“Are you ready?”
My dad obviously didn’t think so. But in all fairness, I couldn’t blame him. We hadn’t hiked in over a year, and we were about to tackle one of the most difficult trails in the southernmost Appalachians. One that dropped more than a thousand feet in the first half a mile. My mom (smart woman, it turns out) decided not to join us.
To begin with, we were brave. We planned to start at the top, hike down, take a break, and hike back up. We thought we’d finish the whole hike, two miles in total, by lunch.
One mile, two hours, and the shakiest of shaky legs later, we reconsidered. Lucky for us, Mom had anticipated that we’d change our minds. While we were finding footholds between rocks and grabbing tree limbs for balance, she had driven our car down the mountain, parked at the trail head, and walked a few hundred, very flat feet down the trail. We found her reading a book by a stream when we reached the bottom.
A few days later, we set our eyes on waterfalls. For starters, we went looking for a classic–Cheaha Falls, named after the nearby mountain. The hike was flat but sunny, and when we reached the waterfall, I nearly cannon-balled into the pool below.
The most stunning was Devil’s Den, a three-tier waterfall nestled between two cliffs. We began at Lake Chinnabee and walked half a mile alongside Cheaha Creek to the falls. As we got closer, the trail rose with the cliff, giving us expansive views of the canyon and waterfalls below.
Our final day at Cheaha, we took one last leisurely hike out to Pulpit Rock. The trail ended in one of most beautiful, sweeping views of the valley below. The day we went, there was no one in sight, and the wind was gusty, ruffling tree leaves and blowing our hair into our faces.
WHERE TO HIKE
Lake Trail: By far the most difficult, steep trail in the area, but a short, one-of-a-kind hike down the mountain. Feeling a challenge? Hike up!
Chinnabee Silent Trail: This six-mile, out-and-back trail passes both Cheaha Falls and Devil’s Den. Experienced hikers can easily hike the entire trail in one day, but I recommend a shorter route, starting at either the Lake Chinnabee Recreation Area (off County Road 12/Forest Service Road 650) or the Turnip Seed Parking Area (off Highway 281). This part of the trail is about three-and-a-half miles one-way. Cheaha Falls is about three quarters of a mile from Turnip Seed, and Devil’s Den is about half a mile from Lake Chinnabee. Hike the entire length for a nice stretch of the legs!
Pulpit Rock: Located inside Cheaha State Park, this trail isn’t quite a third of a mile but ends on a rocky ledge at the mountain’s edge. Don’t let the beginning of the trail scare you–it starts out rather steep but flattens out quickly. It’s my personal favorite because it’s easier than the Lake Trail but just as pretty as, and more rustic and secluded than, the more popular Bald Rock.
WHERE TO EAT
Cheaha Brewing Company: Highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend and well worth the 45-minute drive. Located in an old train station that was built in 1885, the atmosphere is one-of-a-kind, but I’d argue that the food and beer are even better. This small, local brewpub has some of the best craft beer around, and its food (equally delicious) is made using locally grown, organic produce and dairy products and all-natural meats. And with more than a dozen beers on tap at any given time, you’re sure to find something for everyone! Tip: Bring a growler. You might like the beer so much that you’ll want some to-go!
Cheaha Restaurant: We never ate here, but the convenient, in-park location and expansive views from the restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows are hard to beat. Described as “country cooking at its best.”
WHERE TO STAY
Cheaha State Park: For weekend and short trips, I highly recommend that you stay at Cheaha State Park unless you want to drive upwards of an hour to and from the nearest town each day. The best option, in my opinion, is a semi-primitive campsite (approximately $18 per night), where you can sleep in a tent under the stars but benefit from nearby bathhouses. Other options include hotel rooms, chalets, cabins, improved campsites, and primitive campsites.
Talladega National Forest: For adventurers seeking seclusion, camp in the nearby Talladega National Forest, which surrounds Cheaha State Park. According to the U.S. Forest Service, permits aren’t required except during gun deer hunting season, and primitive camping is allowed in most areas of the forest. Just be sure to follow the rules!
High Country Wine Cellars: Located just off the interstate a few miles east of Cheaha, you MUST visit this winery, even if only to stock up before heading home. High Country sells 50+ wines at any given time, including a mix of dry, semi-sweet, and sweet wines made from nearly every fruit imaginable–peach, strawberry, blackberry, raspberry. My personal favorite (which might be my all-time favorite wine of any variety) is the “sweet” Charred Peach. I’d say it’s about as sweet as your typical Riesling, and while I’m not typically a fan of sweet wines, the Charred Peach is phenomenal. Tastes like a fresh peach that’s just been taken off the grill. Not sure if that sounds like your cup of tea? High Country offers free tastings during business hours, which are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.