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8 / 7 / 06 ~ Interview
Pinhoti Trail article for fall publication
Online interview with Solo / Hugh Hickman
2 days / 8 ½ hours
August 3, 4, 2006
135 North Sixth Street
Emmaus, Pa 18098
Q: If you had to summarize in a few lines what the best "reasons" are
for hiking this trail, what would you say they were? In other words,
how would you convince someone who has never been on the trail
before that it's worth exploring? What are some of the highlights?
A: The Alabama Pinhoti Trail is a 136.9 mile continuous, point to point, single use hiking trail
located mostly in the Talladega National Forest in east central / northeast Alabama. The
southern terminus is near the southwest boundary of the National Forest, appx. 10 miles
east of Sylacauga. From there, the trail travels northeast along the backbone of the
Appalachian Mountain Range until it reaches the northern terminus at the Georgia State
Line, appx. 6 miles west of Cave Spring, Georgia.
The trail’s oldest section date back to the late 1930’s and was centered around Mt.
Cheaha, Alabama’s highest Peak at 2407‘. The major trail expansions began in the 1970’s
both north and south, and continued through the 80’s and 90’s and are still going on at a
fast pace. Our main goal up to this point has been to connect with the Appalachian Trail
and recently our focus has expanded to include connecting with the new Great Eastern
Trail and the Eastern Continental trail.
The first third of the trail follows the Appalachian ridgeline with miles of rocky
overlooks, the 7490 acre Cheaha Wilderness and Cheaha State Park.
There is a 50 mile break in the ridge on the middle section of the trail where it travels
through foothills and canyons with hundreds of spring and creek crossings, 2 USDA
Watershed Lakes, 2 federal campgrounds and the Red Cockaded Woodpecker Habitat
Restoration Project Area.
The northern third goes back up to the ridgeline and is the most untamed, remote section
of the Pinhoti. Here you’ll encounter many of the states highest peaks, the 9220 acre
Dugger Mountain Wilderness, another USDA Watershed Lake, the Chief Ladiga Rail Trail
and some of the old Iron Ore mines which fueled the steel industry in Birmingham.
There are also 7 trail shelters on the Pinhoti with 5 more in the planning stages.
Q: What's the total (or at least, approximate) mileage of the AL side?
The GA side? (I've gotten conflicting reports)
A: The Alabama Pinhoti Trail now stands at 136.9 miles. The trail was measured by me twice,
in 2000 and 2001, with a measuring wheel and both times I came up with 118.9 miles. In
2005, another 18.0 miles of trail was completed on the southern end, which brought the
total up to 136.9 miles of continuous, completed trail (no road walks). In the near future,
2006 or 2007, another appx 15 miles of trail will be built on the southern end, which will
be the final addition to the APT.
I’ve heard that the Georgia Pinhoti Trail is appx 150 miles total and that there is appx 50
miles of road walks included in that total. The trail guide published in Oct. 2005 only
covers the 104 miles of the trail that is on the ground. So, that would leave 46 miles of
trail that is road walks.
Q: Are there troublesome spots that people should avoid or be warned
A: There are no chronic trouble spots, just the usual reports of random vandalism at the
trailheads, mostly around Cheaha State Park, where most of our weekend RV visitors hang
out. The park staff does a great job of patrolling these areas though.
Q: What's the best direction to hike the Pinhoti? (Assuming we're
going to thru-hike it)
I’m a displaced AT brat, so I have a northbound mind set : ) and Solo’s APT Handbook is
set up in a northbound format mainly because our long term trail goal is to reach the AT
I’ve heard that the elevation gains are a little less if you go southbound, but there is only
1 climb on the Pinhoti that is longer than 30 minutes, so it’s not really an issue. The most
convenient re-supply is in Heflin, which is located at the mid point of the trail, so that’s
not an issue either. I’ve not heard of a community consensus on which way is best or most
popular, mostly it will be just personal choice.
Q: Are there any unique pit stops? Particularly in the towns near each
of the trailheads — are there any interesting places to eat/grab a
drink? Any regional 'specialties' that out-of-towners would be foolish
A: At northbound mile 101.8, Burns Trailhead, the Rabbittown Café and Fiddlers Hall is 3
miles west of the trail. They are open on weekends with good food, live music, dancing and
lots of atmosphere.
Q: What kind of unique vegetation/wildflowers/wildlife can we expect
A: Long Leaf Pines, Shagg Bark Hickory, Oak Leaf Hydrangia (state wildflower), Indian
Pinks, Butterfly Bush, Beauty Berry, Armadillos / Possums, Deer, Coyote, Hawks, Buzzards
Q: Can you talk a little about what kind of trail conditions we can
expect to find around Nov/Dec? As well as what the best season to
hike the trail is and why?
A: There are 7 trail clubs that maintain the trail and this seasons' work will begin in
September. We keep the trail in good condition all year with the exception of heavy brush
during the summer. The entire trail was re-blazed just last year and all blowdowns were
removed last year as well. The trail bed remains in good shape from year to year with
very little effort.
That time of year, most of the leaves will be down for spectacular views, the springs and
creeks will be running good, temps will be mild during the day and 40’s and 50’s at night.
