Alabama's scenic Pinhoti Trail

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine

Week of September 5-11, 1996

Alabama's scenic Pinhoti Trail
Question: My wife, Carolyn, and I want to take a four-day backpacking trip September 11-14, but we don't want to travel too far from Indy. We are thinking about Alabama but don't know anything about it. We like mountain areas, but we're not mountain climbers--we stick to the trails. I'd say we are average ability. Any ideas? We would consider other areas as long as we keep travel time down to about six to eight hours.

Roy Schneider
Indianapolis, IN
[email protected]

Adventure Adviser: Well, Roy, since you mentioned 'Bama, I'd recommend the 100-mile-long Pinhoti Trail that starts east of Birmingham in Cheah State Park and takes you through some of the Yellowhammer State's prettiest stretches of longleaf pine, oak, and hickory forests.

If you've got a second vehicle or can arrange for a pickup on the other end, plan on doing a three- to four-day, 30-mile one-way trek from Cheah to Clairmont Gap. If this is strictly a one-car proposition, you'll have to turn around midway and retrace your steps back to the start, a plan that requires a fair amount of self-discipline, because the scenery makes it tempting to keep hiking. Either way, start from the trailhead about a half-mile east of the park and hike in three miles to the massive rock outcroppings at McDill Point, with its sweeping views of the somewhat towering Cheah Mountains. Don't worry, though, the trail sticks to gradual ascents and descents.

From McDill, it's another 12 miles to Carney Head, a craggy overlook 1,600 feet up that's an ideal place to kick back and satiate whatever foliage-viewing needs you may have. Whatever your plan, take your boots off, stoke up the camp stove, and pitch your tent here: Adams Gap is an eight-mile slog down the trail, and from there it's a final six miles to Clairmont Gap and Forest Service Road 600.

You'll need to contact the Talladega Ranger Station ahead of time at 205-362-2909 for camping permits, additional information, and trail maps. Plan on packing in all your water, as this trail is pretty darn dry. Occasionally in the spring you'll be able to find water at the Carney Head spring, but don't bank on it any other time of year.

If you're in the market for a last-minute dose of civilization before disappearing into the backcountry, stay a night at the Victoria, a 48-room country inn in Anniston, about 20 miles from Cheah State Park (doubles, $74; 800-260-8781). To find the trailhead, take I-20 about 65 miles east from Birmingham to U.S. 431 south; look for signs for the Talladega Scenic Drive, which will take you 14 miles to Cheah State Park. Before you go, check out the write-up on this hike in "America the Hoofable" in the Destinations section of Outside's April 1996 issue.

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