by Joe Cuhaj (Falcon Guides)
© Joe Cuhaj/Falcon Guides. All Rights Reserved.
This trail is in the Mt. Cheaha State Park, and the sign at the trailhead calls it "Lake Trail" instead of Rock Garden. I don't get in a hurry, and it took me about 45 minutes each way, plus a half-hour break at the summit. A gain in elevation of roughly 800 feet in 0.8 miles was physically challenging, and should be seriously considered by those with children, or who are in poor condition. I started around 9:00 a.m., and the temp was in the upper 50's. When I arrived back at my Jeep it was in the low 70's. Very comfortable. I don't think I'd try it in Summer or during wet weather.
The trail description is quite accurate. A fairly difficult climb, but the short length of the hike makes this a somewhat manageable hike for the less physically fit (like myself). Even with its close proximity to Atlanta and Birmingham, I was the only one on the trail both ways, save for the two or three climbers working on the Rock Garden through which the trail's top section runs. Definitely made for a nice solitary commune with nature. I was a little worried because the lake at the trailhead was crowded with families out for a picnic, but all the noise was gone a 1/4 mile in. Trail markers are well placed and numerous, so the very few missing/broken ones don't present a problem. I really enjoyed the fact that the trail's path is mostly natural with roots and naturally occuring/placed rocks controlling erosion (I counted roughly 8 railroad ties and 6 were within 100-200 feet of the peak). At the top, head southeast along the ridge line away from the wooden post pointing you in the trail's direction and you'll come to a flat rock outcrop with a postcard vista of the Valley and Cheaha Lake below; nice spot for water/lunch/tanning. Cautions: look out for spiderwebs, particularly on the lower section. As strenuous as the trail is on the way up, it is fairly treacherous on the way down, with loose rocks and a few places where you'll have to proceed on all fours. This is absolutely a trail to avoid when it's wet. There's also renovation ongoing at the cabins near the peak.
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