suffice to say, hiking and sightseeing are the main attractions here. 

Other activities include:

  • Checking out the cliff-side pool.
  • Did you bring your furry friend? Head to the dog park!
  • Have a picnic or small get-together with a group at the pavilions.


Want to learn more about what we do on a weekend at Cheaha State Park? Check out how we got lost looking for a 1.2-acre lake, summitted Mount Cheaha, and found the best view of a sunset in Alabama. Read it all in my Definitive Guide to Cheaha: Part 2!


Find the best summer gear at Alabama Outdoors. We want everyone to enjoy the outdoors, and we work to build loyalty one connection at a time. Visit one of our stores or take advantage of our shipping or curbside pickup! #BeOutdoors

Definitive Guide to Cheaha: Part 2

If you are just joining us, my name is Cameron Sullivan and I’ve been a team member at Alabama Outdoors for almost three years and today I’m talking more about Cheaha State Park.

Cameron Sullivan (center) exploring Cheaha Lake Trail with friends

In our last blog, The Definitive Guide to Cheaha Part 1, I went over where to camp, what to do, and what to bring with you for either a day or weekend getaway to Cheaha State Park. Follow along as I go more in depth on our weekend adventures at Cheaha State Park and the what to and what not to do’s.

So that’s where the journey begins, traveling to Cheaha with a group of four friends, as part of an ad-hoc bachelor party for my 1st anniversary of my wife and mine’s elopement after delaying our original wedding due to Covid. Hardly roughing it, we promised ourselves we’d hike the toughest trails and spend more time outside than indoors to make up for it. Let’s go!


Our travel through Talladega National Forest + check-in at Cheaha State Park

On the way out to Cheaha, you pass some incredible sights. From Talladega Superspeedway to the Coosa River, there’s plenty to enjoy on the drive. It’s about an hour and a half drive from Birmingham, going up I-20 to Oxford then heading down into the forest. 

With an elevation of 2,411 ft., a prominence of 1,444 ft. (how high above the other surrounding peaks), and an isolation of about 106 miles (its proximity to a similar-height peak), Mount Cheaha definitely stands out when you see it. 

Pulling off the highway, the mountain towers over some smaller peaks in the area. As you get closer you quickly go from suburban roads to county roads to a narrow mountain pass. The drive up takes you across a winding road about 10 miles from the town into the heart of the forest, and straight up to the park entrance. 

A rustic place built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the park has a distinct look. The vintage stonework and painted wooden buildings are nestled amongst cabins, forest pines, and dotted quartzite. When you get up to the top, you pull into a parking lot next to the mountain store to check-in. 

Going in mid-June, we left Birmingham at about 85 degrees and thick humidity, but Cheaha is alien as it’s somehow more humid and cooler at the top. It was about 60 degrees when we got there, and it’s the first thing you notice when you step out. The thick, brackish air makes you feel like you’re gulping down lake water. Like a lot of climates though, you quickly stop noticing. 

We checked in Friday night, at around 6, and perused the mountain store. The mountain store is incredibly well-stocked, with plenty of food, drinks, supplies, games, guides, gear, and more. We could’ve come with nothing but a credit card and still had a great time. So, with the last remaining sunlight, we checked into our chalet and enjoyed the sunset.

Our A-Frame Chalet home away from home

Driving through Cheaha you go up a one-way road around the park until you hit the chalets. Renovated chalets line the cul-de-sac with open grass and rocky yards separating them. The chalets have a stone walkway leading you from the parking spot to the abode, with an outdoor grill and firepit nearby. Inside, the chalet features two rooms on the side with a queen-sized bed and a full bathroom. The living room features a couch and chairs, plus a dining table and a TV. 

We were able to start up the grill and a fire thanks to the bundle of firewood we got at the mountain store. With night set in, we sat on the porch and stared up at the clouds floating by like they were 10 feet overhead. After turning in for the night, we woke up to an incredibly bright blue, clear sky. 

Cheaha Lake Trail

Venturing on Cheaha Lake Trail

Now, Cheaha has a lot of hiking options, and all of them are interesting thanks to the plentiful views and many sights to see. When mapping out our hike, we mostly went by what seemed most interesting at 9 am on an 85-degree day; the lake.

