Let’s face it, we all have busy schedules, and most of us struggle to set aside a week or two for a long backpacking trip. But, the good news is that Alabama has some incredible trails where you can enjoy amazing overnight treks.
We’ve highlighted five of our favorite overnighters in the state. While one hike is in a Wilderness area (where you can camp wherever you’d like), four are within national forests, where backpackers must follow Forest Service Guidelines when choosing a campsite:
Use already established campsites where possible.
Camp on bare soil if possible to avoid killing vegetation.
Camp at least 100 feet away from streams
Be “invisible,” camping a good distance from the trail so that you are not visible from that trail.
Permits may be required, especially during hunting season. Visit the National Forests in Alabama website for more information on camping rules and regulations.
Practice Leave No Trace principles to limit your impact on the environment.
So, toss that pack into the back of your car this weekend and head out on one of these beautiful overnight hikes.
1. Skyway, Chinnabee, Pinhoti Loop
The Talladega National Forest encompasses everything that makes the southern Appalachians spectacular—panoramic vistas from rocky bluffs and outcroppings, swift creeks and streams, and amazing roaring waterfalls. And you can experience all of those wonderful features by hiking a loop that connects the Skyway, Chinnabee and Pinhoti trails.
This 17.5-mile loop is a perfect overnight backpacking trip for you to just get away into the wilderness to be with nature. The loop begins at the Adam’s Gap Trailhead on AL 281 South, only 3.8 miles south of Cheaha State Park. For an easier hike, walk the loop clockwise. For something more challenging, go counter-clockwise and you’ll find yourself doing some steep climbs especially at the intersection of the Skyway Loop and Chinnabee trails.
The hike begins on Alabama’s world famous long trail, the Pinhoti, and leads you through an oak and longleaf pine forest. Armadillos will be seen rooting through the underbrush, and you may kick up a wild turkey or two. After all, “Pinhoti” is a Native-American word or “turkey.”
The Skyway Loop climbs up to a ridge for some nice views of the Talladega Mountains. Plus, you’ll cross a few large creeks, the biggest being Barbaree and Hubbard. The trail drops steeply down off the ridge to pick up the Chinnabee Silent Trail, which follows the banks of its namesake creek where you’ll find several cascades and a great swimming hole or two.
Eventually, the trail climbs the side of a rock wall on stone stairs and a wooden catwalk for views of the spectacular Devil’s Den Falls. Then, you’ll ascend another ridge to reach the Cheaha Falls trail shelter and the beautiful tiered Cheaha Falls.
2. McDill Point
The Talladega National Forest offers some incredible views from its many quartzite outcroppings. To string together several great views in an overnight hike, take a 14-mile out-and-back trip that combines the Odum Scout Trail and the Pinhoti Trail. On this route, you’ll explore high ridges to visit several outcrops, including McDill Point, which offers some of the most impressive views in the national forest.
Begin your hike from the High Falls Trailhead just of off Clairmont Springs Road in Pyriton. This is the location of High Falls, a beautiful cascade that includes three 15-foot tiers of falls. After a significant rain, this waterfall can be really impressive.
From there, the trail wanders just below or on top of a ridgeline for about 3 miles, rewarding you with several panoramic views. You’ll then connect to the Pinhoti Trail and proceed to McDill Point, where you can end your day peacefully gazing out over surrounding mountains. After camping at McDill Point, retrace your steps to the High Falls Trailhead.
3. Sipsey Wilderness
Head to the heart of the Bankhead National Forest and spend a night in the “Land of a Thousand Waterfalls,” the Sipsey Wilderness. There are several options for nice loops and out-and-back hikes, but one of our favorites is a lollipop loop that uses Trail 209 (Sipsey Trail), Trail 201 (Rippey Trail), and Trail 202 (Randolph Trail) to make a nice 16-mile circuit.
The hike begins at the Sipsey Recreation Area off of County Road 60/Cranal Road on Trail 209. Remember, there is a $3 fee to park here. The path heads down to the banks of the beautiful cool and clear waters of the Sipsey Fork and follows the river 6.7 miles through an incredible canyon where seasonal waterfalls flow around just about every corner. Take a short side trip to one of the best, Fall Creek Falls, a 90-foot ribbon cascade.
The loop is formed where Trail 209 meets up with Trail 201 and climbs out of the canyon as it heads south to meet Trail 202. When you leave the canyon it seems as if you’ve entered a different world and the route follows a nice rolling path that’s lined with wildflowers in spring. Continuing on, you’ll rejoin Trail 209, which takes you back to the trailhead.
During the hike, you will have to cross Sipsey Fork a couple of times and get a little wet. Usually, they’re easy crossings, but if the water is up and flowing, it could be a challenge.
4. North Loop Trail
The North Loop Trail in the Conecuh National Forest is a perfect overnight trek for seasoned hikers who want to get away for a night or beginners learning the basics.
This 13.8-mile trail is actually the north loop of the longer Conecuh Trail that stretches south another 20 miles. It’s an easy walking journey through a forest of towering longleaf pines where you might encounter gopher tortoises and white-top pitcher plants.
What really makes the hike special are its water features—three beautiful dark green cypress ponds including Mossy, Gum, and Nellie. At each pond, cypress trees draped in Spanish moss line the banks and blooming water lilies float on the surface.
Since the terrain is relatively flat, you’ll find it a quick hike. Most hikers like to start around mid-morning from the south trailhead on AL 137 and do a clockwise circuit. You can hike the first 10 or so miles until dusk and then set up camp at Nellie Pond where the night sky is velvety black, the stars shimmer brightly, and frog song serenades you to sleep. The next morning, it’s a short 3-mile jaunt to the trailhead to complete the loop.
5. White-Blue Loop
For a fun overnighter at Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham (just south of Birmingham) take the Blue-White Trail Loop, which you’ll explore the twin ridges of Oak Mountain for incredible views, encounter a waterfall, get a workout with a little elevation gain, and spend a wonderful night with the lights of Birmingham in the distance.
The loop itself is 13.1 miles with an optional 0.8-mile extension to what is known as the King’s Chair Overlook. We say optional, but trust us, you don’t want to miss the spectacular views from the Chair! And yes, a good hiker can do this loop in a day, but take your time and revel in nature and the solitude found here only minutes from a major Southeastern city.
The hike begins at the park’s North Trailhead on the Blue Trail (also known as the South Rim Trail) with a good workout. You’ll climb from 620 feet of elevation to 1,100 feet as you make your way to the top of the eastern ridge. From there, it’s a pleasant walk through the woods with several views, and you’ll reach the extension trail that leads to the King’s Chair.
The Blue Trail ends at the beautiful Peavine Falls, a 65-foot cascade that tumbles down to a cool, clear pool at its base. From here, you’ll join the White Trail (aka the Shackleford Point Trail), which leads you to the summit of the tallest mountain in the park, Shackleford, that measures in at 1,260 feet tall. The path then winds its way back downhill to the trailhead and gives you a chance to stop at the peaceful oasis known as Maggie’s Glen with its natural spring, beautiful white beech trees, and dogwoods.
In the state park, backcountry camping is only allowed in designated areas. For this hike, there is one spot located about midway on the White Trail. Because backcountry sites are on a first come, first served basis, you should get there early. There is a $6 per person backcountry camping fee, and your group must also purchase a trail map for $1.
Written by Joe Cuhaj for Matcha in partnership with BCBS of AL.