Cheaha State Park, Alabama: An In-Depth Family Adventure Guide

Cheaha State Park, Alabama: An In-Depth Family Adventure Guide

Getting some much-needed time away from the bustling metropolis is an excellent way to bond as a family. The occasional family vacation often leads many to beaches and resorts, however, a few days amongst nature is a wholesome experience that should curate some cherished memories.

Cheaha State Park in Alabama, where nature’s majesty meets family fun in a way that will leave you breathless – both from the stunning views and the laughter echoing through the mountains. At 2,407 feet above sea level, Cheaha State Park is the state’s highest point and is nicknamed “the island in the sky.”

As you wind your way through the picturesque roads of Alabama, you can almost hear the banjo twang of a bluegrass band in the background. But fear not, there’s no inbred hillbilly horror awaiting you at Cheaha – just the promise of unforgettable family moments. We have compiled a guide to help you plan your vacation to the state’s most breathtaking nature spot;

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History of Cheaha State Park

Established in 1933, Cheaha State Park has a rich history that mirrors the growth and development of the region. During the period from 1933 to 1939, the Civilian Conservation Corps left an indelible mark on the park, undertaking various projects that have become integral to its charm.

Among the notable additions were the creation of Cheaha Lake and the construction of several impressive structures, including a stone bathhouse, eleven stone cabins, two stone pavilions, Bunker Tower, the Bald Rock Group Lodge, and a network of hiking trails. This transformative period laid the foundation for the park’s reputation as a haven for nature enthusiasts and those seeking a historical touch.

Fast forward to 1973, when the park received a significant expansion with the addition of a hotel, restaurant, and five chalets. These modern amenities seamlessly blend with the park’s natural beauty, providing visitors with a comfortable and enjoyable experience.

Nestled within the embrace of the Talladega National Forest, Cheaha State Park spans 2,799 acres, straddling the border between Clay and Cleburne Counties. At the heart of the park stands Cheaha Mountain, a majestic centerpiece that commands attention and admiration.

The park’s name itself is a nod to its indigenous roots, drawing inspiration from the Creek Indian name for the mountain, “chaha,” which translates to “high place.” This connection is a reminder of the deep cultural and historical significance that the park holds within the context of the region.

Cheaha State Park on Google Maps:

When to visit Cheaha State Park

Cheaha State Park experiences a mild spring climate, with temperatures ranging from 60°F in March to 75°F in May. The evenings are cooler than daytime, contributing to a refreshing chill. This creates an ideal environment for hiking and exploring the park’s vibrant flora during the season. As summer approaches, temperatures rise, with daytime highs reaching between 80°F in June and July.

The air in the park becomes warmer due to higher humidity levels during the season, making it the peak tourism season. Visitors can partake in various water activities and enjoy picturesque picnic spots from June to August.

The captivating Cheaha State Park waterfall is a major attraction, with the best viewing time being in the Fall season (September to November) when the waterfall is in full flow. During this period, temperatures range from 70°F in September to 60°F in November. The fall months attract many photographers seeking to capture the waterfall’s beauty and the stunning backdrop of the changing foliage.

Winter, although relatively mild, can bring extreme cold at times. Temperatures typically hover around 40-50°F from December to February, with night-time temperatures dropping to about 20°F. Since winter sees fewer tourists, the atmosphere is quieter, and the crowds are sparse, making it an excellent time for those seeking a more serene experience in this picturesque mountain retreat.

What to do in Cheaha State Park

Tucked away amid the picturesque Appalachians, Cheaha State Park beckons outdoor enthusiasts and families yearning to escape the ordinary. Don’t underestimate its seemingly modest locale; this park is a concealed treasure awaiting exploration, offering far more than a simple woodland hike—it’s a spectacular journey of memory-making.

Secure your all-day adventure pass (at $5 for adults, $2 for kids aged 4 to 11, with complimentary entry for children under 3 and veterans) at the Mountain Store, and familiarize yourself with the breathtaking surroundings. Here are some of the things to do while in Cheaha State Park;

1. Go biking in Cheaha State Park

Embark on a trailblazing adventure spanning about 6 miles, intricately woven into a “stacked loop” layout. The primary trail, named the Mountain Express, is the backbone of this outdoor escapade. Additional pathways such as Deer Run, Lower Spring Loop, and Upper Spring Loop complement the main route, creating a diverse and engaging trail network.