Cheaha Lake, a 6-acre artificial lake, isn’t that far away on the map. The Lake Trail is a 1-mile hike down the mountain, on the southwest side. For this hike, I came prepared with an Osprey Hikelite Daypack, Keen Venture Mid Waterproof Hiking Boots, some trusty Smartwool Medium Crew Hiking Socks, and a pair of Patagonia Baggies Shorts. We set out with a bevy of supplies, mostly water, snacks, and a portable fan, but quickly met our match. 

While the trail is well-marked, it’s steep and requires some scrambling over rocks. We found that we could get down, but weren’t always sure we could get back up. Eventually, we found ourselves on a cliffside, slightly lost, and not sure how to get back. On this cliff, we could see far out into the valley towards the forest and into Talladega proper. About halfway down the mountain, we still had a great view of the surroundings and stayed here at least an hour soaking it in. We enjoyed the view, decided against continuing down and started looking back. 

We almost immediately found the trail, but finding we had turned off, it may have been a minute before we realized we were lost. So, with a resurgence of energy, we headed back up to the peak. Despite our lack of success, this trail is certainly worth doing, especially in the morning when you’re guaranteed the daylight to get back up. The lake was still appealing, but our lack of water and trail map made it difficult to commit to. 


Bald Rock- a must visit for the panoramic views + handicap accessible

Cameron Sullivan (on left) with friends at Bald Rock

Back at the top, we refilled our waters and found the free trail map, ensuring we made it to our next destination; Bald Rock. This overlook is an iconic part of Cheaha State Park and features a boardwalk and parking area so it’s handicap accessible all year. 

Walking to it from the chalet was possibly the steepest hike we did the whole trip, climbing up the one-way road for half a mile. At the parking lot, we found a well-maintained boardwalk that goes all the way out to the overlook. With informative signs and shady rest spots the whole way, this is a must-see for anyone visiting the peak. 

The peak itself is incredible, with a literal birds eye view of the surrounding mountains it feels like you can reach out and touch the sky. Bald Rock remains an iconic part of Cheaha for a reason, it’s one of the most incredible views in Alabama.

The Observation Tower

Heading from Bald Rock, we decided to go back up to the front gate for lunch. Looking at the map, the road took us right past the actual peak of Cheaha Mountain, at the observation tower. Out of an abundance of curiosity, we decided to stop by as it’s fairly close to Bald Rock. 

Walking up, the heavy-looking stone building features an observatory next to some radio towers, with a pavilion across the street. As we walked up, the building was open to the public and led us into an air-conditioned and incredibly welcoming staircase, easily 15 degrees cooler than the outside. From the observatory, you can see over the mountain, with a view to the south that can’t be found anywhere else. 

The observatory is a nice rest-spot, but if you’re rushed it’s not worth sacrificing other sights for this spot. The nice thing is that the observatory is nestled in the middle of the primitive camping spot, so thru-hikers and campers will find it easy to stop by.

DO have a bite to eat at the Vista Cliffside Restaurant

From the observatory, we continued to the Vista Cliffside Restaurant. Trekking through the primitive campsites we were impressed with the layout and amenities each site had. From the primitive sites, it was a short walk to the Vista Cliffside Restaurant. 

Catching the sunset on the Lake Trail

When we arrived, we were greeted at a front desk where they took our orders and pointed us to the expansive dining room with a deck. The menu features grab-and-go classics like burgers, pizza, and hot dogs. We were able to order and sit in the air-conditioned dining room and wait. While I always appreciate a good burger, these were truly phenomenal. Far from a gross cafeteria, the Vista Cliffside Restaurant was arguably the best part of the hiking experience. Refreshing and rejuvenating, we were able to continue from here in good spirits.

You can find their menu here if that made you wanting to know more. Did we mention the views are spectacular here, too? It’s called Vista Cliffside for a reason.  

Final trip notes

From the restaurant, you can see the main resort, pool, the overlook, some of the cabins, and the Walter Farr Native American Relic Museum. Outside of the gate, this museum is a great place to learn the history of the Creek Nation that originally lived in the region, and look at some of the remarkable artifacts they’ve found in the area. 

