Feature: Tripping the Back Roads

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Northeast Alabama scenic byways traverse amazing scenery, small-town charms and historic sites.

By RANDY GRIDER

Northeast Alabama’s diverse geography, natural wonders, history and charming towns rival those of any other area in the Southeast. It’s all here for the taking – requiring only your time and willingness to explore. Making it even easier are designated roadways that take you through the best this region has to offer – the Appalachian Highlands Scenic Byway and the Lookout Mountain Parkway. Both offer the perfect drive in any season. And each season offers something new in terms of the scenery with spring and summer offering greenery and wildflowers, the autumn boasting blazing foliage and winter with its hauntingly beautiful rawness that enhances the vastness of the landscape.[s2If !is_user_logged_in()]

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[/s2If][s2If is_user_logged_in()]For the sake of continuity, let’s explore the highlights of both designated roadways from south to north.

The Appalachian Highlands Scenic Byway

Approximately 80 miles in length, the Appalachian Highlands Scenic Byway treks through portions of Cleburne, Calhoun, Cherokee and DeKalb counties. It connects Interstate 20 near Heflin with Interstate 59 at Fort Payne. It is heavily recommended that you start with the northern portion of the Talladega Scenic Drive to take in Cheaha State Park – the highest point in Alabama – and then take Alabama Highway 281 north to I-20 and head west to Heflin to join the byway.

Attractions along or near the byway:

Loyd Owens Canoe Trail

This trail follows 44 miles of the Tallapoosa River in Cleburne County through forests and farmland and offers five ramps for easy access. The trail begins near Cleburne County Road 49, between the Muscadine and Plainview communities, and ends at U.S. Highway 431 near Hollis Crossroads. Cleburne County Courthouse This domed neoclassical building built in 1907 and named for Ireland-born Confederate Gen. Patrick Cleburne is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Heflin Historic District

The district contains a number of commercial, financial and government buildings. Most of the buildings were built between the 1890s and the 1940s and represent a variety of architectural styles.

Pinhoti National Recreational Trail System

This trail winds through rugged pine and hardwood forests, runs along ridge tops and passes through shady hollows and along mountain streams.

Anniston Museum of Natural History

This museum features the Regar-Werner bird exhibit with more than 400 specimens including those endangered and extinct; a full-scale model of an Albertosaurus; a meteorite; Egyptian mummies; and changing exhibition gallery. It also offers nature trails and picnic facilities.

Choccolocco Community and Choccolocco Valley

This historic valley, surrounded by mountains, was a Creek Indian village in 1832, and settlers arrived in 1834. Homes were built in 1840 and a school in 1876.

Choccolocco Wildlife Management Area

Managed by the Alabama Forestry Commission, the area contains recreational opportunities such as hiking, mountain biking, picnicking and hunting as well as a nature preserve.

Frog Pond Wildlife Preserve

This wildlife preserve and observation area is located on a two-acre, seasonal wetland in White Plains.

Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge

This area contains the best remaining example of a mountain longleaf pine ecosystem as it is one of the last remaining old growth mountain longleaf pine forests in the world. Numerous trees are more than 200 years old.

Choccolocco State Forest

This 4,488 acre tract is part of the Choccolocco Wildlife Management Area. The forest contains the Frog Pond Wildlife Preserve and Observation Area.

Talladega National Forest

This is a vast area of managed forest that contains a number of recreational opportunities such as hiking and camping.

Dugger Mountain Wilderness Area

Located in the Talladega National Forest, Dugger Mountain is the second highest peak in Alabama, and the wilderness area contains more than 900 species of plants and animals, including many that are rare or threatened.

Piedmont Commercial and Historic Districts

The town was settled in the 1850s. In 1868, the Selma, Rome and Dalton Railroad connected it to the outside world. Piedmont grew in size during the boom period of the 1890s. Today, it contains a number of commercial buildings, churches, schools and homes from the first half of the 20th century as well as of the Victorian era.

Chief Ladiga Trail

The trail is an old railroad bed converted to 33 miles of bicycle trail. Chief Ladiga was the Creek Indian chief who signed the Cusseta Treaty giving most of the land in the area to the United States.

Cross Plains Depot and Museum / Southern Railway

Built in 1888, the depot is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Goshen Valley Cemetery

This cemetery contains some interesting examples of late 19th and early 20th century funerary architecture, including simple rock headstones. The most notable features are the Woodmen of the World markers.

Goshen Memorial

On March 27, 1994, a tornado destroyed the Goshen United Methodist Church during Palm Sunday services, killing 20 people. The memorial, incorporating the footprint of the building, is dedicated to the victims of this tragedy.

