Mount Cheaha is Alabama’s highest point, and it is one of the southernmost locations to find a number of the state’s more interesting breeding birds, such as Blue-headed Vireos, Cedar Waxwings, and Sharp-shinned Hawks. Additionally, Cheaha State Park is located in the middle of the Talladega National Forest so the area consists of vast tracts of undeveloped forested land, and these woodlands provide nesting and wintering habitat for a wide variety of birds, as well as providing corridors for spring and fall migrants.
Use the many pull-outs along the Talladega Scenic Drive (Hwy 281) as you approach the park. At the lower elevations, Summer Tanagers, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, and Wood Thrushes are common. There are several forest service roads at the lower elevations. Short hikes along these roads can be very productive. Hooded Warblers, Eastern Wood Pewees, Carolina Wrens, Eastern Towhees, and Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers are common breeding birds. Winter brings Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Brown Creepers, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and Hermit Thrushes to join the wandering feeding flocks.
Use the well marked scenic pull-out to scan the skies for soaring hawks, especially in autumn. This is a good area for breeding Cedar Waxwings and Blue-headed Vireos. A bit father up the road, note the abandoned road to the right – the former park entrance road. A short walk down this road can produce Worm-eating Warblers, Scarlet Tanagers, and White-eyed and Blue-headed Vireos. Wild Turkeys forage along this road, too. Pileated and Hairy Woodpeckers are fairly common, especially at the higher elevations.
Return to the Scenic Parkway and follow it to the Park entrance. Follow the loop road to view Bald Rock Lodge, a CCC-built edifice recently restored to its former glory, which is near the Bald Rock Trail, a separate site on the Appalachian Highlands Birding Trail. The loop returns to the lodge and restaurant before rejoining the Scenic Parkway. In fall, make it a point to hawk watch from the overlook adjacent to the restaurant.
Follow the Scenic Parkway and use pullouts whenever possible. At the higher elevations, Scarlet Tanagers and Black-throated Green Warblers are quite common, as are Ovenbirds. On the wooded slopes, second-growth areas host Prairie Warblers, Yellow-breasted Chats, Indigo Buntings, and Blue Grosbeaks, as well as Eastern Bluebirds, and White-eyed and Red-eyed Vireos.
Take a right turn at the sign to reach Cheaha Lake and Picnic area. This spot is too busy and noisy to be productive for birds on summer weekends and holidays, but on quiet weekdays and in the off-season look for Louisiana Waterthrushes along the stream at the entrance and swallows (mostly Barn and Rough-winged) over the lake. The picnic area should produce Chipping Sparrows, Carolina Wrens, Pine Warblers, and Brown-headed and White-breasted Nuthatches. This is a good place to look for Red-headed Woodpeckers and Northern Flickers, as well.
Return to the park road and turn right. Follow to the directional sign for Turnipseed Camp and turn left. This is an all-weather gravel road that will reconnect with the Scenic Parkway in a short distance. Along this road are two concrete bridges over small streams. Stop here and look for Louisiana Waterthrushes and Acadian Flycatchers (April through September) and Eastern Phoebes (all year.) A good selection of woodland songbirds may be found here throughout the year.
Follow to the junction with the Scenic Parkway. A right turn allows you to explore two more forest service roads (right turns off the Parkway,) while a left turn returns you to Highway 431 and then I-20.
GPS: 33.47784492 -85.805488
Cheaha State Park
19644 HWY 281
Delta, AL 36258
Phone: (256) 488-5111 or
1-800-610-5801 Press 1 for reservations
Amenities: Parking, restrooms, lodging, camping, picnic areas, trails
Hours: day use area-7A.M. -sundown
Fee: Age 6-adult $3, seniors 62 or older $1
Much of the park is accessible. Views from the restaurant parking area are sweeping and offer an excellent opportunity to hawk watch, particularly in fall. The roads are narrow, but offer many pulloffs where birding by car can be quite productive. The Bald Rock Trail is an accessible boardwalk that leads to a spectacular view. Pay attention while on the trail, as this is also a good place to watch for woodpeckers year-round and woodland migrants in spring and fall.
From I-20 near Anniston (Calhoun County) take exit 191 and follow US 431 south for approximately 3.5 miles to US 281. Take US 281 12 miles to Cheaha State Park. Alternately, to enter the park from the south, from AL Highways 9 and 48 in Lineville, follow Highway 9 for 9.8 miles to Delta, then turn left onto State Park Road. Continue on this road to the park.
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