Be prepared to retrace your steps a bit to fully explore all the trails during a single visit. While the trails predominantly feature rocky terrain, the elevation changes are relatively mild, with the lengthiest ascents reaching around 400 feet.

Navigating the trails may pose a challenge, especially along the Mountain Express trail near the summit, where numerous side trails tempt adventurers towards the road. Keep a keen eye out, as the trail weaves through enchanting Rhododendron tunnels, offering a picturesque journey. In winter, the landscape unfolds with stunning views, making each step a visual delight.

2. Check out the Fairy Garden

Nestled adjacent to the visitor center within Cheaha State Park, this enchanting attraction blends plants, flowers, and whimsical figures. Cheaha State Park’s Enchanted Garden is a magical space inviting children and adults alike to indulge in the art of crafting fairy houses or gnome homes using natural materials.

Immerse yourselves in the wonder of the Imagination Tree Playground, a haven for unstructured play that sparks creativity and exploration. Enhance your experience by acquiring a gem mining kit from the Mountain Store, uncovering precious gems, and incorporating them into the construction of your enchanted abodes.

As you explore the park, discover cozy nooks perfect for picnics and moments of storytelling, adding a touch of enchantment to your family’s adventure. Don’t forget to support the park’s conservation efforts by purchasing the “Hairy, Scary but Mostly Merry: Fairies!” story and activity book from the park store, where 100% of the proceeds contribute to the preservation of this natural wonder.

3. Check out the Bunker Observation Tower

As you navigate the winding roads of Bunker Loop, prepare to discover a hidden gem at the eastern end of the park – the Bunker Tower. More than just a structure, this tower is a captivating museum-like attraction, inviting you to step inside and revel in panoramic views of the park.

Crafted from native stone in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Bunker Tower is a testament to both history and architectural ingenuity. Originally housing park offices and a gift shop in the wings flanking the observation tower, this large stone edifice is a distinctive presence in the Southern state park landscape.

Unlike your run-of-the-mill tourist stops, the Bunker Tower is a unique spectacle, offering a glimpse into the past while providing a modern-day adventure. Open to the public every day, this towering structure beckons visitors to explore its interior, where a staircase leads to an observation room at its zenith.

Once atop the tower, you’ll be treated to a breathtaking 360-degree view, a bird’s-eye perspective that extends far beyond the park’s boundaries. It’s a visual feast that unfolds above the highest point in Alabama, offering an unrivaled vantage point for capturing the beauty that surrounds this remarkable state park.

The Bunker Tower on Google Maps:

4. Visit Cheaha Lake

Just a stone’s throw away from the park (just a quick 2-minute drive), lies a small lake waiting to charm you. This serene haven offers more than just a picturesque setting – it’s a refreshing escape for various activities. Dive into the cool waters for a swim or spread out a picnic blanket for a delightful meal.

This six-acre man-made lake is a versatile gem with a play area, sandy beach, a diving platform for thrill-seekers, and offers paddle boating for those seeking a leisurely cruise.

Cheaha Lake on Google Maps:

5. Go hiking with the family

Cheaha Mountain has several breathtaking hiking trails, catering to a diverse range of abilities and interests. Among these, the Bald Rock trail stands out as a gem, offering a boardwalk that is wheelchair accessible, making it an inclusive experience for all. Along the path, several shaded resting spots invite hikers to take a leisurely pause on their way to the lookout point.

For those seeking a slightly more rugged adventure, there are opportunities to veer off the main trail onto a footpath leading to the awe-inspiring Bald Rock. The Pinhoti trail provides another exciting option, guiding explorers either to the scenic Pine Glen Campground or to Sylacauga, Alabama.

Nature’s wonders are on full display along these trails, with captivating waterfalls that demand attention. Be sure not to miss these natural marvels as you traverse the diverse landscapes. Additionally, hiking enthusiasts can embark on journeys to Rock Gardens or Pulpit Rock, where witnessing an unforgettable sunset becomes a reality.

For the adventurous souls seeking the ultimate challenge, the Pinhoti 100 awaits every November. This endurance race covers an impressive 100 miles, starting at Pine Glen, ascending and descending Cheaha Mountain, and concluding in Sylacauga. Cheaha Mountain isn’t just a destination; it’s a haven for hikers, nature lovers, and adrenaline junkies alike, beckoning all to explore its diverse trails and witness the beauty that unfolds with every step.

