Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Cheaha State Park - Delta, Alabama

Description: Mount Cheaha is the highest point in Alabama at 2407 feet above sea level.  Cheaha State Park is located on top of the mountain.  This state park is a mountain resort with a variety of places to stay ranging from campsites to secluded chalets. There is even a restaurant located on top of this mountain.  Many buildings were originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930's.  There are many hikes that lead to overlooks where you have a dramatic view of the miles of trees within the Talladega National Forest.      

Location: This state park is located within the Talladega National Forest on top of Mt Cheaha.  The address for the park is 19644 Hwy 281 in Delta, Alabama.

Cost: Entrance to the park is $5 per person per day. Children ages 6-11 are $2.  These rates don't apply if you stay overnight.

Camping starts at $15.40 for a primitive campsite. $17.60 for semi primitive sites, and $27.50 per night for a site at the improved campground, There are also chalets, cabins, and hotel rooms available.  The hotel is about $80 per night and the cabins and chalets are all above $100.

Operating Seasons and Hours: Open all year long from 7:00 am-10:00pm

Official Website: http://www.alapark.com/cheaha-state-park

Date of Visit: Friday, March 25, 2016 to Saturday March 26, 2016

Those of you who follow this blog know that for months I've been planning to go on a little family vacation to Lookout Mountain on the Alabama/Tennisee border. As I was planning that trip I was pouring over my map of Alabama looking for places to explore on our way up to Lookout Mountain.

An area to the east of  Birmingham caught my eye. The map simply said, Cheaha Mountain Highest Point in Alabama 2,407. There was also a little icon for a State Park called Cheaha State Park.  A few quick Google searches showed that a visit to this mountain would be worth our time. The area was sort of on our route up to Lookout Mountain - if we were willing to take back roads.  My husband and I started trying to decide if we should add Cheaha State Park to the beginning or the end of our road trip.

What ended up happening was that my husband wasn't able to get enough time off during the kids' spring break to make a trip up to Lookout Mountain worth it.  He was able to get the weekend off though.  So we decided to go ahead with a overnight trip up to Mt Cheaha State Park.

This would be our first camping trip as a family since the last night of our Texas Coastline Roadtrip almost 14 months earlier.  We didn't plan to have such a large break from camping, but 2015 was such a weird year that going camping as a family just never happened.

We were all very excited as we left our house on Friday afternoon.  The 3 1/2 hour drive was long, but it was also liberating. We were getting away from all our responsibilities - even if it was just for the weekend.

As we got closer to Cheaha Mountain my kids started making comments that made it seem like they had no idea what mountains were. My five year old daughter looked out the window and saw the tree covered mountains off in the distance.  She said, "mom, I see some really big waves."

Later as we started to drive on the road that ascended the mountain my other 5 year old daughter was convinced that our car was going to fall off the side of the mountain.

My husband just laughed and assured the kids that he knew how to drive on a steep road.  I laughed and tried to remind the kids that they'd seen plenty of mountains last summer when we went to Utah.

We arrived at the park entrance which was located at nearly the top of the mountain. There was a country store that also doubled as the campground office.  My husband went in there to pay for our campsite.  Then we drove about a mile down the side of the mountain to our campsite. We selected a spot on top of a small ridge.
We'd decided to stay at the Primitive Campground.  This was the cheapest option at only $15.40 (plus a lodging fee and tax).  Our other options were a semi primitive site for $17.60 or an improved site for $27.50.  Those campgrounds were located at the top of the mountain.  We also could have chosen to stay at a hotel, or either cabins or chalets. But we weren't interested in those.

As with many state and national parks throughout the country, Cheaha State Park was developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s.  These men built many of the buildings and trails that are still in use in the park today.  The campground where we were staying was the site of their camp.
Since this was the Primitive Campground it was lacking in some basic amenities such as picnic tables or fire grills.  We were able to have a fire in the designated fire spot, and we'd brought our camp chairs so we didn't mind the "primitive" part.
What it did have was beautiful scenery.  Cheaha Mountain was to the east of us. We had a good view of Pulpit Rock from our campsite.  I told the kids that we'd stand on that rock the next day.
This was probably the most perfect camping trip we'd been on since having kids.  Most of it had to to with the kids. I realized that they were SOOOOO much easier to camp with this time than they were 14 months ago. All of them can walk, talk, eat completely on their own, entertain themselves, SLEEP THOUGH THE NIGHT, and can be trusted to be reasonably safe around the fire. I kept remembering all the "sort of fun, but also kind of stressful" trips we took them on as babies. In comparison this trip was so much easier. I can't wait to know what it's like to camp with teenagers.