Terrapin Creek

A major stream in Cherokee County, Terrapin Creek flows particularly close to the byway at Roberts and Coloma mountains. Outfitters in the area have canoes and rafts for rent, and tours are available.

Historic Centre

The county seat of Cherokee County, Centre was first settled in the 1840s. The main street, along U.S. Highway 411 and Alabama Highway 9, contains good examples of early to mid-20th century commercial architecture. Today, Centre serves as the southern gateway to Weiss Lake and its recreational opportunities.

Cherokee County Historical Museum

The museum houses more than 20,000 artifacts from the past 150 years, including pictures, letters, farming tools, house wares and industrial items.

Weiss Lake & Dam

The lake was created in the late 1950s by the Alabama Power Company. Weiss Dam impounds the Coosa River, forming some 450 miles of shoreline and covering some 30,000 acres. The dam and hydroelectric plant are located near Leesburg. This vast lake offers a number of recreational opportunities and scenic views of the surrounding mountains and is known as the “Crappie capital of the world.”

Cherokee Rock Village

This collection of large boulders located on Lookout Mountain in Cherokee County near Leesburg boasts scenic rock formations, caves and trails. It’s a popular spot for rock climbing, bouldering and rappelling and also offers tent and RV camping.

Yellow Creek Falls

The scenery around the falls is stunning with the high rock bluffs of Shinbone Ridge overlooking Yellow Creek. The stone, brick and concrete piers of a railroad bridge highlight the remnants of the Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia Railroad line built in the 1890s. There is a boat launch and other recreational opportunities in the area.

Cornwall Furnace and Park

Built in 1862, the furnace supplied iron to the Noble Brothers Company of Rome, Ga., one of the South’s largest munitions manufacturers. It was damaged on two occasions – lastly by Union Gen. Sherman in 1864. The park contains a nature trail and picnic pavilion.

Chesnut Bay Resort

Chesnut Bay Resort is an all-seasons resort on Weiss Lake that offers guests an easy-paced vacation. It has been compared to a blend of Seaside, Fla., and a Catskills resort. It features comfortable lake houses and poolside villas as well as swimming pools, a lake water slide, beach activities, walking trails, playgrounds, tennis court, miniature golf, zip line, outdoor movie theater and much more.

Pleasant Hill Church and Cemetery

This is an outstanding example of the rural churches and cemeteries found throughout Appalachia. It has a front entrance, set within the tower that serves as a base for the slender steeple. A series of 9/9 double hung sash windows illuminate the simple interior. The cemetery (across the highway) began in 1841 with the graves of two slaves.

Martha’s Falls and Little River Falls

Take the short hike to scenic Martha’s Falls near the east ridge of Lookout Mountain. Just a quarter-mile east is the parking lot for Little River Falls – the beginning of Little River Canyon. A boardwalk leads visitors to a great viewing area. A pedestrian bridge walkway offers another impressive vista of the falls and the canyon.

Canyon Rim Parkway

This 22-mile scenic drive follows the 600-foot gorge through the Little River Canyon National Preserve to Little River Mouth Park. Little River is one of the few river systems in the world that forms and flows atop a mountain. This 14,000-acre preserve contains one of the most extensive canyon and gorge systems in the eastern United States. It is also home to many rare, threatened and endangered species of plants and animals.

Orbix Hot Glass

This quaint, renowned glass studio has been featured in numerous publications and recognized for its world-class glassware. Glass blowing classes are held most weekends. Please see www.orbixhotglass for directions as GPS systems are often inaccurate, and cell phone coverage can be spotty in the area.

Little River Canyon Center

The center is a Jacksonville State University facility that adjoins Little River Canyon National Preserve. With a portion leased to the National Park Service, the facility features a Grand Hall, HD movie theater, gift shop, natural history library, exhibits, classrooms, large deck, outdoor amphitheater and trails. It features a regular schedule of programs that include concerts, workshops, hikes, lectures, and other activities for students of all ages.

Historic Fort Payne

This area was Cherokee territory during much of the 18th and early 19th centuries. Willstown was an important Cherokee village located here. During the early part of the 19th century, a mission was established to bring Christianity to the area. Clustered around this mission were a few hundred settlers. In 1837, an encampment called Fort Payne was built to house area Cherokees prior to the Indian removal – known as the Trail of Tears – in 1838. The original Trail of Tears (Benge Detachment) is well marked, starting in Fort Payne and ending near Guntersville, Ala. Other highlights of the city include: Alabama Fan Club and Alabama Museum, Historic Cabin Site, and the Boom Town Historic District – City Park, Fort Payne Depot Museum, Fort Payne Opera House and W.B. Davis Hosiery Mill (now houses the Big Mill Antique Mall and Vintage 1889 restaurant).