The Bald Rock on Google Maps:

Where to eat in Cheaha State Park

Dining choices abound at Cheaha State Park, ensuring that visitors’ cravings aren’t left unattended. The Mountain Store sells beef jerky, dried fruits, and nuts. Picnic enthusiasts can opt for pre-made sandwiches or salads.

During the extended spring to late fall period, the Vista Cliffside Restaurant is a fantastic option for lunch and dinner, offering kid-friendly delights such as chicken tenders, pizza, and mouth-watering hamburgers.

For those craving a taste of the local culinary scene, a short 22-minute drive to Lineville leads to Partner’s Pit BBQ, where baked potatoes are generously filled with pulled pork and topped with all the fixings. Alternatively, venture to The Peerless Saloon and Grille in Anniston, the oldest operating saloon in Alabama since 1899, for a historical dining experience.

Partner’s Pit BBQ on Google Maps:

Where to stay in Cheaha State Park

There are so many accommodation options in the Cheaha State Park. You can stay in a hotel, rent a chalet, or a cabin depending on the type of experience you seek as a family.

1. Bald Rock Lodge

Indulge in the charm of the splendid Bald Rock Lodge, offering 12 bedrooms and bathrooms, a spacious kitchen, and a dining room for its guests. Situated near the entrance of the Bald Rock trail, this lodge provides an ideal setting for corporate gatherings or family reunions. With its impressive outdoor seating area, the lodge promises to be a crowd-pleaser for every member of your entourage.

Bald Rock Lodge on Google Maps:

2. Hotel Finial

The hotel boasts five suites within its historic Victorian house, along with 56 well-appointed hotel rooms accessible from exterior entries. Included in your stay is a delightful breakfast experience held in the main house, featuring an array of options from a hearty grits buffet to the indulgent delight of chicken and waffles.

Hotel Finial’s strategic location also makes it a prime choice for those eager to explore Anniston’s vibrant scene, with its proximity to various shops and restaurants. The Freedom Riders National Monument is just a short stroll away, making Hotel Finial an exceptional choice for those inclined towards city exploration.

Hotel Finial on Google Maps:

3. Camping

There are mainly two camping spots in Cheaha State Park to cater to adventurous families looking to spend their nights under the stars. Nestled atop the mountain near the chapel, the Upper Campground offers an array of back-in and pull-through spots.

A centrally located bathhouse caters to the camping area, ensuring convenience for all visitors. Each site is well-equipped with essential amenities, including water, sewer, electric hook-ups, and features like a picnic table and grill.

For those seeking a different atmosphere, the Lower Campground, situated near Cheaha Lake, is an excellent option. Every site boasts water, sewer, and electric connections, accompanied by the customary picnic table and grill for a comfortable and enjoyable stay.

Venture towards the tower, and you’ll discover semi-primitive camping spots that combine a touch of wilderness with convenience. These spots feature picnic tables, fire rings, and proximity to water spigots, offering a balanced camping experience for those who enjoy being closer to nature.

If you’re looking to embrace a more rustic camping vibe, the Primitive Camping area near Cheaha Lake awaits. Here, each spot comes equipped with a fire ring, allowing for traditional campfire experiences. A community water spigot ensures easy access to water, providing a genuine camping feel for those who prefer a simpler, back-to-basics approach to outdoor living.

Cheaha State Park isn’t just a dot on the map – it’s a destination that beckons families to unplug, unwind, and unite in the pursuit of adventure. So pack your sense of humor, your hiking boots, and your love for the great outdoors, and get ready for a family escapade that’ll leave you longing for the next peak to conquer.

Embark on your outdoor adventures with assurance and style! For women seeking the perfect fit, our guide unveils the 7 Best Hiking Shoes for Women, ensuring comfort and durability on every trail. Gentlemen, gear up for trail triumphs with the 7 Best Hiking Shoes for Men, offering unrivaled performance and rugged style. Let every step lead to memorable journeys, conquering diverse terrains with the ideal footwear companion. Step confidently into the wild, where comfort meets trail-ready durability for both him and her.

Happy Travel!

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