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Pinhoti Trail: Cheaha State Park to Cleburne Professional Review and Guide
"This section of trail starts out in Alabama’s highest mountains at Cheaha State Park, where it skirts around the actual high point of the state, Cheaha Mountain. The Pinhoti leaves the state park to enter the Talladega National Forest and the Blue Mountain Backcountry Area, soon coming to a fine trail shelter on the shoulder of Blue Mountain. Beyond Morgan Lake, the Pinhoti continues its hill-and-creek pattern in solitude until it crosses the highway. The trail returns to Horseblock Mountain, running along its northwest flank, and passes under the interstate. A dip into the Bobo Branch watershed before more ridge running eventually leads to Cleburne and the section’s end."
--Johnny Molloy, Long Trails of the Southeast (Menasha Ridge Press).
My husband and I started our backpacking trip from Cheaha State Park Trailhead and ended it at Hwy 431. This was a 17.5 miles trip. There was only 4 or 5 steep climbs (well to me they were steep) thoughout the whole trail. I highly reccomend hiking it this way unless you really like steep climbs. We came up on the Blue Mountain Shelter which was 2.1 miles in. This is a really nice shelter with a loft. Once you leave here there is a pretty steep climb up to Bald rock, we didnt go all the way up tp Bald Rock. There are lots of streams and campsite along this trail. We camped at Hillabee Creek which is just passed the power lines ar 8.2 miles in from the start. There is a nice campsite there. Hillabee Creek is about 15' wide and 1' deep. We searched up and down stream to find a crossing but could not find one. So our only option was to take our shoes off and roll our pants up and cross it. It was really cold but it work. There is a nice log on the other side to sit down and put your socks and shoes back on. I reccomend either bringing leightweight waders or trashbags and tape. Thats all I could think of at the time. It was 39 degrees that night. We had Mountian house Beef Stew and Chili Mac which was pretty yummy or maybe I was just starving. Hillabee creek was the only creek we had problems crossing. At 12.4 miles in you will cross county road 24, look to the left about 25 yards and you will see where the trail picks up. there is a switchback .2 miles from here so if you miss it you will come to a deadend that has a very pretty cascade if you come to this just turnaround and when you start back up the trail you will see to the right where the switchback is. It takes you uphill just a bit. The rest of the trail is nice with pretty waterfalls and some uphill climbing.
I organized a crew of Boy Scouts from Troop 538 for their first 3-day, 2-night backpacking event. We hiked from I20 to the top of Mt. Cheha. The first 4 miles from I20 to Hwy 431 was broken up by several fallen trees and obsticals that to a group of 2-4 wouldn't be too much, but for a crew of 12, slowed the pace a lot.
We camped at an old moonshine still that was with a nice waterfall cascade. The second day had a good roller coaster of hills and ridges with plenty of water available. The older growth forest with fern valleys were very picturesque in the late afternoon. Crossing Hillable Creek was a very serene scene, though you had to cross a 30+ foot creek on a shoal 100 yards upstream or wade through 2 feet of water. I would not recommend this in cold weather hiking.
We made the last six mile ascent of Mt. Cheha of 1,500 feet on the morning of the third day. Loaded everyone with 3 quarts of water as there was no water on this stretch. Took the Bald Rock spur and would HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT for the view at the top. We lunched at the Cheha State Park Lodge for a buffet; great way to end a backpacking trip.
Difficulty: Perfect for folks looking for some challenge that haven't done much backpacking.
Water: Great availability every mile or two except on Blue Mtn.
Shelter: Plenty of campsites along the way near good water sources
Scenery: Tranquil and remote valleys in the Talledega National Forest and awesome view from Mt. Cheha.
If I hadn't been on the AT or hiked out west, this would be a 4-star hike.
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