Talladega National Forest

Nestled at the southern edge of the Appalachian Mountains, Talladega National Forest is a true natural treasure of the South. For decades, the rugged wilderness of Alabama’s largest forest fascinated visitors from across the country. Nearly 400,000 acres of pine and hardwood forests are home to a diverse, recovering ecosystem. Dugger Mountain Wilderness Area, stunning waterfalls along Chinnabee Silent Trail, and breathtaking views from Pinhoti Trail are examples of Talladega’s awe-inspiring beauty.

Sunset in Talladega National Forest
Cheaha Wilderness area sunset in Talladega National Forest

At one point, Talladega was a barren wasteland. Today, however, it’s a beautiful sanctuary. But it’s path to becoming one wasn’t always a given. Like Conecuh National Forest, it’s story is one of reforestation and hope.

About the Forest

Long before it was designated as a national forest, much of the land was part of a longleaf pine ecosystem. But over the years, most of it was logged and replanted with faster growing trees like loblolly pines. When it was first bought by the federal government in the 1930s, most of the forest was cutover and eroded. As a result, much of the longleaf ecosystem and the species that depended on it were gone. A gradual reforestation program is slowly restoring Talladega to a rich, biodiverse ecosystem.

Although much of the forest is now second-growth, Talladega feels like true wilderness again. It’s forests are biodiverse, especially the remote wilderness areas. Coyotes, black bear, foxes and white-tail deer are thriving. For gopher tortoises, red-cockaded woodpeckers, and other endangered species, the forest is a haven.

Ranger Districts

The forest has two separate tracts—Oakmulgee District in central Alabama, and Shoal Creek and Talladega districts in the northeastern part of the state. The Oakmulgee district features Alabama’s largest contiguous longleaf forest. This tract is less mountainous, and has more streams and broad floodplains. The Cahaba River runs directly through this district. The district is also home to Payne Lake Recreation Area and 8 primitive camping areas.

As a whole, the northeastern tract is more mountainous. Dugger Mountain Wilderness, and Coleman Lake and Pine Glen Recreation Area are within Shoal Creek District. Warden Station Horse Camp and several hunter camps are as well. The Talladega Ranger district is home to Turnipseed Camp and several hunter camps. This district highlights several short trails, including Chinnabee Silent Trail. Chinnabee is a 6-mile trail with spectacular views of mountain streams and waterfalls. Cheaha Wilderness is also located within Talladega Ranger District.

Gopher Tortoise, a keystone species in Talladega National Forest.
Gopher Tortoise—The longleaf pine ecosystem in Talladega National Forest is a vital refuge for these tortoises. Image by Jody Davis from Pixabay.

Recreation in Talladega National Forest

Talladega has activities for everyone. Explore the recreation areas for great camping, fishing and boating locations. If you are looking for more adventurous camping, the Forest Service permits remote camping within much of the forest. The wilderness areas or the Pinhoti Trail are especially great places for remote camping.

Recreation Areas

Payne Lake and Coleman Lake

Although all the recreation areas offer camping, Payne Lake and Coleman Lake are the only two that have designated RV camping. These lakeside recreation areas feature boating access (non-motorized), picknicking areas, and a few short hiking trails. Fishing and swimming are allowed in the lakes.

Pine Glen

Pine Glen is located within the Choccolocco Wildlife Management area. It is located on the banks of Shoal Creek and next to the 100-mile Pinhoti Trail. With 21 campsites available, it’s perfect for a multi-day fishing, hiking or hunting adventure.

Turnipseed Campground

Compared to the other rereation areas in Talladega, Turnipseed Campground is unique. Turnipseed Campground is a primitive camp near Cheaha Wilderness. If you are fine with fewer creature comforts, the natural beauty and solitude is definitely worth it.

Wilderness Areas

There are two wilderness areas in Talladega—Cheaha and Dugger Mountain. Cheaha Wilderness covers more than 7,000 acres directly adjacent to Cheaha State Park. About 10 miles Pinhoti Trail run directly through this wilderness area. As a result, the trail offers a close-up look at this wilderness area.

Dugger Mountain wilderness is 9,200 acres of the most mountainous terrain in Alabama. It is one of the last roadless areas in Alabama National Forests. Partly because of this, Dugger mountain is home to a number of endangered and threatened plant communities.

Pinhoti Trail

The Pinhoti Trail begins at Cheaha State Park and runs east, connecting to the Appalachian trail. In the process, it runs directly through Talladega National Forest. Hikers experience expansive views of nearby peaks and a first-hand look at the biodiversity of the forest. For day-hikers and backpackers alike, the Pinhoti is one of the forest’s most special places .

Visit Talladega National Forest

Now, if you visit Talladega National Forest, you know what to expect. Hike the Pinhoti Trail, fish in Payne Lake, or camp at the peaceful Turnipseed Campground. Of course, be respectful and remember to leave it like you found it.

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