36 and 43 Miles
3789 and 4310 Feet
The Lake Cheaha Gravel routes are located just south south of Cheaha State Park in Alabama. 36 and 43 mile options utilize 4×4 roads to traverse the spine of Talladega Mountain southward and long stretches of impeccably groomed gravel return north to the lake. The opening and closing miles of the route are paved and feature perfect rollers and impressive views of the mountains. Rugged jeep roads and lots of elevation make the longer version more difficult than numbers suggest. The shorter option avoids the more intense sections for those who prefer to get back to the lake early.
Lake Cheaha sits in the shadow of Cheaha Mountain, the highest point in Alabama. Look up as you pump your tires and you will see the State Park’s restaurant and lodge perched on the precipice high above. The first glimpse of the lake as you drive in is like looking at a postcard. Its an idyllic setting for the start of a ride and perfect for apres-ride relaxation.
The Lake Cheaha Gravel routes open with seven miles of pavement. You won’t climb Cheaha Mountain itself but getting from the lake to the Talladega Scenic Drive requires a one mile climb right out of the gate. Wildflowers along the road in summer are sure to take your mind off any lingering stiffness from the drive. Warmup will be quick.
Six miles of pavement along the scenic drive leads to gravel but not before enjoying wonderful views of the national forest including several peaks inside the federally protected Cheaha Wilderness which borders the roadway on your left. Big rollers are an opportunity to practice your super-tuck as the route heads south towards Adams Gap and pavement’s end.
The first few miles of gravel will feel familiar to those who have ridden the Duggar Mountain and Shake & Brake routes further north. The surface is hard and reasonably fast rolling, at least for now. Breaks in the trees offer glimpses of the valley below as elevation is slowly gained and the ridge is attained. The place is a riot of wildflowers in early summer and the best blackberries you will ever eat grow all over the place in late June and early July. Just watch for poison ivy if you stop for a snack!
Gravel begins to get rough around mile eleven and is genuinely washed out by mile thirteen. At one point the road is actually split down the middle by a gully big enough to swallow a bike and rider! This is rough going for anything less than a mountain bike. Those opting for the shorter route or riders fed up with the rocks will turn right at Clairmont Gap (mile 12) where a paved descent on Guntertown Rd avoids the roughest sections further on. Those on the longer route will suffer for a few more miles before reaching Talladega Creek at the southernmost point on the route and a well deserved rest.
The only opportunities to refill bottles come shortly after reaching the relatively smooth gravel at Talladega Creek. One can filter from the creek, wait to fill up at the church a few miles up the road or take advantage of the piped spring located approximately one quarter of a mile beyond the turn to the north. The spring is in a small grotto cut into the rock face and quite difficult to see when riding. Its water is clear and cold but Giardia is real and it still needs to be filtered. See the tabs below for additional information.
What follows is 19 miles of often impeccably groomed gravel interrupted by one mile of pavement. Thick hardwood forest to the south gives way to more open pine glades typical of forestry land as the route meanders north. Mountains are visible in a few spots and a house or two will be passed but there’s not much else except trees.
Keep in mind that the majority of the climbing occurs on the route’s return north. Notable is the 1.3 mile climb after crossing Cheaha creek (miles 34 on the long route). SoutheastCyclingRoutes.com went too hard on the rough 4×4 road at the beginning of the route and suffered for it with all the climbing toward the end. Take our advice; don’t burn your matches early.
The final six miles of the Lake Cheaha Gravel routes are an absolute delight. Pavement (such as it is) meanders through bucolic forest and over gentle rollers which never seem steep or long enough to be anything but fun. Then all of a sudden it’s done – the route rounds a blind turn, the lake comes into view and the only thing left to do is refuel and rehydrate.
Be sure to check the tabs below for important information such as parking fees and where to refill bottles. Don’t forget to post a comment if you ride one of the Lake Cheaha Gravel routes. Posting comments is a great way to let others know about conditions so be sure to share your experience.
- There are no towns or store stops on either of the routes. Self sufficiency is a requirement.
- Water can be filtered from Talladega Creek at mile 17 on the long route.
- A piped spring is located at mile 17.4 on the long route. The spring is in a small grotto cut into the rocks on the right side of the road and is very easy to miss. It is about 50 yards past a yellow gate, if that helps. Regardless of what anyone says, water from springs needs to be filtered. Please don't risk Giardia.
- Union Church (mile 24 on the long route) has a water spigot. Filtering wouldn't be a bad idea here either. If not then at least let it run for a half a minute before consuming.
- Water might be available at Providence Church (mile 14.3 on the short route). The only other possible location for water on the short route filtering from Cheaha Creek at mile 27.
- Black flies can be a nuisance in summer so bring your preferred bug juice.
- Dog encounters should be minimal on the Lake Cheaha Gravel routes. The routes pass very few houses.
- Parking at Cheaha Lake will set you back $5. At the time the route was scouted there was no sign indicating cost but price was confirmed by one of the park caretakers. The honor box is next to the gate house.
- Restrooms, grilles, picnic tables and swimming are available at the lake.
- Make sure you have plenty of gas in your car as facilities are scarce in the area.
- Primitive campsites are available across the street from the lake.
- The nearest food services are at Cheaha State Park just a mile or two away from the lake. The state park has a camp store with limited supplies and a full service restaurant with one of the best views in the state.
- The nearest full service town is Anniston located approximately 17 miles to the north of the route start. Here you will find shops, banks, restaurants, medical care, car repair, bike shops and the Chief Ladiga rail trail.
Facebook posts, heatmaps and other Strava follows confirmed that the area is heavily ridden and led to scouting and photography in June and July of 2022.
Special thanks are extended to Greg Hanchar who continues to be a great friend and willing accomplice on scouting routes.