From lunch, we journeyed back to our chalet for more water before heading back out. We finished the day heading out to the Rock Garden overlook, getting a clear view of the giant quartz pieces jutting out of the mountainside. We waited out on a nearby ledge until sunset.  

While we missed some of the landmarks like Pulpit Rock and the lake itself, the trip was unforgettable. From the incredible sights and sounds to the remarkably well-maintained park, everything was the perfect balance of remote, accessible, and beautiful. If you get the chance to visit this gem of a park, try and stay for a night or two. 

Safe and happy travels and always remember the 7 Leave No Trace Principles when you go out and explore our beautiful parks and public lands! 


Find the best summer gear at Alabama Outdoors. We want everyone to enjoy the outdoors, and we work to build loyalty one connection at a time. Visit one of our stores or take advantage of our shipping or curbside pickup! #BeOutdoors

Insider Tips for Your First Backpacking Trip

Looking to get back outdoors and celebrate National Camping Month? We have plenty of places to camp and explore in Alabama from car camping to primitive to back country trips. If you are ready to step up your explorer skills and go on a backpacking trip, read below for all of our insider tips to make your trip successful and fun! Adventure on!


From the rocky outcrops of the Talladega National Forest to the waterfalls of the Sipsey Wilderness, Alabama is home to many excellent backpacking trails that practically beg for an overnight adventure.

If you’ve only done day hikes, however, a longer overnight trek through the backcountry can seem slightly intimidating. But with a little research and planning, your first backpacking trip can be an amazing experience that paves the way for future adventures.

The rewards are well worth the planning and effort. Deep in the woods, you’ll discover the kind of scenery, solitude, and natural wonders that many people never experience. At night, beneath the stars, far away from civilization and crowds, you’ll savor a sense of calm that’s hard to find in today’s fast-paced, tech-saturated world.

To help you launch your first outing, we’ve compiled 10 insider tips to help you plan your route, choose the right gear, and travel comfortably and safely in the backcountry. Follow these guidelines, and your first backpacking trip will likely be the first of many.

1. Go with an experienced backpacker.

An experienced backpacker can provide invaluable help for beginners. Michael Hicks

If you have friends who are experienced backpackers, it’s a great opportunity to tap into their knowledge for your first trip. It’s a win-win for everyone: Your friend will likely be flattered, and you can soak up tons of outdoors intel. A trail veteran can share insider tips like what to pack and how to pitch a tent, while helping you avoid rookie mistakes along the way. (Some of us learned the hard way that you can melt your hiking boots by drying them too close to the campfire.)

Most of all, an experienced buddy provides a safety net as you learn the ropes. For example, if you’re not sure about your ability to navigate in the wilderness, you can lean on you partner’s experience and treat your first trip as a learning opportunity.

2. Try an overnighter first.

Keep things simple and stay closer to home for your first backpacking trip. Michael Hicks

Long backpacking trips involve more logistics, more food, heavier packs, and more time away from creature comforts. For all of these reasons, your first backpacking trip will be a more enjoyable experience if you camp just one night (max two). A shorter trip lets you break in gear—for example, if you discover that your boots cause blisters or your pack doesn’t fit correctly—with an easy exit if you need it. Choosing a destination at a state park like Oak Mountain allows you to enjoy rugged surroundings with easy access to facilities and civilization should things go sideways.

3. Travel a modest distance.

As you get the swing of things, opt for shorter distances—no more than 10 miles—for your first few trips. Michael Hicks

Beginner backpackers commonly overestimate how many miles they can cover comfortably in a day. Most of us don’t carry 30 or 40 pounds on our backs regularly, and we’re certainly not used to hauling that weight up and down hills. To avoid exhaustion and sore muscles, try an overnighter where you travel a total of 8 to 10 miles or less. This will allow you to hike at a comfortable pace and reach camp before sunset. Keep in mind that you will probably spend more time than expected packing for your trip and hitting the road, so you might get to the trailhead later than expected. To account for this likely scenario, you shouldn’t plan to do a ton of miles your first day on the trail.

