At 55-mph the big Vulcan beats a rhythm under me as I head up the first mountain grade of the day. This isn't the Rockies, but the scenery is still refreshing. As the sun plays on the distant sides of the Talladega Range, I'm thinking this is going to be a good day.
I'm taking the backroads up to Cheaha State Park, the highest point in Alabama. I'm heading east out of the small town of Sylacauga, AL on State road 148, also known as Bill Nichols Scenic Highway. Finding real backcountry roads in the eastern U.S. is getting harder. In Alabama's hill country there are still a few.
State 148 through Talladega National Forest.
I pass roads going into various National Forest campgrounds, as well as a few small lakes. During hunting season these are frequented by deer and turkey hunters. This time of year they are mostly empty, except for the occasional Boy Scout troop, or family.
This area is rarely frequented by tourists from the nearby cities of Atlanta and Birmingham, but that's changing. It's starting to get 'discovered'. The roads are typical of most of the Southern Mountain Region. Just good enough to be interesting to ride and just narrow enough, with poor to no shoulders, that the RV crowd tends to stay away.
About 12 miles in to my day, I reach Clay County road 7. This is what I'm looking for. This is the beginning of a shortcut through the hills to the State Park, and marks the beginning of a great route through the Talladega Range to Mt. Cheaha, the highest point in the state.
These roads are mostly only known to local foresters and farmers. In the 12 miles I've covered from town, I've seen 1 pickup. On weekends, there is typically a bit more traffic from local towns-people and hunters getting camps and deer stands set up during late summer, but not much.
I stop to camel up at a small rest area at the intersection of 7 and Bethlehem Church Rd. The mountains I just rode through are visible to the west across the valley. I take in the air and get a few pictures of the scene.
Coletta Valley to the range just south of Mt. Cheaha.
After a rest, I fire up the machine and resume my journey upwards. County road 7 meets State road 77 north of my resting spot. This is the main road from Lineville to Talladega.
I cut to the left on State 77 and after about a mile I come to the sign for Chandler Springs. I open up the throttle to an easy 60-mph. This is about the straightest stretch of road on the trip so far, and remains so until you reach Chandler Springs.
Chandler Springs consists of nothing but one or two houses, a graveyard, a church, and an intersection. Little towns like Chandler Springs, were sights of resort hotels in the late 1800's and well into the 20th. century. The resort hotel of Chandler Springs is now long gone though, the victim of fire.
The old hot spring is to the right at the intersection. Though it is off the road on private property, so don't go looking for it and trouble.
A few miles after leaving Chandler Springs I reach the sign for High Falls Trailhead and Clairmont Springs road to the left. I find myself again among hills and winding road. Clairmont Springs is the site of another old Victorian resort hotel, also the victim of fire.
This road becomes County road 31 and ends at State road 49. State 49 is the main road north from Lineville. There are a few very steep and fairly long grades on County 31. Some riders may find that they need to downshift on a few of these.
I finally come out on State 49, after some great woods, hills and scenery. A left turn on 49 and I'm headed into Shinbone Valley. The road is semi flat with a few twisty patches. The hamlet of Shinbone lies at the north end of the valley. It's one of the few remaining old mountain towns left locally.
The old Stansfield house, now an antique shop.
There are a couple of old rustic buildings now used as antique shops. The place is clearly stirring to life again and obviously has been found by at least a few tourists.
Place next to Stansfield House, also an antique store.
There is a new convenience store at the coner of State 49 and County road 66. I stop to gas up. County 66 looks intriguing, but I dump the idea. I notice I've clocked 49 miles since leaving Sylacauga. I take a break and some photos, then head up State 49 to the mountain.
State 49 out of Shinbone to the park
A few short miles up State 49 I reach the base of the mountain. The road rises abruptly and I find myself riding up a steep grade, into a tight curve. I drop down 2 gears. The road from here to State 281 is steep, winding and canopied by mixed pine and hardwood.
From here on, expect to shift between 2nd. and 4th. on just about any cruiser. State 49 ends at State 281. A left turn takes you the remaining 3 miles or so to the park. A right turn takes you to Interstate 20 about 20 miles to the north. Expect to meet a few RV's and cars here, especially on weekends.
I take the left, to the park. The trail head for the Pinhoti Trail is on the left side, about half way to the park entrance. This trail follows the mountains into Georgia and joins the Appalachian Trail. Be on the lookout for hikers and bicyclists from here to the park entrance.
After more twists and curves, I reach the park entrance and store. I camel up on water at the store, take a break, then head into the park. I take the loop through the park, past the highest point in the state, stopping at the overlook next to the restaurant. After a few photos, I get ready to ride down the west side of the mountain.
Trailhead to Pinhoti Trail.
