In 1991 the voters of Alabama did something extraordinary: Almost unanimously they voted to create a new program to protect ecologically sensitive properties across the state completely funded with a small percentage of the interest earned from royalties the state receives from offshore drilling.
Since that vote, the program, Forever Wild, has protected over 170,000 acres of the most beautiful scenery and amazing wildlife in the South. Fortunately for us, these lands are open to the public, all marbled with a myriad of fantastic hiking trails that will take us to those destinations. Let’s take a hike down 10 of the best Forever Wild hikes.
1. Walls of Jericho
There has been a lot written about the Walls of Jericho. Straddling the Alabama-Tennessee state line just northeast of Huntsville the property features two trails: the moderate-to-difficult 4.7-mile Bear Den Point Trail that circles just below the summit of the mountain with the same name, and what is arguably the most popular trail in the state, the Walls of Jericho Trail.
This is a difficult 7-mile out-and-back trail that heads steeply down a ridge passing several sink holes and a small cave or two before crossing the rushing blue-green waters of Hurricane Creek and Turkey Creek. After passing the old Clark Cemetery, you will arrive at the canyon known as the Walls of Jericho.
The Walls is a bowl canyon with a tremendous tiered waterfall where the water first tumbles into a hole in the upper rock wall, then reappears at the bottom. When the water is really flowing, it is a spectacular sight—and one to add to your trail bucket list if it’s not already on there.
2. Coldwater Mountain
Coldwater Mountain is most well known for its world-class mountain biking trails, but hiking the mountain is fantastic as well. There are more than 25 miles of trail at Coldwater, all of which are well maintained by the International Mountain Bikers Association and local volunteers. The climbs can be very challenging, but the scenery is worth it. Remember that cyclists ride the trails in a clockwise direction, so hikers and trail runners need to go in the opposite (counter-clockwise) direction.
3. Shoals Creek Preserve
Tucked away in the northwest corner of the state near the town of Florence is a beautiful 298-acre tract of land called the Shoals Creek Preserve. Two highlights of the preserve are Jones and Lawson Branch streams, both of which cascade their way down over low rock ledges to Indian Camp and Shoals Creek and eventually Wilson Lake. Two trails, the 1.8-mile, yellow-blazed Lawson Branch Loop, and the 2.5-mile, red-blazed Jones Branch Loop, are located here. Both are easy walking treks over hard-packed dirt footpaths past tranquil cascades, views of Indian Camp Creek from a bluff, and a visit to a beautiful low-tiered, horseshoe-shaped cascade. You can hike the trails separately or, since they are connected, as a 4.3-mile out-and-back.
4. Coon Creek Tract
Looking for a nice walk in the woods? Then travel to Tallassee and visit the Forever Wild Coon Creek Tract. Along the tract’s namesake creek you’ll find two fun trails, the Wood Duck and Overlook Loop.
The longest of the two is the red-blazed Wood Duck Trail, a 4.5-mile out-and-back with a small loop at the far end where the trail turns to head back to the trailhead. It’s an easy-to-moderate hike as you climb up and down ravines on the north side where you’ll be hugging the banks of the creek with some great views of the waterway. At one point just before crossing a slough, you’ll pass a scenic wetland with lily pads blooming, reeds blowing in the wind, hyacinth beds, and wood ducks floating around.
The other trail, the Overlook Loop, is only one mile long but what it lacks in length it makes up for in difficulty. It begins along the south side of the wide creek then heads steeply up the side of a ridge to the top for some views from above before it turns and heads back down just as steeply.
5. Weogufka State Forest
Weogufka State Forest is a 762-acre tract where hikers can immerse themselves in a mixed hardwood and pine forest. There are two trails here, the White and Yellow Trails, so named because of their paint blazes, that are interconnected and make a solid 4-mile loop hike. The trail is glowing with vibrant autumn colors in the fall and dotted with brilliant wildflowers in the summer.
One of the main reasons to come to the forest is to visit the CCC cabins and stone fire tower atop Flagg Mountain, recognized as the last mountain over 1,000 feet tall in the southern Appalachians (measuring in at 1,150 feet). The park that encompassed the mountain that the CCC was building never became a reality and the Alabama Forestry Commission abandoned the facilities in the mid-1980s. Today hikers can visit this beautiful craftsmanship and now can spend a night atop the mountain either in one of the renovated cabins or by tent camping. You must contact the Alabama Hiking Trail Society first before spending the night. And remember, the tower has not yet been stabilized, so going inside is prohibited.
6. Coosa Wildlife Management Area
Looking for a longer hike or maybe a nice overnighter? Then check out the 11.4-mile Coosa Wildlife Management Trail. You can do shorter length hikes on the trail, hike it point-to-point, or do a 22.8-mile overnight out-and-back. The trail uses a combination of old logging roads and new dirt footpaths through this pine and hardwood forest in Coosa County very close to the Weogufka State Forest.
Along the route, you’ll be treated to a variety of birds, including the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, and views of Mitchell Lake and Hatchet Creek. There are two primitive campsites established for overnight hikers that accommodate 8 to 10 campers with one located near the west trailhead, the other halfway down the trail.
7. Turkey Creek Nature Preserve
Turkey Creek Nature Preserve is a fun adventure for the entire family. Located just north of Birmingham in the town of Pinson, the tract has an amazing boulder field that’s a blast to explore. Then there’s the centerpiece, the creek itself, which is a feeder of Locust Fork. It’s fast flowing with some small rushing waterfalls that tumble into pools where locals flock to in the summer to cool off.
There are five trails in the preserve ranging in difficulty from easy (the 0.35-mile Boy Scout Trail that meanders alongside the creek) to the moderate (the 3.2-mile Narrows Ridge Trail that has some rather steep inclines but nice views from the top of a ridge).
8. Wehle Tract
Spanning 1,500 acres of hardwood bottom land and pine covered hills make rambling the Forever Wild Wehle Tract in Bullock County a great day trip. More than 10 miles of hiking trails like the Bottomland Cut-Off, Firebreak, and Pines Trail meander around the property crossing several creeks and follow the banks of ponds and lakes, including Blue Heron and Alligator.
The trails are open from dawn to dusk seven days a week. Three trails lead you to the adjacent Wehle Nature Center, with its wildlife displays and family-oriented events.
9. Splinter Hill Bog Complex
In northern Baldwin County near the headwaters of the Perdido River you’ll find theSplinter Hill Bog Complex. What makes Splinter Hill Bog a must-do hike is that in early spring from around March through May you will find yourself surrounded by literally thousands of beautiful white-top pitcher plants.
The trail itself is a 4-mile loop trail with two trailheads, one on the east side and one on the west. This tract is not to be confused with the Nature Conservancy’s Splinter Hill Bog, which is nearby and also deserves a visit while you’re in the area.
10. Jacinto Port
Finally, we travel to the town of Saraland and the Jacinto Port Tract. This Forever Wild managed property is on the banks of the second-largest river delta in the country, the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta. Five trails make up the trail system that crosses several creeks with overlooks for views of the delta and Bayou Sara. You will also see remnants of an old brick-making facility from back in the 1800s.
The trails are open seasonally from March 1 to the beginning of turkey hunting season and then again from May 1 to September 30. The trails are multi-use, meaning that hikers will be joined by mountain bikers and, on some trails, equestrians.
Originally written for BCBS of AL.