I just finished my Pinhoti Trail thru hike a couple of weeks ago and for the first time I wasn’t a complete purist on the trail. I skipped over a very small section at Strawberry Mountain around the Lafayette area where I was enjoying a break from the trail (or the Georgia logging roads) visiting with some great friends and family. I’m still all good with that decision. If I knew then what I know now about the Georgia Pinhoti sections, I would have skipped out on a whole lot more than I did. More on that topic in a bit.
After talking with lots of locals who have lived all of their lives within a ten mile radius of the Pinhoti Trail, I was pretty amazed that they had no idea about its existence. So I figured they weren’t the only ones. So what is the Pinhoti National Recreation Trail and where does it go? Here’s a little history and description of the trail. ~ Wikipedia
The Pinhoti Trail is a long-distance trail, 335 miles long, located in the states of Alabama and Georgia. The trail’s southern terminus is on Flagg Mountain, near Weogufka, Alabama, the southernmost peak in the state that rises over 1,000 feet. (The mountain is often called the southernmost Appalachian peak, though by most geological reckonings, the actual Appalachian range ends somewhat farther north in Alabama.) The trail’s northern terminus is where it joins the Benton MacKaye Trail in Georgia.
Georgia has about 164 miles of the trail, and Alabama contains the other 171 miles of the 335-mile-long trail.
From the Georgia Pinhoti Trail Association website: “The original plan for the Appalachian Trail was laid out in 1925 at the first Appalachian Trail Conference. This plan showed a main trail running from Cohutta Mountain in north Georgia to Mount Washington in New Hampshire. This plan also proposed a spur trail from Mt. Washington to Mount Katahdin in Maine and one from the Georgia Mountains into Northern Alabama. The spur in Maine was completed in 1940, while the spur into Alabama has yet to be blazed. However, the effort to make this Alabama spur trail a reality is underway and is the result of persistent work of many groups, individuals, agencies and organizations.”
Construction of the Alabama Pinhoti Trail began in 1970 within the Talladega National Forest in east central and northeast Alabama. In 1977, the Talledega National Forest portions of the trail were designated a National Recreation Trail. By 1983, 60 miles of trail had been constructed and Mike Leonard of the Alabama Wilderness Coalition proposed connecting the Pinhoti to the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. The U.S. Forest Service and Alabama’s Forever Wild land trust aided in the acquisition of major wilderness tracts. The Pinhoti Trail currently travels through some of those acquired lands and others in which it is planned to go through.
The Pinhoti Trail was initially completed in February 2008, and officially opened to the public on March 16, 2008. Efforts continue to improve the trail, mainly involving moving road walk sections of the trail onto trails away from the road. A new southern terminus of the trail at the base of Flagg Mountain, opened in March 2015.
For many years, Alabama and Georgia hiking groups have been advocating for U.S. Congress to officially designate the Pinhoti Trail as a part of the Appalachian Trail — a move that would make Flagg Mountain the southern terminus of the AT. ~ Wikipedia
This is just my opinion, but while the Alabama sections of the Pinhoti Trail are very well done, the Georgia sections have a long way to go before Flagg Mountain would ever be considered as a new southern terminus for the Appalachian Trail. Once you cross the Alabama / Georgia state line and approach the Jackson Chapel Trailhead, the trail really changes and takes a turn for the worse in Georgia. The entire Pinhoti Trail throughout the state of Georgia is mainly made up of asphalt roads, logging roads and forest service roads with small amounts of wood trails interconnecting them. If someone is seeking out a true trail and nature experience, I found most of the scenery, with the exception of a few areas along the way, to be less than appealing from the Jackson Chapel Trailhead to at least the Cohuttas or the Dennis Mill Trailhead. I’m sure many people will have different opinions, but that’s the way I saw the Georgia Pinhoti sections. On top of that, the AL/GA Databook is not current or up to date from the Pinhoti Trail Alliance website. In my opinion, if the information from the Pinhoti Trail Alliance website is not current or correct, it should be removed until it can be revised to reflect the actual routes of the trail. The Georgia Pinhoti would be very wise to learn from Alabama sections on how a trail should be marked, blazed and documented. All that being said, I still enjoyed the long distance hike and trail life is still awesome.
Below is a short recap on my October Pinhoti hike along with some photos. If anyone is interested you can view my original Pinhoti hike plan here: davids-pinhoti-trail-hike-plan-2016
Day 1, Friday, October 7th: Mary and I drove from Mineral Bluff, Georgia down to Flagg Mountain where she dropped me off at the trailhead late that afternoon. My original plan was to just hike in 2.1 miles to the Weogufka Creek Shelter and spend the night there and get an early start the next morning. I got to the shelter and figured out I had enough daylight to push on closer to where the woods trail ends and the road walk picks up, so I ended up camping very close to the last footbridge at mile 4.7 that first evening.
