The Pinhoti Trail is Alabama’s crown jewel for hiking adventures. The path begins at Cheaha State Park, runs for 170 miles through the state, and then continues another 167 miles through north Georgia to intersect with the Appalachian Trail. The Alabama portion of the Pinhoti weaves through the rugged Talladega National Forest where hikers encounter exceptional mountain views and some of the most beautiful sections of forest in the state.
While the Pinhoti is popular with thru-hikers prepping for the Appalachian Trail (there are even efforts to make it an extension of the AT), the Pinhoti is set up perfectly for day hikes. You’ll find several access points that allow you to do point-to-point or out-and-back hikes ranging from two to seven miles.
Like most hikes in Alabama, it’s best to plan a winter, spring, or fall trip to avoid the hot and humid summer weather. A spring trip is ideal, as mild temperatures arrive and blooming wildflowers line the trail.
To help you get out into Alabama’s wilderness, here is a list of five of the best day hikes on the Pinhoti Trail. Keep in mind that some trailheads aren’t easy to find, so check out the included driving directions. Be sure to plan your route ahead of time and make sure you have maps and directions in a format that doesn’t require a cell signal.
1. Flagg Mountain Trailhead to CCC Road
Start at the southern terminus of the Pinhoti at the Flagg Mountain Trailhead on a four-mile out-and-back hike that covers moderate terrain and visits remote stretches of forest with beautiful views of Weogufka Creek.
From the parking area, you’ll descend gradually for two miles and take numerous switchbacks through pines and hardwoods. Along the way, you’ll encounter springs and hike alongside the mountain ridge where you’ll catch a view of Weogufka Creek.
At about the 2.1-mile mark you’ll reach the Weogufka Creek Shelter, another spring crossing, and a rock retaining wall. This is the turnaround point, and you’ll retrace your steps to get back to the trailhead. But, if you’d like to hang out for a while, there are plenty of trees for rigging a hammock. You might want to rest a bit to prep for the somewhat strenuous return trip, which involves plenty of uphill hiking.
The trailhead to Flagg Mountain can be tricky to access, and the road can be difficult to travel after a hard rain. Start in Sylacauga, traveling south on AL 21 for about six miles until you reach the caution light in Stewartville. Turn right, continue to a stop sign, and then turn left onto CR 41. Travel 6.5 miles to a four-way stop, and stay straight on CR 41/CR 29.
Travel another five miles and turn right onto CR 16. You’ll go 0.1 miles and cross a one-lane bridge with no guardrails. Continue another half-mile and turn right onto the CCC road that travels up Flagg Mountain. Be aware that the road can be muddy, slick, and rutted after a heavy rain. Travel 1.5 miles to the parking lot, which is on the right.
2. Trammel Trailhead to RCW Hillcrest
This four-mile out-and-back hike leads you to a nesting area for the red-cockaded woodpecker, which was listed as an endangered species in 1970. En route to the nesting site, you’ll traverse rolling hills and walk among old-growth oak trees and dense stands of pines. After walking a little less than a half-mile, you’ll encounter a spring and spring-fed bog.
At the 1.3-mile mark, you’ll reach the nesting area, which is easy to recognize as the trees have been thinned out considerably, and tall pines dominate the landscape. Take some time to relax and see if you can spy the red-cockaded woodpecker, which is about the size of a robin and is primarily black and white with a bright white patch on its cheeks. The bird gets its name from the small red streak on the upper cheek of males.
To reach the Trammel Trailhead, begin at the intersection of AL 148 and AL 21 in Sylacauga and travel east on AL 148 for three miles. Turn right onto FS 603 and go 2.5 miles to FS 603a. Turn left onto 603a and at the fork in the road, take a right. The trailhead parking will be just ahead on the right.
3. Porter’s Gap Trailhead to Scott Lake
Beginning at the Porter’s Gap Trailhead, this seven-mile out-and-back hike traverses an open, flat section of the Pinhoti with small hills and inviting stands of tall, old-growth trees with little underbrush. After walking a little more than a half-mile, you’ll begin a series of stream crossings, so be sure to wear footwear that you don’t mind getting wet.
At 3.3 miles you’ll reach Scott Lake and a “T” intersection. Take a left to continue another 0.3 miles to reach Scott’s Cascade where water crashes over a low jumble of rocks. Use caution after hard rains since this is a high-water hazard area. From here, retrace your steps to return to the trailhead.
The Porter’s Gap Trailhead is easily accessible. Begin in downtown Talladega and head south on AL 77 for one mile, staying on AL 77 by turning left at the stop sign. The trailhead parking area is close to 9 miles down AL 77 on the left.
4. Pine Glen Campground to Sweetwater Lake
Beginning at Pine Glen Campground, this six-mile out-and-back hike is mostly flat with Shoal Creek guiding your way over rolling hills to a large lakeside campground that makes a great place to hang out and relax. For most of the way, the trail skirts Shoal Creek, and at 2.3 miles a bridge takes you over the seasonal stream.
After you walk another 0.3 miles, you’ll cross a dam spillway and skirt the left side of Sweetwater Lake. At 2.8 miles, the path crosses a peninsula where a camping area provides the perfect place to hang out before the walk back. If you continue another 0.3-miles, you’ll reach the main lake parking area.
To reach the Pine Glen Campground, take I-20 east of Oxford to the exit for US 431. Head north on US 431 for less than a half-mile, and then turn right at the stop sign onto US 78. Travel on US 78 for a little more than five miles, and then turn left on the paved road just before the overhead bridge. At the intersection with AL 281, there will be a stop sign. Head straight onto the dirt road, which is FS 500. Travel north on FS 500 for five miles to Pine Glen Campground on the left. You’ll see a few day-use parking spots, and there is no cost to park. There is a small fee to camp.
To access the trail, you will have to go back onto the road and cross the Shoal Creek Bridge on your left. After you cross the bridge, you’ll see the Pinhoti Trail on the right.
5. Cave Creek Trail—Pinhoti Trail Loop
A large archway marks the start of the Cheaha Trailhead, where you’ll start this 7.5-mile loop that includes some of the most spectacular views in the Talladega National Forest.
After passing through the trailhead entrance, head left at the intersection to take the Cave Creek Trail. (You’ll return on the Pinhoti Connector Trail that’s on the right.) Your first mile is mostly flat and open, but the trail conditions change as you enter the Cheaha Wilderness. The forest becomes dense, and the trail climbs steadily to the Pinhoti Connector Trail atop Talladega Mountain.
Take the Pinhoti Connector to cross a large boulder field, and at 4.7 miles turn left onto the spur trail for the McDill Overlook. From your high perch at the overlook, you’ll have a sweeping view of Talladega Mountain and the surrounding Talladega National Forest.
Return to the Pinhoti Trail to descend and then quickly climb to another spot where you have an inspiring view of the forested valleys below. The path follows a ridgeline and drops down to even more scenic overlooks. When you’ve hiked 7 miles, turn right onto the Pinhoti Connector Trail to return to the Cave Creek Trail and complete the loop.
From Birmingham, travel on I-20 east to Oxford and take exit 188. Travel south on Hwy 24/CR 24 for a little more than 1.7 miles and turn left onto Friendship Rd. Go another 1.7 miles and turn right on Jennifer Lane. Go 0.6 miles and continue on Mellon Rd. Travel 1.1 miles and continue onto Hwy 24/CR 24. Go 1.9 miles and turn left onto an unnamed road. Travel just 0.2 miles and turn right onto AL-281 South. Travel 9.2 miles and turn left to reach the trailhead parking area.
Written by Hap Pruitt for Matcha in partnership with BCBS of AL.