Alabama Skyway

  • Distance

    123 Mi.

    (198 KM)
  • Days

    2-3

  • % Unpaved

    75%

  • % Singletrack

    2%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    4

  • % Rideable (time)

    100%

  • Total Ascent

    11,004'

    (3,354 M)
  • High Point

    2,407'

    (734 M)
Formerly known as the Talladega Traverse, the Alabama Skyway connects the TNGA to Flagg Mountain, the southern terminus of the Pinhoti Trail and the last stage of the Southern Highlands Traverse. The Skyway is a southern red dirt road bikepacking route crossing the Talladega National Forest and winding through rugged pine forests, shady gaps, and along ridge tops that offer panoramic views of the Alabama countryside.
Share Facebook 0 Twitter Pinterest Google+

The Alabama Skyway starts along the Alabama-Georgia state line where the Chief Ladiga meets the Silver Comet trail. Follow the multi-use path until you reach Duggar Mountain Road just short of Piedmont. The road climbs suddenly as pavement falls way to gravel. This finely graded forest service road climbs through forests of Virginia Pine, Chestnut Oak, and the storied Longleaf Pine. If you are lucky enough to be traveling this route in the spring look out for patches of huckleberries and flowering mountain laurel in the meadows. The fall brings splashes of orange, crimson, and yellow foliage. Punchy climbs abound; Dugger Mountain Rd leads into the paved Skyway which follows some of the steepest sustained grades in the state to Cheaha State Park, Alabama’s high point. Stop at the park’s lodge and have a bite to eat, arguably one of the best views in the state is out on the front porch. From here the Skyway road winds down some thrilling paved descents and then giving way to old 4×4 roads (FSR600-2) at Adams Gap. The route then follows the same ridgelines as the famous Pinhoti hiking trail which is known for being the unofficial pre-cursor to the Appalachian Trail. Towards the end of the forest service road, don’t miss your chance for a detour to Lake Howard’s fast and flowing trails of the Sylaward trail system. From here, follow paved roads to the finish at Flagg Mountain.

  • Alabama Skyway, Bikepacking Route, Alabama
  • Alabama Skyway, Bikepacking Route, Alabama
  • Alabama Skyway, Bikepacking Route, Alabama
  • Alabama Skyway, Bikepacking Route, Alabama
  • Alabama Skyway, Bikepacking Route, Alabama
Route Development: The Alabama Skyway was dreamed up by John Little of Auburn, AL. Although many of these roads have been popular with cyclists for a long while, especially the climbs and descents leading up to Cheaha State Park.

Difficulty: We have assigned the Alabama Skyway a 4/10 based on the physical difficulty of the route. With some of the steepest grades in the state, the Skyway will make you question your pre-conceived notions of Alabama’s topography. With no mandatory singletrack (but options for it), the chunky gravel/dirt roads are relatively easy to ride in a technical sense. Logistically, this route couldn’t get much easier. Especially when compared to the TNGA’s cue sheets.

Southern Highlands TraverseThe Alabama Skyway is the final stage of the four-part Southern Highlands Traverse, the fist long distance bikepacking route on the east coast starting in Front Royal, Virginia and finishing at Flagg Mountain, Alabama, at the southern terminus of the Pinhoti Trail. The route traverses a mix of over 1,200 miles of gravel roads, forest doubletrack and plenty of the South’s most challenging singletrack. The Southern Highlands Traverse will also serve as a challenging single track alternate in the forthcoming Eastern Divide Trail. Learn more here.
  • Highlights

  • Must Know

  • Camping

  • Food/H2O

    💧

  • Trail Notes

  • Get a view at Alabama’s highest elevation, 2407 feet at Cheaha State Park.
  • Forests of Long Leaf Pine (the Alabama state tree) can be found in the Talladega National Forest. A resilient tree that saw huge decimation in the early 1900’s due to over logging and fire suppression is now making a comeback because of conservation efforts.
  • Stop for a beer at the Cheaha Brewing Company after finishing the route.
  • February – May or September to November.
  • Parking/day use fees are needed to use the Lake Howard trailhead ($2/person/day).
  • Since this is a traverse, a shuttle will need to be set up. Parking has been indicated on both ends of the map.
  • No permits needed for the National Forest.
  • Bear hangs recommended for primitive campsites (mostly for small critters).
  • The difficulty of the route comes from the elevation gain on FSR600, combined with the mileage this can be a tough ride.
  • The entire route is rideable aside from fallen trees here or there.
  • Primitive campgrounds are plentiful in the Talladega National Forest there are many clearings used as hunting campgrounds that are useable throughout the route. Although there are no camping spots marked on FSR 600-1 & 2, there are a few decent areas in which to set up camp.
  • Camping and access fees are required at all designated campsites.
  • Water can be resupplied for the first half of the route at the Forest Service building located just outside of Cleburne or in creeks that run most of the year for the first half of the route. Water can be resupplied for the second half of the route at the church located at the beginning of Skyline Drive.
  • Please be aware that many of the creeks tend to dry up in the summer and in droughts.
  • A small general store is located at the top of Cheaha Mountain along with a fairly priced restaurant that sports a great view. The restaurant has a pretty average breakfast buffet on Sunday mornings, but average buffets are normally held in much higher esteem than they normally are while on a bike tour.