Day 2, Saturday, October 8th: I got an early start the next morning and began my road walk to the Trammel Trailhead. From there I got a ride back into Sylacauga, Alabama where I met up with a friend who wanted to hike with me for several days. Olivia has a real interest in possibly hiking the Appalachian Trail one year soon and she wanted to experience what trail life would be like. I realize now that she picked the best section to join me on which was from the Trammel Trailhead (mile 22.9) to CR 24 Crossing / Morgan Cascade (mile 91.5).
Day 3, Sunday, October 9th through Day 5, Tuesday, October 11th: We got another early morning start out of Sylacauga back to the Trammel Trailhead. We really wanted to leave Olivia’s car more in town than out at the trailhead, but never had much luck with a ride, so we decided to just go ahead and leave her car parked at the trailhead itself. It all worked out fine. That day, including an extra two mile walk down and back to Hatchet Creek for water, we camped somewhere around +/-mile 36. This section of the trail was awesome with lots of ridge walking and views off both sides of the trail. It was all fun for Olivia until I pointed out a rather large snake skin in the middle of the trail, belonging to an old friend of mine, a Timber Rattler (see my PCT blog). I think I remember the comment from Olivia was that she was “completely paralyzed”. I’m pretty sure she just wanted to get out of those rocky areas where those snakes love to live. Due to the severe drought, water was really tough to manage along the way. The cool thing is we ran up on two different locations where a trail angel left a water cache for hikers. It was just awesome and very much appreciated!
Day 6, Wednesday, October 12th: As usual, when I begin seeing a little light in the morning I’m up and going. Olivia began to get into the routine that I like of trying to get 10 before 10 (10 miles of hiking in before 10 a.m.) and we did pretty well on most days. Our day was filled with wonderful overlooks, a climb up Stairway to Heaven, Cheaha, and Hernandez Peak, the highest elevation on the Alabama Pinhoti.
Our data book information mentioned that once we reached AL 281, the Cheaha State Park entrance was down the road to the left 0.2 miles. We decided to head that way in hopes of possibly just being able to buy a Coke somewhere. We were in luck, even though the little store was closed because the power had gone off, the young lady there opened the store up and allowed us to purchase several refreshing drinks. It didn’t take long until we also figured out that a restaurant just up the hill was serving a full lunch buffet. Wow, what a great lunch break and the views from the restaurant overlooking the Talladega National Forest were breath taking. Even with our long mid day break, we still managed to get about 16 miles in and camped that evening at Zulu Canyon. This made for a short day (a nero) into Oxford the next morning.
Day 7, Thursday, October 13th: We only had about six miles to hike before hitting CR24 which would take us into Oxford. It was awesome reaching the road and a huge accomplishment for Olivia to be out on a trail for five consecutive days. After doing a few high fives, I immediately turned around and stuck my thumb out to catch a ride into Oxford. We had about an eight mile hitch into town and while standing out there on the road with Olivia, I could sense some uncertainty from her about how this was going to work out. It dawned on me that she had never hitched hiked before. I reinforced that it’s a very common “Hiker Trash” thing to do to get into towns. I did let her know, for her own safety, that she would always be smart to do it with a group. An older couple heading into town for a Walmart run went by us, turned around and came back and picked us up. They were a super sweet couple and we very much enjoyed our conversation with them on the way into town.
Once we got into town, we were able to get cleaned up quickly before lunch time. A friend of mine, Mike, was coming from the Birmingham area to meet us for lunch and to drive Olivia back to Sylacauga so she could pick up her car and head back to Nashville. We all went to the Mellow Mushroom there in town for lunch and had an awesome time. I can’t believe I didn’t take any photos of our lunch, but thanks again to Mike for coming to the rescue.
Day 8, Friday, October 14th through Day 10, Sunday, October 16th: I got an early morning taxi ride out of Oxford back to the trailhead and even did some hiking in the dark for the first hour. That night I stayed at the Lower Shoal Shelter, which had great water, pushing a 23 mile day. The next night I made it to another shelter, the Choccolocco Creek Shelter, where the water source wasn’t as good. The trail section just before the Choccolocco Creek Shelter was probably in the worst condition of any part that I had experienced in Alabama, but was still more than doable, just needed a little work. The following night I decided to stop at the Chief Ladiga Trail Campground. Good call! Some bikers immediately asked me over to have an adult beverage and they even gave me some great left over gumbo from their meal the night before. It was an awesome place to stop and camp! Later that evening, I was again invited down to another camp for more adult beverages, dinner and dessert. I was already too full for any more dinner, but enjoyed the beverages and dessert.
