Road trip alternatives: Alabama’s Cheaha

Rule one for silence-seeking travelers: seek the path less well known. Instead of the magnificent, oft-times heavily traveled Blue Ridge Parkway of North Carolina and Virginia, head farther south to northeastern Alabama.

Alabama? Flat fields and piney woods? Yeah, they have that too. But the northeastern tip of the state is actually the tail end of the Appalachians, and the crown jewel of these parts is 2,407-foot Mount Cheaha, the tallest point in the state. It sits amidst a subtly stunning state park, and is traversed by the 26.8-mile Talladega Scenic Drive – a.k.a. State Route 281.

To say that it’s as beautiful as the Blue Ridge parkway stretches the point a bit – but it’s close.

The hour-and-a-half hour drive from Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport (two-and-a-half hours from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International) is well worth the trip. You can:

  • Hike Cheaha’s miles of unsullied trails. Get lost (figuratively, not literally) in the pine velvet stillness of it all.
  • Stay in Chalet at Cheaha State Park or in the quaint, hip Victoria Inn in nearby Anniston.
  • Eat on a perch with an unparalleled view, the Cheaha Mountain Restaurant. The food is simple and delicious. A glass of local Muscadine wine makes the meal. Something Italian? Nearby college town Jacksonville sports Effina’s Tuscan Grill (256-782-0008), perhaps the best Italian eatery between Atlanta and Birmingham.
  • Bike the mountain and beyond, maybe during the annual 102-mile Cheaha Challenge. It’s billed rightfully as the “Toughest Ride in the South.” This year’s contest is Sunday April 22. Cheaha itself is rife with mountain bike trails. Test your mettle on the mountain and mend your soul. Break out of the mindset that ‘Bama is all about football, and nothing else.

Story by Jerry Chandler

(Photo: Acnatta; Video; Alabama State Parks)