It’s here: The blustery, frosty days of winter where your breath lingers in the air as you face the first cold rush of air that greets you when you step out of the door, and a light dusting of snow transforms the world around you into a literal winter wonderland.
While winter is the perfect time to grab a hot cup of cocoa, pull that book you have always wanted to read from the shelf, and curl up in front of a crackling fire, don’t let these frosty days stop you from bundling up and exploring nature for a completely different perspective of the world around you.
One state that is quickly becoming known as a winter hiking destination is Alabama, where its moderately cold winter climate and its hundreds of miles of trail lead you to incredible scenic views and waterfalls that are pure magic on frosty mornings.
When it comes to winter hiking in Alabama, I personally love to trek to the state’s waterfalls and rocky overlooks, especially when the temperatures are just right and the waterfalls are literally frozen in time and with a light dusting of snow, the overlooks are still and silent.
So lace up your boots, put on an extra layer, and join me on eight of my favorite winter hikes in Alabama that I think you will enjoy just as much as I do.
1. DeSoto State Park
Fort Payne, Alabama
Length: Various, ranging from easy to moderate difficulty
I first fell in love with DeSoto State Park on a cold winter day 20+ years ago. It is an amazing park to hike any time of year, but winter at DeSoto is extra special. When I first visited, there was a light dusting of snow on the ground and the many waterfalls were framed in icy curtains reflecting the light of the sun. Magic.
For winter hiking at DeSoto, I suggest two treks. The first is the easy-to-moderate 2.3-mile Falls Loop that takes you past not one but 3 waterfalls and cascades that can be adorned with spectacular ice formations in winter.
The second is a section of the longer DeSoto Scout Trail that will take you high above the raging turquoise waters of the West Fork of Little River and some breathtaking views of the canyon formed by the river before dipping down to the banks of the river itself. Combine the DeSoto Scout Trail with the Cabin Trail and you have a nice 3.1-mile loop that includes impressive views from below, and above, of Indian and Lodge Falls.
Pro Tip: No need to rough it when visiting DeSoto State Park. Dine in the rustic charm of the Mountain Inn Restaurant and cozy up for the night in one of the 25 rooms at the DeSoto State Park Lodge.
2. King’s Chair Loop
Length: 3.2-mile moderate to difficult loop
A highlight hike is at Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham to the King’s Chair Overlook.
The “chair” is a tall rock bluff that offers incredible breathtaking views of the Pelham mountains, valleys, and Belcher Lake, but you will have to work to get there. The hike to the King’s Chair has a 734-foot elevation gain, but it is well worth the effort.
This hike uses four trails to make the loop: the Blue Trail (South Rim Trail), King’s Chair Overlook Trail, Red-Blue Connector South, and Red Trail (Double Oak Trail).
Pro Tip: The trails at Oak Mountain are easy to follow. They are all marked with paint blazes in the color of the trail name (i.e. blue paint blaze for the Blue Trail) and intersections are obvious with wooden markers directing you.
3. Bethel Spring
New Hope, Alabama
Length: 2-mile moderate double loop
The Huntsville area of north Alabama is fortunate to have the Land Trust of North Alabama (LTNA), an organization that is helping to preserve as much of the area’s beautiful landscapes and biodiversity as possible.
By far my favorite LTNA preserve is Bethel Spring and its centerpiece, a spectacular segmented cascade formed by the preserve’s namesake spring. The wide limestone walls at the northern end of the preserve channels the spring across its width creating a dazzling water show that flows into a 334-foot-deep cave known as Paul’s Cave.
Pro Tip: It is easier to hike the loop in a counterclockwise direction. It makes the climb up a bit easier.
4. McDill Point
Length: 7.1-mile moderate loop
McDill Point is called the most impressive view in the entire Talladega National Forest. It is even more spectacular in winter with a light dusting of snow on the ground or frost coating the treetops.
The hike to this view is moderate in difficulty and is accessed by using Alabama’s long path, the Pinhoti Trail, and the Cave Creek Trail to form a 7.1-mile loop.
