Alabama’s long trails:
Scenery, history, adventure
By Skye Borden
Every year in April, thousands of hikers cram onto Georgia’s Springer Mountain, hoping to through-hike the entire Appalachian Trail to Maine. Now, with film adaptations of “Wild” and “A Walk in the Woods” inspiring viewers, a whole new generation of would-be hikers is starting to catch a serious case of wanderlust.
Although the Appalachian Trail is lovely, you don’t need to travel that far away to get off the radar. Alabama’s five long trails connect many of the state’s best historical spots and rural scenery. Whether you’re out for a day or a month, they’re guaranteed to satisfy your need for adventure.
Chief Ladiga and Silver Comet Trails
At just 95 miles, these trails make up the shortest trip on the list, but they’re actually the longest paved rail trail in the United States. Alabama’s Chief Ladiga Trail follows an abandoned railroad bed through northeast Alabama towns from Anniston to the Georgia state line. There, the Silver Comet begins, and the trail continues all the way to Atlanta.
These multi-use trails are great for biking, running or walking. They’re also the most family-friendly trails on the list. Start a day trip with parking access points at Warren Road in Weaver, Jacksonville State University, or the Piedmont Civic Center. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can stay at the Chief Ladiga Campground in Piedmont to create a multiday trip. Visit www.chiefladigatrail.com.
The Pinhoti is the granddaddy of all Alabama hiking trails. It follows the spine of the southernmost Appalachians for 335 miles from Flagg Mountain in Weogufka, Ala., to Blue Ridge, Ga. Along the way it passes through tight tunnels of rhododendrons, across scenic rocky outcroppings, and over clear mountain streams.
When the Appalachian Trail was initially proposed in the 1920s, many thought it should extend into Alabama along the Pinhoti’s path. Although the final plan stopped in Georgia, advocates are still pushing to make Weogufka the official southern end of the Appalachian Trail.
If you aren’t up for a through-hike, Talladega National Forest offers a number of opportunities to get onto the trail for a weekend trip or day hike. My favorite loop connects the Pinhoti to Lake Chinnabee and a streamside shelter out of Adam’s Gap trailhead.
Maps can be purchased online from the US Forest Service or in person at any of the forest service’s Alabama ranger districts.
Natchez Trace Parkway Scenic Trail
This national parkway travels an old American Indian trade route for 444 miles from Natchez, Miss., to Nashville, Tenn. Along the way it crosses through 30 miles of rolling farmland and forests in the Tennessee River Valley of northwest Alabama.
Although the entire parkway can be driven by car, the slow pace of a road bike is the best way to really take in the gorgeous scenery. For a good workout, start your day trip at the Bear Creek Indian Mound site on the Alabama state line and pedal uphill nine miles to panorama views at the Freedom Hills Overlook.
For maps and route info, visit the National Park Service’s website at www.nps.gov/natr.
Underground Railroad Trail
The Underground Railroad Trail is a 2,006-mile road-bike trek through the heart of some of America’s most historic places. It begins in the 1800s slave port of Mobile, and then follows the North Star to weave through historic churches, state parks, and museums along the Tensaw, Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers in west Alabama.
Only serious bikers should attempt to do the entire trip, but even novices can enjoy the trail’s Mobile Bay section. This day trip includes stops at two historic churches and a cruise through Africatown, where freed slaves once created their own settlement, complete with native African tribal customs and language.
Route information and maps can be found at the Adventure Cycling Association’s website, www.adventurecycling.org.
Alabama Scenic River Trail
Although nearly 5,000 miles of Alabama’s waterways are now part of the scenic river system, the core trail flows 631 miles from the Coosa River into the Alabama River and the Mobile Bay. Along the way, it flows past some of the state’s best whitewater and a number of important historic points, including Fort Toulouse, Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge and Gee’s Bend.
Weekend warriors in need of an adrenaline fix can tackle the trail’s Class III rapids on the Coosa River south of Lake Jordan Dam. Or, if you’re in the mood for a more relaxed trip, head to the Five Rivers Resource Center in Spanish Fort for canoe rentals or a guided tour of the Mobile-Tensaw delta.
For more information, visit www.alabamascenicrivertrail.com.
If you’re unsure of what to pack for your trip, reach out to your local outdoor outfitter for gear advice and travel tips. And as always, remember to practice Leave No Trace principles while you’re out – take only pictures, and leave only footprints.′