Do you have a few minutes for a fireside chat? Sit and relax while overlooking soaring green pine trees and rugged native sandstone at any one of these three state parks in Alabama during your next long weekend getaway. Let’s start with a fireside chat.
Did you know that U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt coined the phrase of fireside chats? During his administration, there were no tweets, social media, or even television. Evening radio would broadcast the news and presidential speeches to those fortunate enough to have access to a radio. These radio programs became known as fireside chats, reflecting the human response to the plain language style of the President during this time of economic hardship throughout the country. In a May 1933 fireside chat, President Roosevelt discussed the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal program for conservation and employment. Alabama’s state park system is a testament to the labor of the young corpsmen.
Cheaha State Park
Located west of Atlanta, Georgia, and east of Birmingham, Alabama, our first highlight is the Cheaha State Park. Cheaha Mountain rises 4,207 feet above sea level and is the highest elevation in Alabama, Bunker Tower, previously a fire lookout, attracts visitors of all ages to ascend into the clouds and enjoy the 360-degree views of the forests, towns, and countryside. Near the tower, Bald Rock Trail is the easiest trail in the park, beginning with a wooden boardwalk and ending with expansive views at the exposed gray-toned Bald Rock.
The Pulpit Rock trail is about a half-mile round trip culminating at another overlook of the Talladega National Forest. Cheaha State Park features a hand-dug lake, 11 stone cabins, two stone pavilions, the Bald Rock Group Lodge, and Bunker Tower. These were constructed using local slate and sandstone. During this challenging work, the men formed lifetime bonds and returned to Cheaha State Park for subsequent group reunions. As they returned, various artifacts were accumulated and are on display in the Civilian Conservation Corps Museum at the base of Bunker Observation Tower.
My weekend visit was a late booking, which resulted in a cabin night and a hotel night for my weekend stay. For the first night, our 1-bedroom cabin is perched on the mountain’s edge and overlooks the valley, a thousand feet below. To the west, the setting sun is nature’s colorful evening entertainment. We retreated to the inside of the cozy cabin to enjoy the indoor fireplace, original to the cabin, but now wood-burning instead of coal-burning. The cabins proudly represent an era long past but have been renovated to provide modern amenities. The next day, we toured the grounds, ventured onto some mountain hiking trails, and visited the Bunker Observation Tower and Civilian Conservation Corps Museum. We moved to the hotel for the second night’s accommodations. Our hotel room was due for some aesthetic updates but clean and completely functional. The hotel is within steps of the full-service restaurant and became an ideal hub location for our explorations throughout the park.
Monte Sano State Park
Moving to the northern edge of Alabama, we’ve arrived at Monte Sano, the Mountain of Health. This nature-intensive mountain features rugged rock formations, towering trees and stunning views of the city of Huntsville. Another example of the CCC jobs program, this unique destination was completed in 1940.
Recreational activities are abundant with more than 14 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails in and near the Monte Sano State Park. The Old Railroad Bed Trail was on of the first “rail to trail” hiking systems in the United States. This trail follows the path of a historic train route that conveyed visitors to the mountaintop in only twenty minutes, compared to the four hours’ trip by carriage. The rail passage lost its popularity when derailments occurred within the first few months of active operation. The railcars hauled supplies for several years and eventually the train system was bankrupt and permanently closed.
During our stay at Monte Sano State Park, we enjoyed overnight accommodation in one of the 14 rustic stone cabins. Another last minute booking, we were only able to have the cabin for one night. Our cabin featured a fireplace, a very well-furnished kitchenette, modern updated bathrooms, and a screened porch with sturdy wooden chairs. This cabin was the ideal setting for relaxing after a day of travel, hiking, and touring the area. The Monte Sano State Park also rents RV sites with hookups and has designated spaces for tent camping.
Joe Wheeler State Park
Our final state park visit is near Tennessee in west Alabama at Joe Wheeler State Park. This 2,550-acre resort park borders the shores of Wheeler Lake and along the tributaries of the Tennessee River. The 18-hole golf course and full-service marina offer recreational opportunities galore.
For this visit, we stayed for a long weekend in a suite at the main lodge. This lodge is a multi-level building with 75 guest rooms and full-service dining in the main building. All of the guest rooms overlook First Creek and the park’s marina. In addition to the main resort lodge, Joe Wheeler State Park offers lakeside cottages and cabins. There are 116 campsites, and 95% of the campsites have full RV hookups.
Alabama’s State Parks
These three Alabama State Parks are quiet, restorative places. Wildflowers dot the paths and roadsides. Sunshine peppers through the trees to dance on the ground in the thick forests. Birds sing their joyful songs. The leaves tumble in play as the crisp breezes round the mountaintop and travel onward. These are only three of the 22 state parks in Alabama. I can hardly wait to discover the others. Every time I visit an Alabama State Park, I find a quiet home for a few days while I explore nature and learn about Alabama’s storied history.
If you go: Book your lodging reservations online at http://www.alapark.com/reservations