Ideally this route is done in two days, but can be split into three days with some planning. Start  along the Alabama Georgia line along the Chief Ladiga trail. Follow the multi-use path until you reach Duggar Mountain Rd (FSR 500) just short of Piedmont. The road climbs suddenly as pavement falls way to gravel. This finely graded forest service road follows short punchy climbs until it into the paved Skyway next to the Cleburne Forest Service Station. The Skyway follows some of the steepest sustained grades in the state with incredible panoramic views of the plains below. Once reaching the very top, you have arrived at Cheaha State Park, Alabama’s highest elevation. From here the Skyway winds down some thrilling paved descents and then giving way to old 4×4 roads (FSR600-2) at Adams Gap.  The route then follows the the ridgeline along chunky dirt/gravel roads. County Road 600-2 eventually turns into Skyline Drive. Take a right at the Church (water spigot) onto Horns Lake Rd. Another right onto Alabama State Route 77 and an immediate left onto the steep FSR 600-1. Rocky Mountain Rd and Wiregrass Rd will lead you by the singletrack at Lake Howard and a series of paved roads will lead to the end at Flagg Mountain.

Additional Resources

Terms of Use: As with each bikepacking route guide published on BIKEPACKING.com, should you choose to cycle this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While riding, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. BIKEPACKING.com LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individual riders cycling or following this route.

  • Fionn McArthur

    Looks a great route. Love your images – pin-sharp, and full of the sense of it.

  • JP

    This could tie into the Trans North Georgia, which could link up with the Palmetto trail….. Hmm.

  • Chris Smith

    Thought I’d put in my 2 cents on this. Right now that area is in a severe drought and all rivers and creeks that I saw this past weekend are completely dry. Just a word of caution to anyone wanting to go out there to make sure to stock up on water or bring a filter just in case but there wasn’t any water on the trail.

  • Idle Prentice

    Awesome – fun ride close to home. Gonna do this in November. Maybe it won’t be so dry.

  • Chad Carney

    Wouldn’t be too hard. You could pick up the Chief Ladiga Trail in Piedmont and take it to the State line. Then a couple gravel roads would take you to the Georgia Pinhoti. Pretty Simple.

  • Tommy Stauter

    I’m thinking about doing the trail in a couple of weeks. Have hiked in this area so I’m a little familiar with it. Is it safe to do solo?

  • thomas Perea

    Could this be done on a cross bike with 35-38C tires?

  • Chad Carney

    I would think so. Wildlife is minimum and not many people out that way.

  • John Little

    Yes, but there’ll be several miles of very rough sections on 600-1 and 600-2. The rest will be perfect for you.

  • John Little

    I’ve thought the same many times. Maybe turn north off of the Chief Ladiga rail trail onto the Pinhoti up to the GA line.

  • John Little

    I think so. The longest section that would be the most difficult to get to you in case of a serious injury is 600-1, which is about 14 miles long. So at worst it would take a 4×4 about 7 miles to get to you.

  • Larry Bennett

    Looks like an awesome ride! Thinking about doing this early May as an out and back.. Any suggestions or concerns on which end to start with? ideally the Piedmont TH is closer, but wanted to get thoughts on resupplies and water that time of year.

  • Jason turner

    Doing my first bikepacking trip in March on this trail. I will probably do a two day out and back so I won’t do the whole trail. Any suggestions where to start to leave a car and what might be some of the best section of trail?

  • Larry Bennett

    Did you do the route? We are going to do this in May and am looking for any intel.. We are going to do an out and back as well…

  • Jason turner

    Had to reschedule in late April. I will report back with any helpful info I can pass along. I’m thinking of parking at the state park
    then riding north about 30 miles to one of the two marked campgrounds. Ride back the next day.

  • Larry Bennett

    Awesome thanks! We are riding from the Lake park as well, although we may have a bunch going and thinking of moving the start into town at the Piggly Wiggly for parking. We are going to break the route into 3 days with an out and back to Piedmont..You are welcome to join if you miss your date, we are riding it as a tribute to Mike Hall leaving on May 13..