4. Choose a convenient hiking route.

Loop hikes and out-and-back routes are simpler to plan. Michael Hicks

For your first trip, it’s easier to do a loop hike or an out-and-back trip where you begin and end at the same trailhead. If you plan a point-to-point trip, you’ll need to place cars at each end of the route, so hit the road early and allow extra time for this task.

5. Do your gear homework.

Doing some recon ahead of time about brands and gear will save plenty of hassles and money. Michael Pollak

Bone up on gear basics as you plan your trip (a few recommended online reads: A Beginner’s Guide to Camping Gear and How to Choose the Right Backpack). As you do your research, create a packing list and note the items you need to purchase. Before you buy anything, get an idea of the options available and what will suit your journey. Do you need a super-warm sleeping bag rated for freezing temperatures, or a 50-degree bag for milder weather? If you need advice on gear, outdoor specialty stores employ knowledgeable team members!

6. Rent gear to save money.

High-quality backpacking gear can be expensive, and you might not have the budget to buy everything you need for an initial trip. If you travel with an experienced backpacker, you might be able to borrow gear. Also, outdoor specialty stores and online services allow you to rent tents, backpacks, sleeping bags, stoves, and other necessities. As you gain backpacking experience, you’ll have a better idea of the specific products you’ll want to purchase. (And if you ultimately decide that you’d rather stick to day trips, you won’t have shelled out too much money.)

7. Invest in good footwear.

Nothing will ruin a trip faster than shoes or boots that fit poorly or fall apart, so invest in high-quality footwear. If you plan to trek in the rain or cross lots of streams in cool or cold conditions, consider buying waterproof boots. But if you plan to hike when it’s warm and humid (pretty much a given Alabama for most of the year), keep in mind that waterproof footwear traps warm air and moisture around your feet that can cause blisters. If you carry a load of 30 pounds or less, you can usually wear a low-cut shoes for hiking and traveling. Packing more than 30 pounds usually requires a full boot that will offer the rigidity and midsole structure needed to bear a heavy load. Whether you get shoes or boots, wear them several days beforehand to check the fit and break them in before you hit the trail.

8. Learn how to layer wisely.

The key to staying comfortable on the trail is to regulate your body temperature so that you’re not too cold or too hot for long periods. In warm weather, you can backpack in shorts and a short-sleeve shirt made of synthetic material. For early spring, fall, and winter seasons, the trick is to dress in layers, beginning with thin top and bottom base layer pieces that include synthetic fabrics or wool. Then, add light or mid-weight tops and bottoms over the base layers, and pack an insulated jacket for colder conditions. The final layer includes your waterproof jacket and pants. Because we lose much of our heat from our head and hands, you should also pack gloves and a hat made of synthetic material or wool.

9. Keep the campfire menu simple.

It’s possible that you’ll arrive at camp tired and in no mood to fuss over a complicated meal. So, consider packing foods that are easy to prepare, such as pre-packaged, freeze-dried meals that only requires you to add boiling water. Or, you can visit your local supermarket to buy soup packets as well as foil packets of tuna, salmon or chicken. Just try to avoid canned soups or other foods that include lots of liquid, because these items are heavy. Also, you’re going to burn plenty of calories while backpacking, so bring plenty of snacks to munch on as you walk.

10. Be ready when nature calls.

If you’ve never gone to the restroom in the woods (and we don’t mean using an outhouse), it can be an intimidating experience. But the procedure is pretty simple, and you can find details by visiting the Leave No Trace website. Just remember that it’s important to bury your waste, pack out your used toilet paper, and clean your hands with wipes or sanitizer. You’ll need a toilet kit, too: Include a trowel for digging a cat hole, toilet paper (plus baby wipes if you’d like), hand sanitizer, a large Ziploc-style freezer bag to hold toilet paper and other toilet supplies, and a smaller bag to hold used toilet paper. It’s not the most pleasant aspect of an overnight adventure in the backcountry, but—as with everything else with your first backpacking trip—soon enough it will be second nature.