Leaving the park, I find myself back on State road 281 and the elevation begins to drop immediately. This is the side of the mountain in the direction of Talladega and Birmingham. This means it gets all the traffic from the city on weekends. It's generally not too bad. Many take it for the scenic drive and dinner at the restaurant in the park.
After about a mile of downhill grade on 281, I see the sign for the county road to the right to Talledega and the other cities. I take this and am rewarded with miles of twists, turns and down hill grades. This road had been recently resurfaced with tar and loose gravel the last time I rode this. This was last winter. It was a hazardous ride downhill on loose gravel. I'm happy to report that this is no longer a problem. The gravel has been pounded into the tar by traffic. I did see several patches of black tar in the center of the road. I decided not to test the traction of these and avoided them.
This road eventually comes out on State road 21 several miles north of Talladega. A turn to the right on 21 takes you to Oxford and I-20. A left takes you to Talladega. I opt for the second option. Within 6-7 miles I reach the town. Following State 21, it becomes the main drag. I pass the spring on the west side of town that watered the fort Andrew Jackson's army built here during the Creek Indian War/War of 1812. There was a battle fought here during that time. The burial place of the casualties became the original city cemetery and is located in the southwest section of town.
At this point, one is riding in the track of history. State 21 follows Jackson's Trace, the road his army cut through to Fort Williams, just before he set out to fight the Battle of New Orleans. Fort Williams now lies beneath the waters of Lay Lake, to the west of Sylacauga. It was flooded when they dammed the Coosa River sometime back in the 1930's or 1940's.
Continuing on 21, I leave the town behind and reach State road 275. This is a bypass that takes you to State 77, northbound to I-20 to Birmingham, if you go to the right. Going left, to the south, the road follows the route of Jackson's Trace back to Sylacauga - the starting point for this route. I opt for the left.
When I hit the middle of town, I notice 97 and a few tenths miles on the odometer. It's been a good day.
Things to Consider:
All grades of gas as well as diesel are available at the convenience store in Shinbone Valley. Prices were high. Gas is also available at the store at the park, but only 87 octane regular. The price is much higher at the park. All roads are paved, but shoulders are dirt, gravel or non-existent. Curves can tighten unexpectedly so watch your speed. Safe speeds tend to be 35 to 60-mph. This is forest. If you leave the road at any speed, you are likely to hit a tree. If this happens you are likely to be dead. Your evil brother in law will get your bike...big drag. Also, look out for local wild life. The deer population in the area is pretty thick. They tend to be seen in the early morning and evening just before or just after sundown. Also, livestock can get past fences on local farms and find its way onto roads. It's rare, but it happens. Be aware that county road numbers typically change at county lines. You may be riding along and suddenly find that the road number has changed without warning. I don't know how reliable GPS reception is in the mountains. I recommend a good atlas of topographic or similar maps that show back country and National Forest roads. De Lorme publishes one for each state, I think. There may be others. Try delorme.com.
If you go, it's a good idea to take cold water long. Summer temperatures are typically in the high 90's.
Cell phone reception is unreliable. If you break down, you may have to walk until you find reception. Wear boots you can hike in.
Bike parts and supplies are available in Oxford. There are dealerships for Harley-Davidson, Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki there. Kawasaki parts are available in Talladega.
An alternative is to skip the back roads and take State 77 to Lineville and then take State 49 from Lineville to Shinbone Valley and then to State 281 to the park. But, you'll miss some great riding.
Typical vacation rental in the park.
Accommodations in the park are extensive. All types of camping are available. There are cabins for weekend or weekly rental, as well as hotel rooms.
There is also camping in the National Forest below the mountain, as well as a lake for swimming.
The restaurant has great views of the land to the west of the mountain. Don't expect road grub here. You will find linen table clothes, a menu as well as a buffet. Prices are moderate, the atmosphere is informal. I've seen families in suits on Sundays a table away from hikers in jeans. There is also a swimming pool next to the restaurant.
Lodge in park.
A note regarding the online maps: I've noticed many discrepancies between the data on online maps and topographic maps in this area. Many, if not most, of the roadnames found on the online map are either nonexistent or different than those found on topo maps, most likely due to the remoteness of the area.
Most of the roads on this route are county and state roads and are numbered rather thannamed. The numbers mostly do not appear on the maps. Also, some location namesare wrong on the online maps. The most relevant one for this route, is that the town of Shinbone appears as the townof Union. The signs at, and in town, all indicate the name as Shinbone. The mapindex I have shows two towns named Union. One is way north of I-20 many miles and the other is over in the westcentral part of the state. There is no town of Union on this route.
Certified by Dave Peterson (a.k.a. pete1248)
This is a motorcycle ride in the state of Alabama. This motorcycle route has 8 scenery characteristics and other road conditions to help you plan your road trip. This motorcycle map was created by OpenRoadRider in September. Click here to see other Motorcycle Roads by OpenRoadRider