Talladega National Forest Overview
Central Alabama's Talladega National Forest makes a great comeback story. It is a wonderful example of what can happen to land that was formerly cut-over and abandoned. Before it was bought by the federal government in the 1930s, the area that comprises the Talladega was some of the most abused, eroded wastelands in all of Alabama.
Since the Appalachian Trail starts in Georgia, that's where many believe the Appalachian mountain range begins. Not so. The southern edge of the Appalachians is in Alabama, in the Talladega Division of the Talladega National Forest. This is an achingly beautiful area of rugged mountains, forests, waterfalls, and streams. The tiny Cheaha Wilderness preserves a portion of this natural wealth near Rebecca Mountain. Many believe more of this region strongly deserves such protection.
The Talladega's profusion of wildlife is exceptional. Squirrels, rabbits, grouse, white-tailed deer, turkeys, and bobcats are here year-roundin abundance. The pine forests of these hills have been managed to give sorely needed nesting areas for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. And hordes of migrant songbirds pass through in season, especially spring: warblers, indigo buntings, tanagers, brown-headed nuthatches, and more.
This is the Deep South. Spring and fall are favorite times to be off and about in the forest; summer can be hot and humid.
Hike the Pinhoti Trail
The Pinhoti is a 102-mile trail system that many hope will soon connect to the Appalachian Trail. In fact, 3,000 acres of land were recently purchased by the federal government to bring the forest closer to the Georgia state line—and the Chattahoochee National Forest where the AT begins. The dream moves closer to reality.
The name Pinhoti is derived from the Creek Indian words pinwa (turkey) and huti (house or home). This translates to "turkey home"—an apt name since turkeys love dense forest. The Pinhoti Trail currently runs from the rugged Dugger Mountain complex to a point south of Talladega. Along its winding way, the trail passes through pine and hardwood forests, runs along ridgetops, and ambles through shady hollows along lively mountain streams. The most popular section of trail passes through the Cheaha Wilderness, which has some of the most far-reaching views. Off the Pinhoti, the Odum Scout Trail, which leads to the sublime High Falls, is the most popular trail in Alabama.
Drive the Talladega Scenic Byway
The Talladega Scenic Byway winds 26 miles along the Horseblock and Cheaham Mountains, the backbone of the southern Appalachian Mountains. The views along the way are spectacular. This is a route for those in love with changing seasons. Spring is the time for flowers and fresh growth. Summer brings blue haze, similar to the Blue Ridge Mountains to the north. And fall brings pleasant coolness and even a little bit of leaf color. For those who want to get out of the car and really get close to nature, the Pinhoti National Recreation Trail has trailheads at several points along this byway. And the road reaches Alabama's highest point, 2,407-foot Cheaha Mountain, touching the wilderness area while it is at it.
Visit the Tsinia Wildlife Viewing Area
To make Tsinia more appealing for wildlife, agricultural crops are planted and a variety of shrubs are maintained to produce foods favored by the area's diverse wildlife. Hunting, fishing, and trapping are prohibited. The forest is rich in virtually every species of wildlife indigenous to the region, including white-tailed deer, turkeys, squirrels, rabbits, grouse, and bobcats. The Tsinia's beaver ponds are of special interest. The pine forests of these hills have been managed to provide badly needed nesting areas for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. Visitors can view the area's wildlife from hiking trails or two observation towers.
Fish for Redeye Bass
Because of its southerly climes, the waters of the Talladega are too warm to support trout. But fear not, sport anglers. The waters are prime habitat for the Coosa redeye bass, a diminutive cousin of the smallmouth bass. Often referred to as the "brook trout" of warm-water species, redeyes are great sport on light-spinning tackle. The habitat has been made even better by simple stone dams built in the river. The dams provide nesting areas for the fish. The Uphapee and Choctafaula Creeks offer anglers more great fishing. These streams are inhabited by catfish, bream, and largemouth and spotted bass. Check in at the ranger station for leads on the best fishing spots.
Bike a Gated Road
While Talladega doesn't have any dedicated mountain bike trails, there's plenty of rockin' biking to be had on the many Forest Service roads. Many of these roads are gated, locked, and closed to motor vehicles—except during hunting season (when you probably don't want to be riding, anyway). The roads in the Choccolocco Wildlife Management Area in the Shoal Creek District have a following.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication