The Talladega National Forest stretches in a northeast - southwest direction in the western half of Cleburne County, Alabama about half-way between Birmingham, AL and Atlanta, GA.
The forest offers a wide variety of scenery, wildlife, fishing, camping, hiking and more.
Campers will find two developed campgrounds, a primitive horse/hunter camp, shelters for Pinhoti Trail hikers and a number of primitive hunter camps. You can also camp throughout the forest except during gun deer season and then you must use only the camping areas except by special permission.
Among one of the most popular recreation areas within the TNF is the Coleman Lake Recreation Area about 16 miles north of Heflin off U.S. 78.
This recreation area offers a 21-acre lake with a swimming/beach area, fishing, picnic area and access to the Pinhoti Trail. You will also find electricity, water hookups, warm-water showers, two-mile nature trail and fishing pier.
Another nice spot is the Pine Glen Recreation Area located northwest of Heflin along scenic Shoal Creek. This area has primitive camping and access to the Pinhoti Trail. This site has become a favorite with hunters as it is centrally located within the Choccolocco Wildlife Management Area.
Hunters and horse riders congregate at the Warden Station Hunter/Horse Camp on Forest Service Road 500 near the Coleman Lake Recreation Area. It also is convenient for hunters and horse riders who find the camping spurs, water and toilets a nice addition.
Fishing is good throughout the forest at Sweetwater, Highrock, Coleman and Choccolocco Lakes. Fishermen catch largemouth bass, bluegill, shellcrackers and channel catfish here.
In addition there are red-eye bass and sunfish species in Shoal, Terrapin and Hillabee Creeks.
Running through the TNF is the nationally known Pinhoti National Recreation Trail which spans the top of the Talladega Mountains and runs near the highest points in Alabama.
Within the 90-mile corridor of the trail are two shelters, access points and the two developed recreation areas.
Of interests to travelers, tourists and outdoor lovers is the Blue Mountain Backcountry Area near Cheaha State Park, Shoal Creek and Dugger Mouontain; Shoal Creek Church which is listed on the National Historic Register and is sometimes the site of old-style shape-note singing.
Also included are Sweetwater and Highrock Lakes that a popular for anglers and the old Oxford/Cheaha Road that was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps while they were building Cheaha State Park atop Mt. Cheaha – the highest point in Alabama.
This old road is closed to vehicle traffic but offers a two-mile hike leading to an old stone bridge over Hillabee Creek.
Motorists will enjoy, particularly during the autumn when the leaves change colors, the Talladega Scenic Drive that stretches 29 miles southward from U.S. 78 near Heflin down and up atop the last extension of the Appalachian Mountains.
Many compare this drive to those in The Great Smokey Mountain National Park system. Motorists will go along the backbone of Horseback and Cheaha Mountains to a height of 2,407 feet.
Along the way are several scenic pull-offs to view the scenery stretching eastward and westward.
In the spring motorists will see blooms of fruit trees, dogwood, redbud and flowering shrubs that peak around late April.
In the fall the forest are ablaze with the colors of gums, oaks, maples, sycamore, dogwood, hickories and persimmon with peaks from mid-October to November.
Atop the highest peak is Cheaha State Park with a motel, restaurant, lake, campground, cabins, group lodge and country store. (Call 205-488-5111 for more info.)
Locals hunters as well as visitors will find this area one of the most popular for a variety of game including quail, squirrels, turkey and white-tailed deer.
The Choccolocco Wildlife Management Area, north of Heflin, is managed by the Alabama Game and Fish Division and is one of the most popular areas during hunting season.
Turnipseed Hunt Camp is specially designed for hunters and those wanting a primitive camping experience. This site has hand-pumped water and pit toilets.
Horse lovers will find some 30 miles of trails within the TNF focused on the Warden Station Hunter/Horse Camp. There are some special regulations so riders should check with the U.S. Forest Service office.
Also within the vast natural area is the 7,400 acre Cheaha Wilderness that is congressionally protected .
Plant lovers will enjoy a number of “sensitive plants” to be found within the TNF including Turkeybeard, Mohr’s Barbara’s Button, Appalachian Rose Gentian, Clammy Acacia, Cutleaf Meadow-Parsnip, Zigzag Spiderwort, Three-birds Orchid, Pink Lady’s Slipper, Kral’s Water Plantain, Carolina Spider Lily, Blue Ridge Bindweed, Granite Gooseberry, Alabama Leather Flower, Nevius Stonecrop, Alabama Warbonnet, White Fringeless Orchid, Showy Orchis, Southern Nodding Trillium, Catesby’s Trillium, Buffalo Nut, Smooth Purple Aster, Harperella, Long-flowered Alumroot, Nestonia, Deep Woods Horsebalm and Yellowroot.
For additional information on the TNF call or visit the Shoal Creek Ranger District, TNF at 256-463-2272 or www.southernregion.fs.fed.us/alabama.