Cheaha State Park, located in north-central Alabama, was first opened to the public in 1933 and is Alabama's oldest continuously operating state park. Surrounded by the Talladega National Forest in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, the park's 2,799 acres straddle the border between Clay and Cleburne counties. Cheaha Mountain, the highest point in Alabama at 2,407 feet above sea level, is the centerpiece of the park. The park gets its name from the Creek Indian name for the mountain, "chaha" (meaning "high place"). In 2009, the park had 200,000 visitors, annual operating expenses of $1.95 million and a staff of 38 people.
During the park's first six years of operation, the state, the National Park Service, and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) undertook a number of infrastructure projects that were part of Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. One of the largest projects was creation of the six-acre Cheaha Lake, nestled at the foot of Cheaha Mountain, that was hand dug by CCC workers. Numerous other CCC-era structures still in use include a stone bath house at Cheaha Lake, eleven stone cabins, two stone pavilions, and the Bald Rock Group Lodge. Construction was completed in 1939, and the park held a celebration to open "officially" to the public. A new hotel, restaurant, and five chalets were added in 1973. Another CCC structure, Bunker Tower, sits atop Cheaha Mountain. The stone building has an observation deck on top, and visitors can climb the stairway inside the tower to take in the vista of the surrounding national forest. Nearby Bald Rock, an exposed rock face, provides a dramatic vista of the surrounding forests. A ¼-mile-long, wheelchair-accessible wooden walkway provides access to the promontory's observation deck.
The park offers visitors a wide variety of recreational opportunities. The lake has a beach area for swimming, paddle boat rentals, and a playground for children and also offers good bass and bluegill fishing. Picnic areas and pavilions are available for day-use in a number of areas throughout the park. Short hiking trails meander through the dense forests, and a section of the Pinhoti Trail, a 100-mile long backpacking trail, weaves its way through the park. A moderate hike along the Pulpit Rock Trail leads to a quartzite rock cliff popular with rock climbers. The most challenging of the hikes is the Rock Garden Trail, a strenuous hike that includes more than 1,000 feet of change in elevation. The Cheaha Mountain Express Trail is a dedicated biking trail that loops through the park; it is the site of an annual 10-mile mountain bike race.
For overnight guests, the park features 73 modern campsites that include water, electric, and sewer hookup and 11 semi-primitive campsites with picnic tables and grills. There are also primitive campsites near Cheaha Lake. Cheaha Lodge, constructed in 1973, has 30 hotel rooms and a swimming pool, and other lodging options include nearby cabins and chalets. A dining room with stunning views of the forested valley is the centerpiece of the lodge. The natural-stone Bald Rock Group Lodge has 12 rooms, a kitchen, and two conference rooms and is available for conferences and weddings.
Thomas V. Ress
Published April 6, 2010
Last updated November 3, 2011