Ready to be outdoors this Summer to celebrate National Camping Month? We have the camping + outdoor gear you need to get you on the trails! Not quite ready to commit to all of the gear? We get it! Click here to learn more about our Rental Program for your next trip! We want everyone to enjoy the outdoors, and we work to build loyalty one connection at a time. Visit one of our stores or take advantage of our shipping or curbside pickup! #BeOutdoors


Written by Marcus Woolf for RootsRated in partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield of AL and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

8 Great Dog-Friendly Trails in Alabama


Having a blast at Moss Rock Preserve, Alabama.

Ask any outdoors-loving dog-owner: Hikes are much more fun when Fido comes along. Whether they love sniffing under every rock and root along the trail or running free in the local dog park, there’s no better way to strengthen the bond between dog and owner than exploring the outdoors.

To that end, here are eight amazing dog-friendly trails in Alabama—including easy outings, scenic excursions, and dedicated dog parks—where young pups and grown dogs alike can get a taste of the outdoors.

Unless otherwise noted, keep your canine companion leashed up within the following parks and forests. Some parks offer off-leash areas or other dog-friendly accommodations, but the rest welcome dogs—as long as they’re on leashes.

Moss Rock Preserve

There's plenty of room to run and play at Moss Rock Preserve, Alabama.
There’s plenty of room to run and play at Moss Rock Preserve, Alabama. Rob Briscoe

With 12 miles of trails forming a loop throughout the 349-acre Moss Rock Preserve, you and your four-legged friend are sure to find more than a little scenic beauty along the way.

Red Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the park, thanks to its distance (less than a mile), lack of elevation gain, and scenic views (including a picture-perfect crossing over Hurricane Creek, which flows through the park).

Elsewhere, Moss Rock Preserve hosts an unusual sandstone glade, where a variety of plants (including trees, grasses, and flowers) grow in between rocks—looking less like a natural forest than a martian landscape—and subsist on the meager rainfall they get each year. Some of the pine trees here are more than 200 years old.

Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve

The view from Ruffner Mountain, Alabama.
The view from Ruffner Mountain, Alabama. Rian Castillo

With more than 1,000 acres to explore and 14 miles of interconnected trails to enjoy, Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve is something of a “choose-your-own-adventure” outing not far from downtown Birmingham. Interested in history? Native flora and fauna? Instagram-worthy city views? Ruffner Mountain has it all.

Along the way, you’ll catch glimpses of Ruffner Mountain’s mining past; the area was the site of mining operations between the late 1800s and the 1950s, and numerous trails traverse old mining sites. The 1.2-mile Quarry Trial, for instance, visits a limestone quarry where fossils remain embedded in the rock. Elsewhere, check out the Overlook Trail for unparalleled views of downtown Birmingham.

Adding to the Fido-friendly vibe: No bikes or cars are allowed on Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve’s trails, improving safety and giving dog owners peace of mind.

Mobile Botanical Gardens

Flowers at Mobile Botanical Gardens, Alabama.
Flowers at Mobile Botanical Gardens, Alabama. Andrea Wright

The Mobile Botanical Gardens offers not just displays of well-manicured plants and flowers, but an up-close look at the Gulf Coast environment—all without ever leaving the city.

At more than 100 acres, Mobile Botanical Gardens is home to numerous trails that wind through the Rhododendron Garden, Japanese Maple Garden, Herb Garden, Fern Garden, and more.

(Note: The gardens are undergoing a $150,000 renovation throughout summer 2016. Parking might be limited, and some trails may be closed as workers create new walkways, upgrade the parking area, and more.)

Vulcan Trail

The path down Vulcan Trail, Alabama.
The path down Vulcan Trail, Alabama. Max Wolfe

Following the ridge of Red Mountain, the two-mile Vulcan Trail out-and-back delivers natural beauty, impressive views, and a glimpse at the region’s history.

Trees line the Vulcan Trail’s wide path and part on occasion to reveal breathtaking glimpses of downtown Birmingham and other nearby mountain ridges.

The Vulcan Trail also follows the path of an old railroad corridor; Red Mountain was the site of iron ore mining operations between the late 1800s and early 1900s, and relics and ruins from the mountain’s hardworking history can be found along the trail today.

