Alabama is loaded with beautiful state parks, national forests, and wilderness areas offering adventurers the chance to experience breathtaking views, roaring waterfalls, deep canyons, and dark bayous. What most people don’t realize, however, is that Alabama also has four state forests they can explore.
Protected and managed by the Alabama Forest Commission (AFC), these forests help protect the air and water quality of the state, provide critical habitat for wildlife that would otherwise be lost with the state’s burgeoning growth, and offer great recreational opportunities for outdoor lovers of all ages.
Here’s a quick guide to exploring Alabama’s rich state forests.
1. Choccolocco State Forest
Fantastic history, beautiful landscapes, and remarkable bike trails await you at the 4,406-acre Choccolocco State Forest in Anniston.
Archeology students at nearby Jacksonville State University discovered that more than 8,000 years ago Native Americans of the Archaic Period occupied the land that now includes the state forest. Around 2,000 years ago, the Creek Nation lived in the area and named the creek, using their words for “big” (chahko) and “shoals” (lago). Eventually, it was anglicized into Choccolocco.
After the forced removal of Native Americans, settlers farmed the land until the state purchased it during World War II and leased it to Fort McClellan to be used as a training site. It was managed by the Alabama Department of Conservation until 1969 when AFC took over.
Since then, the forest of mixed hardwoods and longleaf pines has served new recreational opportunities, including wildlife viewing. As you walking along old logging roads and hiking trails, there’s a good chance you’ll encounter whitetail deer, coyotes, rabbits, bats, and dozens of species of migratory birds.
A favorite spot for many to visit and relax is the Frog Pond Wildlife Preserve and Observation Area near White Plains. The Jacksonville State Environmental Policy and Information Center manages the pond which is a seasonal wetland teeming with a variety of frogs. It has become the center of education for college and public school children in the area and a respite for those who want to relax with an evening chorus of frog song.
On Bain’s Gap Road, you’ll find a nice picnic pavilion and a short hiking trail that leads to a waterfall. And, don’t forget to bring along your mountain bike and take a ride on one of the many backroads and trails established and maintained by the Northeast Alabama Bicycle Association.
Be aware that hunting is allowed at Choccolocco. Please visit the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) website for seasons and regulations.
2. Geneva State Forest
Only 10 miles north of the Florida state line you’ll find Geneva, the largest of the state’s forests. This 7,200-acre longleaf pine forest is primarily used by the timber industry, but wildlife protection and recreation are also high on AFC’s priority list.
In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) established a camp in the forest and planted thousands of pine seedlings by hand, bringing the forest back to life and providing not only a sustainable timber industry but also outdoor recreational opportunities.
The centerpiece of the forest is its glimmering 100-acre lake where you can wet your line and try your hand at snagging largemouth bass, bluegill, and crappie. Remember, an Alabama freshwater fishing license is required.
For equestrians and mountain bikers, there are miles of scenic dirt roads to explore, and for hikers, there is a nice easy walking trail that skirts the lake where you are sure to see fox, deer, and possibly a bobcat. There’s also a chance that wild turkey and quail will burst out of the brush.
The day use fee is $2 for visitors ages 16 to 59 and $1 for people 60 and over. As you plan your visit, keep in mind that Geneva allows hunting and visit the ADCNR website for seasons and regulations.
3. Little River State Forest
Hidden away in a longleaf pine forest in South Alabama, the Little River State Forest eludes many people, but it’s home to the beautiful the Claude D. Kelley Recreational Area.
Tasked with creating a new state park, the CCC developed Little River State Forest in 1934 and constructed a 25-acre lake, cabins, campsites, and hiking trails. The property was later called Claude D. Kelley State Park, and then the Claude D. Kelley Recreational Area. It remains a favorite of locals, and it’s slowly gaining popularity among visitors to the area.
On a hot summer day, you can swim in the cool, dark waters of Little River Lake and rent paddle boats. For kids, there’s a playground, and your family can gather at one of the picnic pavilions for an outdoor feast.
Dirt roads near the lake are excellent for horseback riding, and mountain bike trails loop around the forest. Also, there are two nice hiking trails—the one-mile CCC/Bell Trail Loop and the original three-mile out-and-back Gazebo Trail that winds its way to the top of a ridge and an amazing wooden gazebo built by the CCC.
Anglers can spend a peaceful day on the lake reeling in crappie and smallmouth bass. (Visit the Alabama Fish and Wildlife website for information on freshwater licenses.)
For those who want to camp, the recreation area offers primitive sites, RV sites, and cabins.
4. Weogufka State Forest
At Weogufka State Forest, about 65 miles southeast of Birmingham, the state government has been working closely with volunteers to bring the “greatest state park that never was” to life decades after the project was started by the CCC.
In 1933, the CCC began constructing a park on Flagg Mountain in the heart of Weogufka State Forest. The Corps built cabins, hiking trails, and the park’s centerpiece, a 52-foot tall stone tower atop the mountain. Tourists could climb the tower to get magnificent views of the surrounding mountains with the lights of Montgomery to the south and Birmingham to the north. The tower and cabins were built, but construction was halted during World War II.
While the park concept was abandoned for decades, the Alabama Forestry Commission has joined forces with numerous volunteer organizations and conservation groups to revitalize Weogufka State Forest and develop opportunities for outdoor recreation.
Three of the original CCC cabins on Flagg Mountain have been restored and are now open for business. Cabins are on a first-come, first served basis and are available for 3 days/2 nights for only a $25 donation. There are also plenty of primitive sites available for those who want to rough it. Visit the Friends of Flagg for information.
The Friends of Flagg group has also started hosting events on top of the mountain such as First Friday on Flagg Socials and a series of trail runs. Visit the Friends of Flagg Facebook page for details.
Currently, the fire tower is being renovated and is off limits for safety reasons, but AFC is working to open it for visitors. In any event, it is still an impressive structure to see with its large, hand-cut, hand-laid stone walls. The AFC is also working on getting water and bathhouses established as soon as possible.
Flagg Mountain is also home to the southern trailhead of Alabama’s famous Pinhoti Trail, which stretches some 335 miles to Georgia and the Appalachian Trail. The Pinhoti is an excellent choice for anyone who wants to attempt a long-distance hike or train for a thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail.
If you’re not into long-distance hiking, the forest offers fun and challenging hikes that range from one to five miles in length and provide great views of the surrounding mountains and the swift flowing Weogufka Creek.
The forest is also one of the newest stops along the Alabama Birding Trail where you’ll encounter dozens of species of songbirds as well as hawks and bald eagles.
Written by Joe Cuhaj for Matcha in partnership with BCBS of AL.