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.
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!
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