Let’s face it. There is no better hiking companion than your dog. The bond that you and your dog forge while on a trail is unique as you explore all of nature’s wonders.
Alabama has hundreds of amazing hiking trails that you and Fido will love to explore, ranging from long overnights to hikes of only a couple of hours or a half day. Let’s explore eight of the best short hikes in the state, where you and your pup can get away from it all and experience Alabama the Beautiful.
1. Cane Creek Canyon Preserve
An incredible journey along almost 18 miles of trails at the Cane Creek Canyon Preserve in Tuscumbia gives you and your dog a glimpse into all that makes Alabama so unique. The trails interconnect, providing you and your pup with seemingly endless panoramic views from the rim of the canyon plus glimpses of fascinating rock bluffs, enormous sandstone rock shelters, breathtaking rainbows of wildflowers, tiered waterfalls, and the crystal-clear waters of Cane Creek itself. There are so many route options that you will find yourself coming back time and time again.
The hike into the canyon is rated as moderate in difficulty since you must hike down into (and back up) the canyon. The trails at the bottom of the canyon make for relatively easy walking.
The canyon is located at 251 Loop Road in Tuscumbia. The owners require you to sign the register when you arrive and leave. Bring plenty of water, but know that the owners, Jim and Faye Lacefield, have jugs of water available along the trail in case of an emergency.
2. Fall Creek Falls
The Sipsey Wilderness and Bankhead National Forest never disappoint, and this easy walking 2.2-mile out-and-back hike to a beautiful plunge waterfall is no exception. You will be walking past amazing geology and wildflowers as you walk along the banks of the clear water of the Sipsey Fork and Borden Creek. Your dog will love frolicking in the water where both creeks converge.
The hike is relatively easy over a sand and dirt footpath. To get to the waterfall, begin at the Sipsey Recreation Area trailhead and take Trail 200 and Trail 209 under the County Road 60/Cranal Road bridge. Follow the path a half mile to where the two trails separate. It’s time to get your feet wet as you turn left and cross the two creeks where they meet. The hardest part of the hike is climbing up the bank on the other side. Once across, turn left to continue on Trail 209 and walk an additional half mile. The waterfall is next to the trail on your right. When you're ready, simply turn around and head back to your car the way you came.
A couple of things to remember: The trails in the wilderness are not blazed but are well worn and easy to follow, and intersections (like that at Trail 200 and Trail 209) are well marked. Do not attempt to cross the creek during times of high water. It can be swift and dangerous. Fall Creek Falls is seasonal and may not be flowing in the heat of summer. The best time to visit is between fall and early summer.
3. Alum Hollow
You and your dog will love this beautiful walk in the woods at the Land Trust of North Alabama’s Green Mountain Nature Preserve. This is an easy walk along a ridge through a forest with a lush green canopy and flowering dogwoods in spring and summer and the leaves of the winged elm giving way to vibrant colors in autumn.
The reward for completing this 2.3-mile out-and-back hike is an incredible rock shelter once used by Native Americans over 10,000 years ago and a beautiful, tiered cascade waterfall.
The trail is well marked, and it’s virtually impossible to get lost, but you will be sharing it with mountain bikers and trail runners, so keep your eyes and ears open and keep your dog on a leash.
The trailhead is located on South Shawdee Road Southeast in Huntsville.
4. Bethel Spring
The Land Trust of North Alabama has protected over 7,500 acres of land, over 15 miles of creek and river frontage, and over 50 caves in the Huntsville area. We encourage you to visit their website to discover all of their dog-friendly preserves. Their latest is Bethel Spring, with a moderate 2-mile double loop leading you to an incredible, shimmering, segmented waterfall that tumbles into a 334-foot-deep cave.
Once again, the best time for you and Fido to visit is from fall to early summer, when the waterfall is really flowing. Your dog will love the beautiful, clear water of Bethel Creek at the beginning of the hike, and you’ll love the solitude provided by a couple of benches on the return trip next to the water.
