A climb to the highest point in Alabama that's perfect for the runner who'd rather earn their summits instead of driving to the top. The Cheaha area is truly beautiful and the stone observation tower makes the sprawling Talladega
Mountain views even better! This six-mile route starts with the park's most difficult trail before climbing the rest of the way up to the tower. On the way back down a quick detour to Pulpit Rock dishes up a final stunning vista before the last descent.
Entrance to the state park is $5 (ages 12+) or $2 (seniors and children 4-11).
Begin at the Cheaha Lake Parking area and look for the Lake Trail
at the edge of the trees. Things start out very gradually, but the grade steadily steepens as runners climb away from the lake. By the halfway mark, you'll probably start to feel some burn in your legs as you continue to navigate up the steep and rocky terrain.
Don't despair, though, because this section is quite beautiful with trees, views, and outcroppings providing ample excuses to stop and take a break. Pretty soon you'll reach the top of the trail, where the grade immediately mellows. Keep straight through the parking area and turn right on the park road for an easy three-quarter mile cool-down that leads past the Cheaha State Park Hotel. Near the park entrance, look for the bottom of the Cheha Express on the left.
The Cheha Express was designed for mountain bikers, but runners are also welcome on the pleasant rolling terrain that leads around the east side of the park. Just be prepared to yield to any two-wheeled traffic you encounter and share a smile with your fellow trail user. After a series of closely packed switchbacks near the top, look for the Express Connector
that leads to a road.
Simply proceed across the intersection to arrive at the stone observation tower, where a stair-master inspired climb to the top provides a fantastic 360-degree view across the landscape. Once back on the ground, look for the top of the Leave No Trace Bigfoot Challenge Trail. This uniquely named interpretive trail displays plenty of Bigfoot cutouts and signs about stewardship while visiting nature.
At the bottom, turn right on the park road and continue past the Rock Garden Parking Area to reach the Pulpit Rock Trail
. This short detour has a few steeper sections and the trail can be rough, but the views and photo-opp of the Lion King-style rock that proudly protrudes from the mountainside are more than worth it.
Head back to the road and make the immediate turn to the right. At the end of the parking area is the familiar top of the Lake Trail
. Runners may be tempted to rush down, but it's worth taking your time, both for safety and to enjoy the new perspective back down to the lake.