Our rainy seasons are spring and early fall so you’ll miss all of that. Spring flowers are a
sight to behold on the trail but the rain might spoil some thru hikes then.
Here is a list of the Alabama Pinhoti Trail Maintaining Clubs:
~ APT Northern Terminus ~
ATA Sec / 126.8 ~ 136.9 / Alabama Trails Association
Section 1, 2, 3, 4 / mile 71.9 ~ 126.8 / Appalachian Trail Club of Alabama
Section 5 / 64.2 ~ 71.9 / BellSouth Pioneers
Section 6 / 57.2 ~ 62.4 / Anniston Outdoor Association
Section 6, 7 / 33.5 ~ 57.2 / Alabama Hiking Trail Society
Section 8 / 26.9 ~ 33.5 / Vulcan Trail Association
Section 8 / 18.0 ~ 26.9 / Alabama Hiking Trail Society
Section 9 / 00.0 ~ 18.0 / *pending
~ APT Southern Terminus ~
Q: If you're thru-hiking the Pinhoti Trail, where would be the best
places for resupply? Is the common method to resupply in town or do a
maildrop? Combination of both?
A: Yes, the most common method is resupplying in towns. A northbound hiker on the Alabama
Pinhoti has these choices:
18.0 ~ Talladega
26.9 ~ Munford
45.0 ~ Cheaha State Park
57.2 ~ Oxford
71.7 ~ Heflin
93.4 ~ Heflin
101.8 ~ Jacksonville
118.5 ~ Piedmont
126.8 ~ Piedmont
If you continue north past the GA state line at mile 136.9, you can hike about 6 miles (3
miles on trail and 3 miles road walk) on the Georgia Pinhoti Trail to Cave Spring, GA, which
will probably become the coolest trail town stop in either state one day.
Q: What's the camping situation like? Are there huts or should we tent
off trail? If off trail, are there regulations we need to follow? And
where are the best sites located?
A: Camping is not regulated on the AL Pinhoti but of course we prefer hikers to find a spot
at least 50’ off trail. There are 7 shelters on the trail now and at least 5 more are on
the drawing board. Generally, the shelters are or will be 10 miles apart. All but one of the
shelters are located on the northern half of the trail. The shelters are popular places to
stop and will accommodate 8 to 10 folks and there are also some popular campsites:
7.6 ~ Sherman Cliffs
14.5 ~ Scott Lake
33.3 ~ Skyway Loop Trail
39.5 ~ Little Caney Head
42.6 ~ McDill Overlook
45.0 ~ Cheaha State Park (State)
46.9 ~ Blue Mountain Shelter
50.0 ~ CCC Road
53.0 ~ Hillabee Creek
68.0 ~ Rio Grande
73.9 ~ Birds in the Pines
79.7 ~ Lower Shoal Shelter
83.2 ~ Highrock Lake
85.5 ~ Pine Glen Campground (Fed)
88.1 ~ Sweetwater Lake
90.1 ~ Laurel Shelter
92.7 ~ Coleman Lake Campground (Fed)
100.4 ~ Choccolocco Creek Shelter
106.1 ~ Dugger Gap
110.9 ~ North Dugger Mountain Shelter
113.0 ~ Terrapin Creek Watershed
117.0 ~ Oakey Mountain Shelter
126.0 ~ Laney Creek
128.8 ~ Davis Mountain Shelter
132.4 ~ Hawkins Hollow Tent Platform
134.8 ~ 1700 Foot Overlook
Q: Are there any particularly dry stretches we need to know about
where someone should bring extra water?
A: No, you are always within at least a day’s walk of year round water sources. In the fall,
winter and spring you will cross seasonal springs constantly.
Q: Do hikers in this area prefer to use filters or iodine tabs? What's
the preferred purification method?
A: Water filters are used by most folks, but 2 part Iodine (Aqua Mira?) is becoming common
Q: Is there a good set of maps available anywhere?
A: There are 5 USFS maps that cover the AL Pinhoti and they are very clear, detailed, big
3'x3' maps. I've seen the USFS map prices range anywhere from 4 to 8 dollars each,
depending on where you buy them.
The USFS / Alabama web site is still under construction. I assume that you will still be
able to print an order form for maps and mail it to Montgomery.
You can also pick up the maps at:
Cheaha State Park ~ 256-488-5111
USFS office in Talladega ~ 256-362-2909
USFS office in Heflin ~ 256-463-2272
USFS HQ in Montgomery ~ 334-832-4470
Most times they have a full set on hand, but not always.
You can also order these maps online through Omni Map.
Here is a map coverage guide for the USFS topos.
APT Northern Terminus
Map 1: APT Sections 1 and 2
Map 2: APT Section 3
Map 3: APT Sections 4, 5 and 6
Map 4: APT Section 7
Map 5: APT Section 8
APT Southern Terminus
USFS maps for the new ATA Section (northern terminus) and Section 9 (southern
terminus) are not available at this time.
Q: Any reason there's such a variance in the type of blazes -- white
diamonds/silver metal diamonds/etc...?