Day 11, Monday, October 17th: I had just a little over eight miles to hike to get to US 278 where I had another eight mile hitch into the town of Piedmont. The hitch there probably took me the longest on this journey. I think it was somewhere around 40 minutes, but the road really wasn’t very busy during the mid morning hours. I still got there in plenty of time to enjoy some coffee and a nice breakfast at the Huddle House.
Day 12, Tuesday, October 18th: I arranged a ride back to the trailhead on Monday night from a guy named Josh who worked at the car detailing place next to the motel where I stayed in Piedmont. He arrived right on time and put me back out on the trail early. I hiked just a little over 20 miles, crossed the Alabama / Georgia State line and made it to Cave Springs by the hardest once I arrived at the Jackson Chapel Trailhead. You really had to be on your toes through this area because the trail was very tough to follow. It was still a great day. I saw one big snake, four turkeys and five deer, one of which was a very large buck. I ate both dinner and breakfast the next morning at Southern Flavor there in town. Great people and great food! I chatted after dinner with a local guy named Rip Montgomery who owns a little store in town named The Peddler. He was a super guy to talk to and it was obvious that he’s very proud to be from Cave Springs.
Day 13, Wednesday, October 19th: From Cave Springs I went into Rome. The best description I can come up with is all road walk, even including a four lane highway for many miles. Not my idea of a fun hike!
Day 14, Thursday, October 20th: From Rome or the Simms Mountain Trailhead, I made it to the James Floyd State Park. The park was located downhill from the Pinhoti roughly 2 miles. I had to go down, because no water existed up on Taylors Ridge where I was hiking. The State Park was the only reliable water source for miles. It was late in the afternoon, so I wasn’t interested in hiking back up hill to the Pinhoti Trail to camp with no water. I decided to head over to the Ranger’s office to find out if they had any primitive camping sites. Remember now, I’m just off the Pinhoti Trail. The answer was no, but we have one RV site remaining for the evening. I was just not really interested in an RV site, didn’t need the utilities and also couldn’t pitch a tent very well on those pack stone drives/sites. Long story short, I was just going to sleep at the pavilion there by the lake. I figured I would be up and gone by daylight and no big deal. The head ranger came by later that evening and showed me a place very close by in the Pioneer Camping area where I could stay. I guess this Pioneer Camping area is often used by Boy Scouts and other large groups. I’m not sure why it wasn’t a suggested area for me when I first went into the ranger’s office to inquire about sites. It’s not like I had a car that I could just jump in and go somewhere else. I later found out that they’ve had plans for a number of years now to have a certain location set aside for a primitive camping area (walk in tenting), but getting restroom faculties built are the problem and they can’t open it without having one right there. The State Park appears to have plenty of other restrooms close by. It must be a government regulation thing??
Day 15, Friday, October 21st: After leaving the James Floyd Sate Park, I made it to West Armuchee Road Trailhead and walked basically two miles from there down to the town of Subligna, GA where I found some phone service. It was a pretty good day walking on the logging roads where I saw the most deer on this trip – six in one day. Boo, my wife’s cousin, came and picked me up for the evening and took me back to her home in Lafayette. Besides enjoying the steak and cold beer…I had a great time spending the evening with Boo, her husband, John and son, Hayden. My tent and sleeping pad still got good use that night as Hayden took occupancy for the evening.
Day 16, Saturday, October 22nd: Due to a late morning out of Lafayette and a motivational problem with logging roads and forest service roads, this is where I decided to skip ahead a small bit leaving behind even more logging roads and an area recently consumed by forest fires atop Strawberry Mountain. The woods trail from the Snake Creek Gap Trailhead down to Dalton was actually a nice and beautiful walk. It was one of the better sections in Georgia.
Day 17, Sunday, October 23rd: From Dalton I went into Chatsworth. Best description again-all road walk.
Day 18, Monday, October 24th through Day 19, Tuesday, October 25th: A lot of the trail from the Dennis Mill Trailhead to the Northern Terminus was still old forest service roads although the scenery was much improved. The Cohuttas are beautiful and I knew I was getting close to home when I began hiking by creeks, mountain laurel and rhododendron. I made it to the Pinhoti Northern Terminus around 4:00 p.m. and continued on the BMT to Dyer Gap where Mary picked me up.