Driving Directions for the Appalachian Highlands Byway:

Starting in Heflin, follow Alabama Highway 9 until it intersects with
U.S. Highway 78 on the outskirts of town. From this intersection,
the byway heads west (along US-78/SR-9) through the Talladega
National Forest until Hwy. 9 diverges northward through the
community of White Plains and the Choccolocco State Forest,
then follows along the Dugger Mountain Scenic Drive. In the town
of Piedmont, the byway crosses the Chief Ladiga Trail and U.S.
Highway 278. The byway continues northward along Highway 9
through the community of Ellisville, traversing a rural landscape
including cotton fields, and then heads to Centre. The byway goes
through Centre, then departs Alabama Highway 9 and follows the
course of U.S. Highway 411 west to the town of Leesburg. Here, the
byway picks up Alabama Highway 273 and heads in a northeasterly
fashion through a rural landscape of plantations and cotton fields
set within deep mountain valleys. At the community of Blanche,
the byway departs Hwy. 273 and turns west on Alabama Highway
35. From here, the byway ascends Lookout Mountain and passes
through the Little River Canyon National Preserve. The byway then
descends Lookout Mountain and passes through the town of Fort
Payne to its northern terminus at I-59.

Lookout Mountain Parkway

Named by Reader’s Digest as one of America’s most scenic drives, Lookout Mountain Parkway runs 93 miles and traverses three states – Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. It starts in Gadsden, Ala., and runs to Chattanooga, Tenn. The parkway intersects the Appalachian Highlands Byway near the city of Fort Payne. The route offers peaceful rolling hills, beautiful farmland, brow views and many wonderful places to stop and enjoy.

Attractions along and near the parkway:

Downtown Gadsden

The city’s downtown area is filled with quaint shops, restaurants, museums and historic buildings. Some of the most popular locations are the Mary G. Hardin Center for Cultural Arts, Pitman Theatre, Courtyard Café, Frio’s Gourmet Pops, The Alabama Gift Company and Back Forty Beer Co., among many others.

Noccalula Falls Park

This 250-acre park’s main feature is the 90-foot waterfall named for a Cherokee maiden who, according to legend, jumped to her death into the Black Creek ravine after being ordered by her father to marry a man she didn’t love. In addition to nature trails, the park also offers a petting zoo, mini-golf course, an 1899 covered bridge, a replica 1863 C. P. Huntington train ride and several pioneer-era buildings. It is listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage.

Lookout Mountain School of Horseshoeing

As the name implies, this school teaches laypersons the art of farriery or shoeing horses. The campus includes a forge building and dormitory as students travel from all over for the eight-week course.

Sand Rock

A post office was established here in 1855. The small community features the popular Mountain Parkway Grill and The Secret Bed and Breakfast, which offers lodging with beautiful views of Weiss Lake below. Also nearby is Cherokee Rock Village (see description above in Appalachian Highland Scenic Byway attractions).

Dogtown

The four-way-stop community with an unusual name is home to Akins Furniture Store – the largest furniture retailer in the state – which draws people from across the Southeast. Locals will tell you some of the best food (and best prices) can be found at the Big Time Café. The parkway officially continues onto DeKalb County Road 89, but you may choose an alternative route by turning right on Alabama Highway 176 to enjoy the Canyon Rim Drive and Little River Canyon National Preserve (see description above in the Appalachian Highlands Scenic Byway attractions).

Fort Payne

Where DeKalb County Road 89 crosses Alabama Highway 35, you are also intersecting the Appalachian Highlands Scenic Byway. (See description above).

Desoto State Park & Desoto Falls

Developed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and named after the explorer Hernando de Soto, the park’s natural scenery encompasses more than 3,000 acres of forest, rivers, waterfalls and mountain terrain. It offers a lodge, cabins, restaurant, modern chalets and campsites, picnicking, swimming pool, tennis courts, CCC Museum, nature center, historic sites and miles of hiking trails. And any trip would be incomplete without visiting the 104-foot Desoto Falls, about six miles from the main park.

Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel

Built by Col. Milford Howard as a memorial to his first wife, this beautiful stone church is constructed around a huge boulder. The boulder serves as the pulpit of the church and is also where the builder’s ashes are interred.

Lookout Mountain Camps

Near the Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel, you’ll find the first of many Lookout Mountain summer youth camps. Along and near the parkway route, these include Alpine Camp for Boys, Camp Comer, Riverview Camp for Girls, Nature’s Classroom, Camp Skyline Ranch for Girls, Camp Laney for Boys, Camp DeSoto for Girls, Ponderosa Bible Camp, Lookout Mountain Camp for Boys, Valley View Ranch for Girls, Camp Juliette Low, Camp Lookout and Camp Woodmont.