  • Colt Fetters

    I have a cross bike with 40C’s and opted to use my 29er. Although it is possible, sections of it would not be fun.

  • Colt Fetters

    Thanks for this Chris. There are some faucets along the route, most notably the Church on the corner where Skyway starts and meets 209, Cheaha State Park, and the Forest Service Building in Cleburne.

  • Colt Fetters

    Larry, the route is doable either way although you are looking at a pretty long first day if you chug all the way to Cheaha. The Skyway up to Cheaha has some of the steepest sustained climbs in AL. As far as food and water, both directions should work just fine!

  • Colt Fetters

    Agreed. You’re biggest risk will be cars on the Skyway (Talladega Scenic Drive) but it’s also a popular road biking destination.

  • Colt Fetters

    Thanks Fionn!

  • Colt Fetters

    Jason, the best section of trail depends upon your legs. The terrain is tamer (less elevation and smoother roads) from Piedmont going South. Lake Howard to Cheaha is my favorite portion. Many park at Bullshorn Gap and start North from there to avoid the parking fee’s and gate closures at Lake Howard (gate closes at sunset and opens at sunrise).

  • Colt Fetters

    Jason, know that riding north from Cheaha starts you off on about 20 miles of pavement until you hit the Forest Service Building in Cleburne.

  • Larry Bennett

    Thank you, that’s a big help! There will be several of us all experienced bikepackers, tentatively we are looking at Pine Glenn or Sweetwater for the first night, resupply in Piedmont and then back to Cheaha or Turnipseed for the second, probably shoot for Cheaha. We are expecting long days in the saddle and can always bivy along the way if needed I would think. One question that has arisen a few times is tire size, we are all trying to decide on whether we can get away with 40mm or need to go larger, I am from AZ and had never heard the term sugar sand before…lol.. any idea of we will hit any and any thoughts on tire size? Seems like this would be a great route for 40 or 45mm..

  • Jason turner

    Thanks Colt. Very helpful. Looks like about 40 miles or so per the map. I may consider that route instead.

  • Colt Fetters

    Hey Larry,
    I think the section north of Cheaha would accommodate 40-45mm tires. The 600’s south of Cheaha would not be much fun in my opinion.

  • Larry Bennett

    Hi Colt,
    Thank you for all your help on this, makes a huge difference. The write up is awesome and we are super excited. I think based on your comments, most of the guys are opting for MTB’s vs cross or gravel. The route seems like a terrific one, , mixed surface and hard..lol.. We will be riding mid May, I noticed your write says June -Sept is not a good time, is that because of the heat or rain or something else?

  • Jason turner

    I don’t know if my advice is all that helpful being this was my first bikepacking trip but here are my two cents after doing Lake Howard to hwy 77 and then back up the mountain which was about 37 miles. This was one of the hardest days in the saddle – we rode for 8.5 hours with an hour lunch and 40 min rest later in the day. Maybe it was a hot day (90 degress), maybe i’m not used to lugging extra weight but the lack of water was a big problem. We opted back up the mountain and camp because we couldn’t stomach doing the same amount of miles the next day. It was cooler and rained the second day with a few less miles but it seemed easy coming back. No fee for us to park at Lake Howard. Water up before the climbing begins or you will regret it! I recommend starting at Howard because I love doing singletrack.

  • Larry Bennett

    Thanks Jason, great intel on the route! We are expecting some big days, sounds like you had a great time on your first bikepacking venture! We may stretch this over 4 days if we get jammed up..

  • Jason turner

    Put together a video for what its worth!
    https://youtu.be/_wmck7ExwZg

  • Larry Bennett

    Great video, looks like an awesome trip! We roll out next Saturday, very excited! Thanks for posting, looks beautiful!

  • Jason turner

    How was your trip? Where did you start and stop? Was water a problem?

  • Larry Bennett

    We did a roundtrip run from Lake Howard.. the trip was magic, but pretty tough.. the Skyway Epic GPX is the route we took, a little over 200 miles all in all.. some of the climbing was more technical than I expected, wider tires like 2.4 are recommended. In the summer, water would be a premium, the first day we had some short water issues, take at least 4 or 5 liters, after the first day (we did 4 days) we didn’t have water issues.. also take a filter or TABS for a few areas… it was spectacular though.. a must ride!

  • Colt Fetters

    Mostly because of heat. Also, it can sometimes be hard to find water if it hasn’t been raining

  • Andrew Jordan Hicks

    I’m looking to do this trail in September or October (once it cools down a little). Thanks for the write up, it looks rad. I’m in Atlanta so I may just start at the beginning of the Silver Comet and pedal all the way out there and back.

    Is there water at Flagg Mountain for the return?