The FS has been working on the Pinhoti National Recreation Trail Management Plan (for
Alabama) for years. This document includes what our blazing standard is and the plan was
finally completed earlier this year. It calls for painted blue rectangles for the Pinhoti and
painted white rectangles for all side trails. Almost the whole trail was reblazed with the
blue rectangles over this past winter.
Q: What's the highest Alabama peak along the route?
A: At northbound mile 43.7, the trail crosses over Hernandez Peak at 2344’, which is the
highest on trail elevation. At mile 45.0, you are 0.2 miles from Cheaha State Park, which
surrounds Alabama’s highest peak - Mt. Cheaha at 2407’. The trail does not go over the
peak, it goes around the east side about 200’ below the peak.
Q: Know anything about the Civil War fortifications near Rocky Face?
What do they look like?
A: Nope, never been there or even heard a description. Sorry : )
Would it be fair to say this trail goes from eastern AL to north-
A: Yes… maybe east-central AL to north-west GA.
Q: Lastly -- kind of a silly question, but the deer we'll find on the
trail, would those be whitetail deer?
A: Yes. Also, here’s some changes I made to yesterday’s list:
Southern Long Leaf Pines (AL state tree)
Shagg Bark Hickory
Oak Leaf Hydrangia (AL state wildflower)
Black Bear (AL state mammal. I've never seen one near the trail but they are migrating
from Tenn and NC and settling in south AL near Mobile : )
White Tail Deer
Red Cockaded Woodpecker
Red Tail Hawks
There is one thing I'd like to add on a personal note if I may. I am old school. My first
hike was on the AT in 1975. This was a time when hiking was still considered a spiritual
journey / quest and this mindset is a major part of who I am, on or off the trail. There
are signs of this mentality all over my website and I actively promote the Pinhoti as such.
The Pinhoti is not a busy trail and there are not very many busy things going on around the
trail. The Pinhoti is a quiet place where solitude and reflection are the rule of the day,
much like the AT back in the day.
Q: One big question: Will the Pinhoti Trail one day link up with the AT
(and therefore become the new southern terminus?) How realistic is
that possibility? I've read some things on the web about organizations
making headway on that, and it seems like a great selling point to
mention if it's true/realistic.
A: Yes, the Pinhoti will one day connect with the AT. The Pinhoti will probably never be called
the AT or be it’s southern terminus simply because the Appalachian Trail Conservancy is
and has always been against the idea (see paragraph below). It’s possible that one day this
whole system of trails from Key West to Cape Gaspe may become the Eastern
Continental Trail, but each trail will retain their own identity / name. No one has stepped
up yet to build an ECT organization though.
In Benton MacKaye’s famous document, “An Appalachian Trail”, he describes his vision of
an Appalachian Trail, and then he goes on to describe the network of trails that connect
the AT with all of the local communities and other parts of the Appalachian Range. The
International Appalachian Trail, on the north end of the AT, and the Benton MacKaye and
Pinhoti Trail, on the south end, are connector trails as described by Mr. MacKaye.
Q: Could you give me a rough approximation of how many road walks
there currently are on the complete Pinhoti Trail and where they're
A: Sure. They are all on the Ga. Pinhoti. There are 18 sections on that trail, Section 1 is at
the Alabama state line and goes north to the Benton Mackaye Trail at Section 18.
Sections 1 thru 4 are not in their trail guide (which only includes trail on the ground) so I
assume 1 thru 4 is a road walk.
Section 13 and 14 are not in the guide either, so I assume this is a road walk also. Not
very specific but that's all I get from their website : )
Q: What kind of views will we get from Hernandez Peak? What's the
general area we're looking over? Anything notable?
A: Nada, Hernandez is treed in.
0.5 miles south of there (northbound mile 42.6) is McDill Overlook at 1940', inside the
Cheaha Wilderness, and is arguably the best view on the entire AL Pinhoti. The view is
southwest and takes in the entire eastern third of the Cheaha Wilderness (ridge and
There is also an in your face view of the main Appalachian Ridge as it makes a 20 mile
curve to the southwest. Way cool!!
Q: Any good restaurants/places to grab a beer near the north/south
terminus? Good to recommend these things, especially if there's some
kind of rare cuisine/food/etc that an out of towner could grab. Any
Cave Spring, GA (just over the state line). Downtown family style restaurant on Cedar
Creek, cool location. I'm not that familiar with this town, so don't know if they serve
23 Cedartown St.
Heflin, AL Near the interstate and only motel in town (Ho-Jo). They sell beer in stores
but don't know about restaurants.
Marie's Bar-B-Que House
1414 Almon St.
Sylacauga, AL Downtown at intersection of AL 21 and AL 148. Carona's and Margarita's!!
La Costa Mexican Restaurant
215 N. Broadway Ave.
Q: Also -- do you have a link to your website/book/etc? It'd be great
to try and give you some kind of credit or plug.
A: Oh, sure! Thanks!
Solo / Hugh Hickman
President Horn Mountain Trail Club / APT - Section 9
President Alabama Trails Association / APT - ATA Section
Member Appalachian Trail Club of AL / APT - Section 1, 2, 3, 4
Author of Solo's APT Handbook