Talladega Traverse, Alabama

  • 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)
‘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.

  • 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

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!