For a Scenic Drive – Try the Talladega
(Not the Superspeedway!)
Of the four national byways in Alabama, the Talladega Scenic Drive is the shortest, but arguably the most scenic. Located in the east central part of the state about eighty miles east of Birmingham, the Talladega runs the ridgeline of the Horseblock and Cheaha Mountains through the Talladega National Forest. In its twenty six miles it passes six overlooks, several trailheads, and the Cheaha State Park, but provides many opportunities for outdoor recreation.
Talladega Scenic Drive scene Alabama 001
The highest point in Alabama is contained within the Cheaha State Park at the mountain of the same name. Its elevation is 2407 feet above sea level. Within the park are several miles of hiking trails, a restaurant, motel, camping facilities, and an observation tower marking the highest point. Observable wildlife is plentiful within the park. Not only is Cheaha State Park the highest point of the Drive, it is also the “high point”.
As the Drive passes through the national forest, it connects on several occasions with access points to the Pinhoti National Recreation Trail, which has section in Alabama and Georgia and links to the Appalachian Trail. This 100-plus mile long trail is second to none in the state as it meanders through rolling hillsides, up rocky crags, past mountain streams and waterfalls, and the panoramic vistas atop the mountains of the Talladega National Forest.
The 7,300-acre Cheaha Wilderness lies next to Cheaha State Park. From the observation tower on the summit of Cheaha Mountain, a dense second-growth woodland stretches south across the state park and into Cheaha Wilderness. Numerous forms of outdoor recreation are available within the wilderness area and the national forest. Hunting, fishing, camping, picnicking, and, of course, hiking are all great ways to experience the good nature of the Talladega. The previously-mentioned Pinhoti Trail passes through the wilderness area.
Cheaha Trailhead Cheaha State Park Along Talladega Scenic Drive Alabama 002
Cheaha State Park observation tower Park Along Talladega Scenic Drive Alabama 002
Within the Talladega National Forest are three developed recreation areas – Coleman Lake, Pine Glen, and Lake Chinnabee. Lake Chinnabee Recreation Area is not far from Cheaha State Park. This 17-acre lake and small campground are tucked into a peaceful valley. The recreation area has eight campsites and offers more opportunities for hiking, picnicking, and fishing. The Chinnabee Silent Trail connects the campground to the Cheaha Wilderness.
The Talladega Scenic Drive is accessible easily from the north from Interstate 20 near Oxford. Take Exit 191, which is US 431, south to its junction with AL 281, which forms the majority of the Talladega Scenic Drive. AL 281 continues in a southwesterly direction winding through the national forest past the Cheaha State Park. The Drive continues in that same general southwesterly direction. Its name changes several times on maps (Skyline Motorway, Blue Ridge Road, Sky Line Drive), but it still carries the National Scenic Byway designation of the Talladega Scenic Drive. Along its route it nudges the small towns of Erin, Clairmont Springs, Weathers, and Chandler Springs. The largest town near its southern terminus is Talladega, the county seat of Talladega County.
Talladega County Courthouse Talladega AL 001
In these times of economic worries and higher gasoline prices, visiting places close to home makes a lot of sense. And where better to visit than the Talladega National Forest and its Scenic Drive. The outdoor recreational possibilities are varied. The wildlife is abundant. The scenery is great. And it is close to home.