The trailhead is located on Cherry Tree Road in Huntsville. When you hike to the waterfall, I recommend walking in a counterclockwise direction. Although it is still a moderate climb up to the top, it is much easier this way.
5. Chinnabee Silent Trail
The 6-mile moderate out-and-back Chinnabee Silent Trail in Alabama’s Talladega National Forest brings together all that makes the forest special: the fast-flowing Cheaha Creek with a series of incredible cascades, including a view from high above the impressive Devil’s Den; plenty of swimming holes for you and your pup to enjoy; a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains; and the incredible tiered waterfall, Cheaha Falls.
The trail begins at the Lake Chinnabee Recreation Area (there is a $3 day-use fee) and meanders its way along the Cheaha Creek banks. Many of the swimming holes are within an easy half-mile walk from the trailhead, so they are easy to get to if you just want to take a short walk. For the full experience, keep going, and the hike gets a bit rockier and tougher as it makes its way up to a rocky ledge for a view of Devil’s Den. This section may be too difficult for older dogs or dogs with physical issues.
Finally, in 3.5 miles, you will arrive at the Cheaha Trail Shelter for a beautiful view (and a great place to spend the night) and right below it, Cheaha Falls, where you will turn around and head back to the car.
The only drawback to this hike is that it gets very crowded in the middle of summer. Everyone wants to take a swim!
Keep in mind that the recreation area is closed from November through March.
6. John B. Scott Forever Wild Trail
The picturesque Lake Martin in Tallassee is the backdrop for this 4.7-mile moderate loop hike. The first mile of this hike follows an old dirt road along the banks of the beautiful lake that reflects the deep blue sky on a cloudless day. Then, it ducks into the woods and zig-zags across a nice, cool spring before making a climb to the top of Saddle Rock Mountain for an incredible view of the surrounding mountains.
Be sure to bring plenty of water along, especially on a hot summer day. That dirt road walk can be brutal when the sun is beating down.
7. Chewacla State Park
Chewacla State Park in Auburn has kept the rustic charm created by the CCC in the 1930s to this very day, and it is the perfect place for you and your pup to get out and explore.
Take your pick of hikes. Over 15 miles of trails lead you to some spectacular water features as they meander along hillsides through tunnels of blooming rhododendron and mountain laurel in spring.
There are two trails here that are my favorites. To the north of the park’s lake, you can take a nice stroll along the banks of the swift-flowing Moore’s Mill Creek on the Troop 30 Trail. On the south end of the lake, check out two waterfalls -- the Lake Chewacla Dam and Natural Falls -- on an easy 2.4-mile lollipop loop that uses several well-marked trails, including the Lakeside Connector, Falls View, Creek View, and CCC Trails.
Once again, be on the lookout for mountain bikes that share the trails here, and be warned that this is a very crowded park during college football season when the Auburn University Tigers play home games.
8. Audubon Bird Sanctuary
The sanctuary has over 3 miles of trails that interconnect, giving you and your dog plenty to explore, like the shimmering waters of Gaillard Lake, a placid swamp overlook with turtles lined up sunning on logs, and access to one of the few dog-friendly beaches on the Alabama Gulf Coast. The paths are lined with many varieties of fragrant wildflowers in season, and the beach gives you an unfettered view of the historic Sand Island Lighthouse in the distance.
When visiting the sanctuary, be sure to bring plenty of water. There is little shade in the hot summer months. The lake and swamp are known for alligators, so keep your pet on a leash and keep them, and children, close at hand. And remember, while swimming is allowed on the beach, there are no lifeguards. Swim at your own risk, and be sure to listen to local media and watch for the single or double red flags flying, meaning it is dangerous to go into the water.
While we would all love to have our dogs run free off-leash, most parks and preserves require them to be on a leash to protect others and your dog.
Please practice Leave No Trace when hiking with your dog, and either pack poop bags with you and carry out what they leave behind, or follow LNT guidelines for disposal on the trail. Here are some of our LNT tips.