About this Itinerary
The nearly 33-mile Chief Ladiga Trail, stretching from the northeast corner of Alabama to the Georgia state line, is a regional playground nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Following a former Seaboard/CSX railroad corridor, the rail-trail is named for the Muscogee chief who signed the 1832 Cusseta Treaty, surrendering his tribe's remaining land. Remarkably flat and smooth, the trail arcs from Woodland Park in Anniston northeast through small towns and quiet countryside where it connects to the 62-mile Silver Comet rail-trail. Along the way, the path crosses over bridges and railroad trestles, passes through wetlands and pine and hardwood forests, and offers distant views of the Talladega Mountains.
Many opt to ride the entire round-trip route in one full-day. There are resting stops and service facilities along the way, as well as numerous access points making it easy to ride shorter segments of the trail as well. If you are a cyclist who prefers a leisurely pace with time to stop, take photos and enjoy other recreational opportunities in the area, allow two days for the trip: begin and end in Anniston with a night in Piedmont.
To prepare, the Chief Ladiga Trail website provides maps and up-to-date trail information and activities. Wig Wheels in Anniston can set you up with a hybrid bike rental. For visitors flying to the region, Anniston does have a regional airport but the closest major airport is in Birmingham, 60 miles west.
Spend a relaxing night at the 1889 Parker B&B, located in the historical Tyler Hill District of Anniston. This Richardsonian Romanesque home will woo those who love architecture, elegance and comfort wrapped up in one. They will also ferry you to the trailhead, which is 6.3 miles north at Woodland Park.
The west end of the Chief Ladiga Trail begins on a slightly raised rail bed before entering open fields and passing beneath canopies of pine, dogwood and other native trees. Alabama’s relatively mild winters attracts more than 400 bird species that either visit during their migratory journeys or make this southern habitat their permanent home. Listen and watch for the rich diversity of songs and flashes of color coming from the canopy around you. The first stop is Weaver, a short mile down the trail where you can pop into the grocery store for water or snacks. Back on the trail, twin stone foundations of a railroad trestle flank the route and you begin traveling along the former Southern Railway corridor.
For the next 6 miles to Jacksonville, the trail traverses farmland, neighborhoods and woodlands, with a couple of road-crossings in the mix. At Jacksonville, you'll pass a restored 1860 train depot which provides a resting place for trail users and a community hall for locals. This depot was used as a transfer and storage point for confederate troops and materials during the Civil War and continued to be used as a freight and passenger depot for the Selma, Rome and Dalton Railroad.
Jacksonville was established in 1833 on the site of Chief Ladiga’s trading post and it received its current moniker a year later in honor of President Andrew Jackson. Passing through town you may notice several Civil War monuments. The grave and monument of artillery officer John “Gallant” Pelham is in the City Cemetery and many of the historical structures around town were once headquarters to the numerous Confederate generals that passed through Jacksonville during the war. You'll also find the Jacksonville State University campus and numerous eateries. To get to the shops, restaurants and the historical town square, turn east onto Mountain Street and turn right on Pelham Street.
Heading north back on the trail, you cycle along the old CSX Railroad corridor. Most of the 11 miles between Jacksonville and Piedmont are parallel to Highway 21 -this doesn’t mean you won’t catch a rabbit or deer watching you, however (though rodents and bats make up the bulk of Alabama’s mammals). Be prepared also for some rural road crossings. You'll soon reach central Piedmont, a small community that embraces the trail with its Eubanks Welcome Center. The Solid Rock Café is a block off the trail (N. Center Avenue) as is a local market (E. Ladiga Street). Make sure to refresh your water supply here before heading to the state line as the remaining segment of the trail is fairly remote. From Piedmont, the scenery begins to change. The trail skirts Terrapin Creek and crosses it several times. Duggar Mountain and the southern Appalachians provide a backdrop to fields that transition to forests and the trail soon enters protected wilderness within Talladega National Forest. You cross the 335-mile Pinhoti National Recreation Trail, a spur of the famous Appalachian Trail, about 7 miles from Piedmont. Equestrians are encouraged to contact the trail manager to inquire about equestrian use on the segment of the trail.
The transition to the Silver Comet Trail is seamless. Here, you can continue on to Cedartown, Georgia, but for the purposes of this itinerary, turn around and begin your return trip home. Heading back to Anniston, you can look forward to a night of musical entertainment. Whether you prefer classical, jazz, bluegrass or rock, Anniston offers a nice selection of concert venues; check-out the offerings of Knox Concert Series and the outdoor summer series, Music at McClellan.
Of course, you will need repast. Local-brew enthusiasts will be interested in visiting the Cheaha Brewery located in the old L&N Freight train station in historical downtown. Just a few blocks from the brewery is the popular restaurant Classic on Noble. They serve up southern cuisine at its best, including shrimp and grits, which has been determined to be one of the “100 dishes to eat in Alabama before you die.” Picnicking at Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge (former site of Fort McClellan) during a concert is a pretty nice option as well. By the way, the fort’s Monteith Amphitheater was built in 1937 to host Army events and the stage has been graced by the likes of Bob Hope, Marlene Dietrich and Lauren Bacall.
Anniston has seen a lot in the years since its incorporation in 1883. The Confederate army operated an iron furnace (near present day downtown) during the Civil War which was later destroyed by the Union forces; nearby Fort McClellan was established as an army training camp at the start of World War I and became a Prison Internment Camp during WWII. Anniston certainly achieved national notoriety, however, during the civil rights era when a bus of Freedom Riders was fire-bombed by a local mob in 1961. All of this is just the tip of the historical iceberg. Save some time today for a walking tour of the Freedom Riders Civil Rights Heritage Trail.
To extend your stay in the area, also consider camping at Chief Ladiga Trail Campground, just off the trail 7 miles west of the state line, or stay downtown Piedmont at the Hometown Inn. Paddlers who are interested in kayaking or canoeing down Terrapin Creek can rent the necessary equipment at the Terrapin Outdoor Center in Piedmont. You may want to hike part of the Pinhoti trail or explore other mountain biking trails in the area.