pinhoti national recreation trail / pinhoti millennium legacy trail
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the real appalachian trail.
x The Pinhoti Trail, Alabama’s “Miniature Appalachian Trail,” gives hikers exactly what they want. From challenging switch backs that rival anything on the Appalachian Trail (AT) and scenic views atop Mt. Cheaha, to the tucked-away campsites and shelters on lakes and in the hollows, the Pinhoti Trail is truly a backpacker’s paradise.
The Pinhoti Trail was originally built in the 1970s by volunteers and conservation corps members with funds from the U.S. Forest Service and covered about 60 miles from Coleman Lake to Adam’s Gap. The Forest Service has since funded the construction of many trail shelters, which offer backpackers a home-away-from-home feeling in the woods, but it has been mostly volunteers who have bought, built, and busted their buns to maintain Pinhoti and keep the trail true to what AT pioneer Benton McKaye envisioned.
On nearly any weekend of the year, at least parts of the Pinhoti Trail offer the special experience of solitude in the wilderness that McKaye wanted. Streams and scenic vistas blanket the trail’s corridor, as do wildlife, wildflowers, and many waterfalls. Campsites are available on a variety of terrains. The rocky outcrop of Hernandez Point is one of the best mountain views in the state at 2,344 feet in elevation. Shoal Creek is a tranquil and shady shelter located on a bend in a wide creek that lulls campers to sleep in the evening.
The foot path itself covers about 150 miles in Alabama, running roughly from Horn Mountain near Sylacauga northeast to Flag Pole Mountain on the Georgia state line. Because the trail also takes hikers right by some popular weekend outdoor getaways like Coleman Lake, Mt. Cheaha, the Chief Ladiga Trail, Terrapin Creek, and Sweetwater Lake, it also allows outdoor lovers with only a few hours to spare a chance to experience something special in the state.
As I mentioned above, some truly gifted and generous volunteers have already done all of the hard work to prepare the trail for you. Detailed maps are available, a free trail guide is a spot-on description of elevation and water sources, wonderful three-sided shelters are conveniently located throughout the trail, and the path is mostly in superb condition. All volunteers ask is that hikers stay on the trail, pack out all that they pack in, use only the fire rings that are already built, and remain mindful to leave this state treasure as they found it.
Volunteer Pinhoti Trail worker John Calhoun knows what makes a truly great hiking trail. He is in a select group of backpackers known as Triple-Crowners who have through-hiked the AT, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail. He calls the Pinhoti “a miniature AT,” and says that the steep and rocky section of the Pinhoti known as “The Stairway to Heaven” is just as difficult as anything on the AT and the views from the Pinhoti Trail are equally as scenic.
Once the Pinhoti hits the Georgia line, the trail doesn’t just peter out. It continues as the Georgia Pinhoti Trail with slightly different regulations (some sections allow for bicyclists) and maintenance regularity. The trail eventually connects with the Appalachian Trail on the famed Springer Mountain. A through-hike from Alabama to Maine is a reality and an increasingly popular choice for hikers who want to do “the real Appalachian Trail.”
For a detailed trail guide and driving directions visit http://www.pinhotitrailalliance.org/.
~ Justin Brimer