The hike begins just below the summit of the state’s tallest mountain, Cheaha, and the state park of the same name at the Cheaha Mountain Trailhead on Alabama 182. From there, the trail winds its way over rocky ridges past a granite and bronze marker that celebrates the connection of the Pinhoti to the Appalachian Trail before arriving at that breathtaking view from McDill.
Pro Tip: After a cold day on the trail, cozy up for the night in one of Cheaha State Park’s beautiful cabins that were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Five of the cabins are pet-friendly.
5. Turkey Creek Nature Preserve
Length: 6.23 miles of easy-to-moderate trails
For a nice, quiet winter walk, travel just north of Birmingham to the town of Pinson and Turkey Creek Nature Preserve.
The preserve has over 6 miles of easy-to-moderate trails that interconnect so you can form different loops that lead you through the beautiful hardwoods.
The centerpiece is Turkey Creek itself, its waters flowing swiftly over impressive boulders and outcroppings that create a spectacular show. If you are not into a longer hike, the creek is located only a few short steps from the trailhead.
6. Cheaha State Park
Length: Various lengths, easy to moderate difficulty
Located in the heart of the Talladega National Forest, Cheaha State Park is the place to go for spectacular winter views from atop the state’s highest mountain.
The park features several short trails ranging in difficulty from easy to moderate climbs. One of the best is the hike to Pulpit Rock, a 1.1-mile moderate out-and-back hike that takes you out onto a quartzite outcropping for magnificent views of the Talladega National Forest. It’s not a difficult hike but is rated moderate due to the rock-strewn path.
The Doug Ghee Accessible Trail is an easy-walking 1.1-mile out-and-back to yet another amazing view. You can either hike the ADA-accessible boardwalk or stay grounded on the dirt path that parallels the walkway. The hike culminates with a breathtaking 180-degree panoramic view of the mountains and valleys with hawks and maybe an eagle soaring above.
Pro Tip: Unless on the Doug Ghee boardwalk, use caution when climbing onto the outcroppings. It is a long drop-down.
7. Moss Rock Nature Preserve
Length: Various lengths of easy to moderately difficult trails
Located just south of Birmingham in Hoover you will find Moss Rock Nature Preserve, a true gem of a preserve that is a beautiful oasis in the middle of an upscale sub-division.
Moss Rock features over 12 miles of trails that wind through the 250-acre preserve visiting a wonderland of geologic and water features. The paths are strewn with huge boulders and cliffs including the impressive Turtle Rock, which is aptly named. It really does look like a giant turtle. And kids will love climbing through the large opening of Window Rock.
Winter is the perfect time to experience the preserve when seasonal rains fill Hurricane Creek and ignite several amazing waterfalls.
There is no right or wrong path to take. Visit the preserve’s website for a trail map and map out your own adventure.
8. Weogufka State Forest (Flagg Mountain)
Length: Various lengths, easy to moderate difficulty
You are in for a real treat when you visit Flagg Mountain at Weogufka State Forest in Wetumpka. Flagg Mountain is the southernmost mountain peak in the Appalachian Mountain range coming in at just over 1,000 feet tall.
Up to 5 miles of looping trails interconnect to take you to the banks of the flowing Weogufka Creek and to remarkable views from the top of the mountain itself, where a fire tower made from large hand-carved stone by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s has recently been renovated and is open to the public. From the cab high atop the tower, you can see the lights of Birmingham to the north and Montgomery to the south on a clear evening.
The trails are quiet and serene in winter, especially with a dusting of snow. And don’t be surprised if you meet long-distance hikers beginning their journey from Alabama to Georgia or even to Maine on the state’s famous long path, the Pinhoti Trail, which now connects to the Appalachian Trail.
Pro Tip: Several of the original CCC cabins from the 1930s have been beautifully renovated and may be reserved. Contact the Friends of Flagg Mountain for details or to make reservations.