In today’s tumultuous political landscape, it’s difficult to get one side to agree with the other on anything. In Alabama, that happened in 1991 and again in 2012 when residents almost unanimously voted to create and reauthorize funding for the state’s Forever Wild program.
Forever Wild was created to protect ecologically sensitive land and waterways as well as historic areas of significance. The land is purchased by using a small percentage of the interest earned from royalties the state receives from off-shore drilling.
Since it was established, Forever Wild has protected over 270,000 acres of the most beautiful scenery and amazing wildlife in the South and the best part is, whenever possible, they open the property for outdoor recreation including mountain biking, horseback riding, and hiking.
Let me introduce you to six incredible experiences you will have while hiking the trails of Alabama’s Forever Wild.
1. Walls Of Jericho Tract
Arguably one of the most popular hiking destinations in Alabama, the Walls of Jericho Tract is an incredibly beautiful 21,453-acre natural wonderland. Well, it’s not only an Alabama hiking destination. The highlight of the tract is actually on the opposite side of the Tennessee/Alabama state line.
The tract is an incredibly rich area of biodiversity. Located in the longest hardwood plateau on Earth, the tract boasts a large catalog of bird spotting opportunities, beautiful wildflowers such as white nodding trillium and yellow lady’s slippers, and many rare reptiles.
The highlight of the tract is an unbelievable bowl canyon with a gushing ribbon waterfall that flows into a sinkhole at the top of the canyon and then reappears at the bottom of the canyon. When the water is flowing, it is a spectacular sight.
Walls Of Jericho Trail/South Rim Trail
To get to the waterfall, it is a strenuous 7-mile out-and-back trail using two trails — the 3-mile Walls of Jericho and 0.5-mile South Rim Trails. It is a canyon and what goes down must come back up.
The trails head steeply down a ridge passing several sinkholes and a few small caves, cross the rushing blue-green waters of Hurricane Creek and Turkey Creek, and pass the old Clark Cemetery before arriving at the falls.
Pro Tip: Making Plans
Plan a full day for the trip. Experienced hikers can do the trek in four hours but most people take six hours. Bring plenty of water and food to snack on.
2. Gothard AWF/Yates Lake Wildlife Management Area
This 5,800-acre tract is located on the western shore of scenic Yates Lake and features a stand of inspiring tall, longleaf pines and hardwood trees that ignite into the brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges of fall for a spectacular color show. The tract was established to protect three miles of the western shore of the Tallapoosa River.
John B. Scott Forever Wild Trail
The hike begins with relaxing views of the wide Tallapoosa River before ducking into the woods where it weaves its way back and forth across sparkling creeks and feeder springs that have several small cascades before culminating in a spectacular view of the surrounding tree-covered hills and valleys from the boulder-strewn summit of Saddle Rock Mountain.
The hike is generally easy until it begins the climb up the ridge to Saddle Rock Mountain where it is a moderate, rock-strewn clamber.
3. Shoal Creek Nature Preserve
No matter what season you visit, this small 298-acre tract is sure to please with a lush green canopy in spring and summer with wildflowers lining the paths, brilliant fiery colors in fall, and the quiet solitude a light snowfall brings to the woods in the winter.
Jones Branch And Lawson Branch Trails
Shoal Creek has two trails — the Jones Branch and Lawson Branch Trails — that join together to form a 4.3-mile easy walking loop. Highlights of the hike include wide views of Indian Camp and Shoal Creek, and crossing the trail’s namesake creeks, Jones and Lawson Branch, two beautiful, glistening streams with a few small but soothing cascades to relax by.
Pro Tip: Orange Is A Hiker’s Friend
This is a wildlife management area which means hunting is allowed in the fall. Be sure to wear safety orange during hunting season. The trails also cross over equestrian trails. Keep an eye out for horseback riders when crossing.
4. Turkey Creek Nature Preserve
Located just north of Birmingham in the town of Pinson, the Turkey Creek Nature Preserve was established to protect the cool and swift flowing waters of the creek that is the home of several rare and endangered species of fish. These include three darters, such as the Vermilion Darter that can only be found here in the creek.
Turkey Creek is the main draw to the preserve. Its swift-flowing waters cascade over impressive boulders and rocky bottoms. It is also one of the most popular swimming holes in the state. It offers an exhilarating swim after a sizzling summer day hiking. There are even changing rooms provided.
Turkey Creek’s Trails
The park features five different trails that offer nice walks in the woods. The 1.4-mile Thompson Trace Trail, 0.9-mile Hanby Trail, and 0.4-mile Boy Scout Trail are all easy walking paths and are designated for hikers only. The easy 0.4-mile Highlands Trail and the moderate 3.2-mile Narrows Bridge Trail are shared with mountain bikers.
All of the trails are well marked with fiberglass trail markers that are colored the same as the trail you are on (i.e. blue for the Thompson Trace, red for Narrows Bridge) and provide not only direction, but also basic information you need to know.
5. Coon Creek Nature Preserve
A small tract of land, only about 320 acres in size, but an important stop along the Alabama Birding Trail, Forever Wild’s Coon Creek Nature Preserve along the banks of Yates Lake is a bird lover’s paradise. As you meander the pine and hardwood forest, you will be treated to an enormous number of songbirds, Belted Kingfishers, egrets, wood ducks, osprey, and eagles. That’s only the start.
Overlook Loop And Wood Duck Trails
Coon Creek has two trails. The Overlook Loop is a moderately difficult one-mile loop that takes you high up on a ridge for a view of the lake from above. The trail begins on the west side of the preserve’s boat ramp parking lot.
The second trail is by far the best, the 4.5-mile Wood Duck Trail. This trail is rated as an easy to moderate walk that leads you along the banks of Coon Creek to a beautiful wetland where wildflowers brighten the hollow in season then takes a rolling route over ridges to nice panoramic views of Coon Creek at its widest point.
Pro Tip: Practice Leaving No Trace
Due to the preserve’s location, the trash that either accidentally or intentionally is thrown off boats in the creek washes ashore. Please bring along a bag and help clean up what you can and pack it out.
6. Perdido River Wildlife Management Area
Once the border between Spain and France and now the demarcation line between Alabama and Florida, the Perdido River in Robertsdale has seen its share of history. Today, the river plays host to many fun outdoor activities including day-hiking, backpacking, and canoeing thanks to Forever Wild. The best part is that it is only a few miles north of Alabama’s famed gulf coast beaches.
Perdido River Trail
The Perdido River Trail is a 17.9-mile long trail that hikers can either walk a short section or do something unheard of on the Alabama gulf coast — backpack. The trail is moderate in difficulty as it follows the black water (or actually tea color) river. The color comes from the tannin released by the trees that line its banks.
The trail has numerous white sandbars that make perfect spots for sunbathing and taking a swim in the cool river.
For a day hike, a good option is starting from the southernmost trailhead at Blue Lake Landing and hiking north 1.4-miles to the exceptionally large sandbar for some swimming and catching up on the tan. The trail meanders through a beautiful Atlantic white cedar bog along the way.
For backpacking, you can either do a one-way 17.9-mile end-to-end or overnight 35.8-mile out-and-back for a multiple-night hike. You can reserve a night in one of the six elevated trail shelters along the route. You can reserve them by contacting the Five Rivers Delta Resource Center in Spanish Fort.
Pro Tips: Flood Warning
The river is prone to flooding after a famous south Alabama rainstorm and the trail will be waist-deep underwater. Hike only when there isn’t a threat of rain or a few days after a storm passes through.
Once again, the property is a wildlife management area, so hunting is allowed in the fall. Wear hunter orange during that time.
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