Cloudmont Ski and Golf Resort

Billed the southernmost ski resort in the United States, it features two 1,000-foot slopes for beginners and intermediate skiers. The complex includes an equipment rental lodge and nine-hole golf course and the adjacent Shady Grove Dude Ranch, where you can enjoy horseback rides and rustic lodging.

Mentone

The quaint mountaintop village on the west brow of Lookout Mountain is a draw for artists, artisans, musicians and nature lovers. It is home to several popular outdoor festivals. Among the notable locations are the Wildflower Café, Mentone Inn, Kamama, Mentone Realty (the front porch is a gathering spot for locals and visitors , Mentone Market, The Gordie Shop, Little River Hardware, Moon Lake Trading Company and many seasonal shops.

Cloudland and Menlo

Cloudland was a popular late 19th century summer resort located on the eastern brow of Lookout Mountain, just across the Alabama state lane. Today the small community boasts Mountain Grove Bed and Breakfast. Just off the parkway and down the mountain is Menlo, a small town known for its charming neighborhoods.

Mountain Cove Farms Resort

Nestled in the historic McLemore Cove area, this resort features a manor house, country store, restaurant, cabins and vast scenery.

Cloudland Canyon State Park

One of Georgia’s largest and most scenic parks, Cloudland Canyon State Park encompasses 3,485 acres on the western edge of Lookout Mountain. A deep gorge is cut through the mountain, and the elevation drops more than 1,000 feet. There are two picturesque waterfalls. The park has several lodging opportunities ranging from primitive campgrounds to a yurt village and cabins. It also features an 18-hole, disc-golf course.

Lookout Mountain Flight Park

If you ever wanted to soar like an eagle, here’s your chance. The park features instructional classes for solo or tandem flights with an experienced hang-glider pilot. You also can watch others from an observation deck that offers one of the most scenic views on Lookout Mountain.

Covenant College

This Christian liberal arts college’s signature building is Carter Hall – originally built as Lookout Mountain Hotel in 1928 – and was often called the Castle in the Clouds.

Lula Lake Land Trust

Lula Lake and Lula Falls are two of the most visited areas within the land trust’s 8,000 acres. There are miles of hiking and biking trails for outdoor enthusiast to enjoy.

Rock City

One of the Southeast’s best known attractions thanks to barn advertisements painted on almost 1,000 barns throughout the South and Midwest in the mid-20th century, Rock City’s theme plays on fairyland figures and amazing vistas. A sign at one vantage point claims you can see seven states.

Incline Railway

The Incline Railway is a milelong incline running between the top of Lookout Mountain near Point Park to the historic St. Elmo district below. With a maximum grade of 72.7 percent, it is billed as one of the world’s steepest passenger railways. There are several things to do in this area, including visiting Point Park to learn about the “Battle Above the Clouds” during the Civil War and exploring St. Elmo’s shops and restaurants.

Ruby Falls

Ruby Falls is a 145-foot-high, underground waterfall within Ruby Falls Cave. It is located more than 1,000 feet below ground. Also check out the Ruby Falls ZIPstream Aerial Adventure.

Downtown Chattanooga

This historic city offers much to see and do. Thanks to the revitalization of its downtown, Chattanooga boasts many attractions including an aquarium, jump park, urban climbing wall, minor league baseball team, restaurants, microbrews, shops, train excursions, a railroad museum and many more popular sites.

Driving Directions for the Lookout Mountain Parkway: The Lookout Mountain Parkway begins at Noccalula Falls Park in Gadsden, Ala. Coming out of the park, take a left and then right onto Tabor Road. Continuing north, the parkway route becomes Alabama Highway 176 once you cross Alabama Highway 68. Continue to follow Hwy. 176 until the four-way stop sign at Dogtown. (Hwy. 176 turns right toward Little River Canyon National Preserve and the Canyon Rim Drive. This is an optional detour). Continue straight on what is now DeKalb County Road 89. When you reach Five Points (five-way stop), continue straight on County Road 89. At Alabama Highway 35, you are intersecting the Appalachian Highlands Scenic Byway. (It may be at this point where you decide to visit Little River Canyon National Preserve. If so, turn right and travel approximately eight miles to the canyon. Turn right on Hwy. 176 for the Canyon Rim Drive). Continue straight on DeKalb County Road 89 through DeSoto State Park. The parkway makes a left and then a right after leaving the park. When County Road 89 intersects Alabama Highway 117 in Mentone, turn right. The road becomes Georgia Highway 48 when you cross the state line. Turn left at the caution light onto Georgia Highway 157. Turn left on Georgia Highway 136 and then right onto Georgia 189. This will lead you to Tennessee Highway 27.[/s2If]