Talladega National Forest

Swimming at Morgan Lake in Talladega National Forest, Alabama.
Swimming at Morgan Lake in Talladega National Forest, Alabama. Chris Hartman

Talladega National Forest was established in the 1930s as part of the United States’ New Deal. In doing so, the land was rescued from heavy logging; some 80 years later, the forest bears little resemblance to what had been acquired decades ago. Today, hikers can traverse trails throughout the forest’s roughly 400,000 acres and check out several gorgeous waterfalls.

Cheaha Mountain, the tallest point in the state at just over 2,400 feet, hosts a creek that eventually becomes the 30-foot Cheaha Falls (accessible via the six-mile Chinnabee Silent Trail). The hike to Cheaha Falls is easy enough, with mostly flat terrain, but keep your dog on a leash near the falls, where slippery rocks and a steep drop-off are dangerous. Elsewhere, High Falls can reach 300 feet wide at peak water flow; the hike to the falls is fairly steep, but stairs are available to help out tired hikers and tuckered pooches.

Little River Canyon National Preserve

Taking in Little River Falls, Alabama.
Taking in Little River Falls, Alabama. Jody Claborn

Named for the river that flows along the top of Lookout Mountain, Little River Canyon National Preserve delivers a torrent of natural diversity. The park, nestled in the Southern Appalachians, hosts immense forests, cascading waterfalls, one of the deepest canyons in the region, impressive boulders, sandstone cliffs, and more.

Hiking options are numerous, and given the short lengths of some of the park’s trails, hikers can pick and choose their favorites for a fun day of exploration with their pup.

The Canyon Mouth Picnic Area promises an easy, flat one-mile hike, with views of the Little River Canyon. The 1.24-mile Beaver Pond Trail, meanwhile, leads to a pond dammed by beavers. The mostly-level hike is popular with birdwatchers, as well. Hikers can also take a boardwalk to the base of Little River Falls, with an offshoot trail that leads to nearby Martha’s Falls.

Note: The park’s Eberhart Point Trail is not recommended for pets, owing to the rugged nature of the hike and steep boulders that hikers must navigate along the way.

Gulf State Park

Dogs can’t enjoy the three miles of white sand beaches at Gulf State Park, but the park nevertheless deserves plenty of plaudits for its attention to man’s best friend.

Leashed dogs are allowed on the more than 15 miles of trails that comprise the park’s Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail system. The park’s trails lead through six different ecosystems, including a maritime forest, sand dunes, wetlands, and lakes. (Dogs may also hang out in the park’s campground and picnic area, provided they remain leashed.)

Itching to let Fido roam free? Unleashed dogs can run around and take a dip in the Dog Pond at Lake Shelby. (Note that Lake Shelby hosts a variety of wildlife, which includes alligators. Keep a sharp eye out while playing fetch around the water.)

The park also rents several cabins and cottages, some of which are dog-friendly.

Red Mountain Park

Walking through Red Mountain Park, Alabama.
Walking through Red Mountain Park, Alabama. Rob Briscoe

At 1,500 acres and just minutes from downtown Birmingham, Red Mountain Park is one of the nation’s largest urban parks.

Developed on the site of an iron ore mining site and offering 14 miles of hiking trails along the Red Mountain ridge, the park promises something for everyone—including hikers with their pups. Six of the park’s 1,500 acres have been set aside specifically for four-legged friends. Remy’s Dog Park offers separate off-leash areas for small and large dogs, as well as a wide open field so Fido can burn a few calories, too.

Other hiking opportunities range from a flat, two-mile out-and-back trail to a 6.5-mile, round-the-mountain trail that heads to Grace’s Gap Overlook. On the way to Grace’s Gap, hikers can check out old mining ruins that remain on the mountain.


Ready to be outdoors this Summer to celebrate National Camping Month? We have the camping + outdoor gear you need to get you on the trails! Not quite ready to commit to all of the gear? We get it! Click here to learn more about our Rental Program for your next trip! We want everyone to enjoy the outdoors, and we work to build loyalty one connection at a time. Visit one of our stores or take advantage of our shipping or curbside pickup! #BeOutdoors



Written by Matt Wastradowski for RootsRated in partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield of AL and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Rob Briscoe