Talladega Traverse, Alabama

‘Dega Baby!' Ironically enough, this route shows no semblance to the NASCAR racetrack; it's not an oval, there are no crowds, and its definitely not flat. This is a southern red dirt road bikepacking route traversing the Talladega National Forest of central Alabama. The route winds through rugged pine forests, shady gaps, and along ridge tops that offer panoramic views of the east-central Alabama countryside.
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The Talladega Traverse starts along the shorelines of Lake Howard at the fast and flowing trails of the Sylaward trail system. After the rider gets their fill of singletrack, the trail turns to forest service road and follows the same ridgelines as the famous Pinhoti hiking trail which is known for being the unofficial pre-cursor to the Appalachian Trail. Old 4×4 roads climb 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.

Just as you near the highest point in Alabama at Cheaha State Park, the road eases to smooth pavement then follows some of the steepest sustained grades in the state to the top of the Park. 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 with incredible panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. The road finally gives way to finely graded gravel, which meanders up and down rolling hills till the end of the National Forest in Piedmont.

  • Distance

    93 Mi.

    (150 KM)
  • Days

    2

  • % Unpaved

    75%

  • % Singletrack

    2%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    4

  • % Rideable (time)

    100%

  • Total Ascent

    9,700'

    (2,957 M)
  • High Point

    2,407'

    (734 M)
  • 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 of the first day, combined with the mileage this can be a tough ride.
  • A large portion of the second day is pavement which leads into nicely graded gravel roads which makes for a very enjoyable day.
  • 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.
  • Camping and access fees are required at all designated campsites.
  • Water can be resupplied for the first half of the route at the church located at the beginning of Skyline Drive. The second half can be resupplied at the Forest Service building located just outside of Cleburne or in creeks that run most of the year.
  • 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.

Original route creation by John Little.

Ideally this route is done in two days, but can be split into three days with some planning. Start from either the Lake Howard trailhead or the Bulls Gap trailhead, depending on how much mileage you choose for the first day. Those starting from Lake Howard are able to ride their fill of singletrack before starting on a delightful series of forest roads that bring the rider to the Bulls Gap trailhead. County Road 6000-1 then climbs steeply up rough 4×4 roads until it hits pavement that links the rider with Skyline Drive. Skyline Drive eventually turns into County Road 600-2 which is very similar in nature to County Road 6000-1 (steep and chunky). Eventually County Road 600-2 turns to pavement at Adams Gap, which leads the way to giant pavement climbs to the top of Cheaha. Either camp at the more developed campground of Cheaha State Park or the less crowded campground of Turnipseed. The next day (from Cheaha) starts with a long decent via pavement to some the very nicely graded gravel roads of County Road 500 that lead all the way to the Chief Ladiga Bicycle Trail that then drops you off in Piedmont.

 

Additional Resources

  • 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.