My journey through the Appalachian Mountains somewhat ended with a hike of Mt Cheaha. This is the high point of Alabama and after this the Appalachians get shorter and shorter before becoming indistinguishable mounds across the Atlantic Plains. Although my trip isn't over, my mountain adventures ended for now.
|Mt Cheaha and Cheaha Lake|
It was a bit of a sad day for me. Although I had a week left of traveling, it was an end of an era. Most people don't know that the Appalachian Mountains stretch from Alabama all the way to coastal Quebec. They dip into the ocean briefly only to emerge in eastern Newfoundland. Speaking geologically, Greenland, Scotland, the Orkneys, Wales, Spain and Morocco all have traces of the Appalachians as well. As for the continental Appalachians though, this would be it for me (for now). I've traveled all across the ancient mountain range from the Gaspe Peninsula to here and this is what made it a poignant and somewhat sad hike.
Unlike the pristine wilderness of the Gaspe Peninsula, Cheaha State Park is basically a resort destination. The mountain top is completely built up and serves as a campground with cabins and RV sites. It looked like a nice place to stay but I preferred hiking on the trails which left the main drives.
|A beautiful sunset from near the summit|
The summit itself has a historic observation tower and a museum. The tower itself actually looks like something out of a children's novel, oddly enough. From the top you can see most of the Alabama Appalachians. There are better views on the hiking trails, however.
Pulpit Rock and the Lake Trail
are both easily done trails for anyone who's even remotely experienced in hiking. The latter has a pretty steep decent and ascent but it makes hiking the high point feel like more of an accomplishment. Pulpit Rock is a nice overlook. Mountain Biking Trails
exist too although they are rough in most sections.
|Overlook from Lake Trail with my silhouette on the overlook. |
The Lake Trail runs for a steep mile down to Lake Cheaha below the mountain. If you just want a good view, this can be seen on the first 0.2 miles, pictured above. This cliffy section is popular for rock climbers and rappels and is the sight of most photography for the park. The hotel overlooks this area as well. If you're lucky enough to catch it at sunset, it will be one you don't forget.
The trail dips down below the cliffs and into the trees before coming right to the shore of Lake Cheaha. This lake forms a mirror for the cliffs of the upper region and is another popular place for photography. In the summer, it is a very popular place for swimming and small boating.
|The quaint summit tower|
Back up the Lake Trail I was able to catch that Alabama sunset. To the south, the ridgeline seemed to disappear into the lowlands and I contemplated all I'd traveled so far. Once I was an elitist west coaster who'd never climb a mountain less than 10,000 feet. How could something in the 2,000-4,000 foot range even be considered an adventure? Nearly 200 mountains and 4 years later, I've learned to appreciate this range for its rugged summits and wilderness. Most of my hiking and climbing has been concentrated in the New England summits but on this trip I've received a great taste of the central and southern Appalachians which offer a completely different experience. I haven't had the time to explore them as extensively as I have the northern ranges but this trip has made me well aware of what I need to come back for. I've found Alabama to be a very underrated and under appreciated destination for outdoor adventure.
Oak Mountain State Park
would be my next destination and I suppose that would be my last true Appalachian Mountain of the trip. Technically the Ozarks and the Ouachitas are also part of the range but we won't split hairs.
Read. Plan. Get Out There!