The weather was also perfect. It wasn't hot, it wasn't cold, it wasn't rainy, it wasn't windy.  It was just perfect. We even left the rainfly off our tent so we could look at the stars all night.  I've never dared to do that before.

Sometime during the night the wind started to blow and a cloud rolled in.  But it didn't rain. In the morning a cloud settled on top of the mountain.  

We woke up and had breakfast and then packed everything up.  Then we went to explore the park.  

First we drove down to the Cheaha Lake and got a picture of that.  This 6 acre lake was hand dug by CCC workers.  It opens for swimming around Memorial Day and stays open throughout the summer. 
Then we went up to the top of the mountain and found ourselves driving in the cloud.
We decided to walk on the Bald Rock trail.  There are two options on this trail.  You can either walk on the original CCC trail.  Or you can walk on the raised boardwalk. This boardwalk is perfect for people who can't navigate the rocky regular trail.
The trail ends at what would have been a jaw dropping view of the Talladega National Forest.  However, the cloud obscured the view.  It was as if we'd found the edge of the world.
We were able to use some stairs to get off the boardwalk and go down to the rocks below.
Here we are standing on the edge of the world.
We walked back to our car via the CCC trail.
From there we drove over to the Observation Tower that was built by the CCC at the Highest Point in Alabama.  This was 2407 feet above sea level.  Not the highest place I've ever stood (I grew up in Salt Lake City above 4000 feet after all) but it was still pretty cool.
The Observation Tower Building was very pretty - even if it was hard to see through the cloudy air.
We went inside and climbed up the winding staircase to the top. When we reached the top we were able to see . . . more of the cloud.  But I'm sure the view is amazing when the sky is clear.
There was a little museum in the building as well. It had some artifacts from the Civilian Conservation Corps' days at Mt Cheaha.

We stopped for a quick lunch at a pavilion near the Observation Tower.  Then we drove over to the trailhead for Pulpit Rock.

The trail guide rated this trail as Moderate.  The trail was only 1/4 of a mile so it seemed like something our kids could handle.  The trail description left off that the first 100 or so feet of the trail was STEEP.
But it leveled out pretty quickly and we were able to make it to Pulpit Rock.
We were rewarded for our efforts by the clouds finally parting enough for us to get a view of the endless expanse of trees down below.
We spent a few minutes admiring the view and being wary of the 100 foot drop. Rappelling is allowed from these cliffs, but that wasn't something we were interested in doing for the next 10 years or so.
Getting back to the car was more difficult because our younger two children wanted to be carried.  Going up the steep part of the trail while holding a 40 lb toddler just about did me in.  But we made it
There was a little rock garden near the Pulpit Rock trail head, but we were done with exploring.  Also rain began to fall so that effectively put an end to our adventures.
We went for a drive to the end of Highway 281 deep in the Talladega National Forest.  The scenery was so pretty.  There were dogwoods starting to flower and their white flowers stood out against the other green foliage.
Then we reluctantly started heading back toward the flat landscape of lower Alabama.  This weekend had been perfect.  We were all very excited for our trip to Lookout Mountain that would hopefully be happening within the next few weeks. 

Recommendation: A trip to Mt Cheaha State Park is definitely worth your time.  The scenery is beautiful, the views are breathtaking, and the grounds are well maintained.

Directions: Cheaha State Park is located in the middle of the Talladega National Forest about 70 miles east of Birmingham.  The state park is located on Highway 281 at the summit of Mount Cheaha.  The road is paved all the way there, but be prepared to navigate some steep sections of road.

Places Nearby: The nearby town of Anniston, Alabama has a Natural History Museum that I hear is pretty good. Admission costs $6 for adults and $5 for children.

Next Stop: This trip to Mt Cheaha was a precursor to our Lookout Mountain Roadtrip that we were able to go on a few weeks later.  Stay tuned for information about that trip.  (Hint: it was AMAZING and we found so many awesome things to do and see in Northern Alabama.) 

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I would love to hear what you think. Did I get it right, or was I dead wrong? What was your experience like?


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