A Travel in Time

Chief Ladiga Trail

Alabama is rich in Native American history, including that of the Creek Nation— now known officially as the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. A confederation of several tribes, the Creeks were among the most wide-ranging and powerful native cultures of the American South. By the late 1700s, they controlled millions of acres of land, mostly in present-day Alabama and Georgia, but also in Florida and South Carolina.

In the rolling river valleys of Alabama’s northeast quadrant, amid the terminal foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, lived a Muscogee people who were known as the Upper Creeks to the small-but-growing Caucasian population. In the first decade of the 19th century, as many as 60 Upper Creek towns dotted the verdant landscape along the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers in what then was part of the Mississippi Territory.

The Upper Creeks’ land holdings and power were greatly weakened by the Creek War of 1813-14. U.S. Army troops under the command of a rough-hewn Tennessean named Andrew Jackson—and aided by rivals of the Upper Creeks within the Creek Nation—systematically overpowered the native Alabamians in a series of savagely fought battles. Jackson’s victories were instrumental in clearing the way for large-scale settlement of what would become the Alabama Territory in 1817, and the nation’s 22nd state two years later.

Today, a portion of the onetime Upper Creek stronghold is traversed by the Chief Ladiga Trail, named for the last of Alabama’s Upper Creek chieftains. “The Chief,” as regular users call it, was the first rail-trail project in the state. Starting at the Georgia border, the all-asphalt trail stretches 33 miles westward across two counties, linking the cities of Piedmont, Jacksonville, Weaver and Anniston. Hikers, cyclists, casual walkers and other outdoor enthusiasts of all ages enjoy the trail as it winds through the Talladega National Forest and surrounding fields and wetlands, with the quiet beauty of the Talladega Mountains as a backdrop.

Photo by: Cynthia Phillips

Near the city of Piedmont, The Chief intersects with the Pinhoti National Recreation Trail. A 335-mile hiking route that is part of both the Eastern Continental Trail and the Great Eastern Trail, the Pinhoti also is a spur of the Appalachian Trail that runs up the Eastern Seaboard to Maine. The area’s many Pinhoti aficionados continue to lobby for its addition to the Appalachian as the southern terminus of America’s longest walking trail.

A century after Creek culture reached the height of its power and influence, the Seaboard Air Line Railway built a new track connecting Atlanta with the growing industrial center of Birmingham, 150 miles away. Today, the Chief Ladiga runs along that path between Anniston and the Georgia line, where it links to that state’s Silver Comet Trail. Together, the two rail-trails form a continuous paved pathway of 94.5 miles.

For a glimpse into its railroad past, you can visit the Piedmont Museum (109 N. Center Ave.), which is housed in a former train depot just off the trail and displays artifacts dating back to 1828. The museum is open weekdays by appointment only, so you’ll need to call ahead. In Jacksonville, another depot (at 650 Mountain Street NW), originally built in the 1860s and restored in 2010, offers a pleasant rest stop for trail users, with restrooms and water inside.

Throughout the route across Cleburne and Calhoun counties, users will also find interpretive signage highlighting the history, geography and culture of this breathtakingly beautiful area of Alabama. Map and information kiosks are located at intervals along the trail, and mileage markers are plentiful.

The nexus of user convenience on the Chief Ladiga Trail is the Eubanks Welcome Center in Piedmont. Located in a restored 1880s house at the trail’s 13.6-mile mark, the center offers maps, information, trail souvenirs, snacks, restrooms and showers, and other services provided by a friendly and helpful staff.

Photo by: Chris Roach

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