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{AL Bucket List} Cheaha State Park

{AL Bucket List} Cheaha State Park

written by: Bradley Jean

On the road again, we loaded up the truck; kids, bikes, tents, food, coolers and all the things, including a dog. By persuasion of my eldest child, we brought Scout, our 5 month old retriever. She had yet to leave our home since we got her and I’m betting if we had asked her permission she would have said no to the occasion, but there was no choice, she was coming along.  

Mt. Cheaha has the highest elevation point in the state of Alabama. It is located only an hour and a half north from where we live near Auburn. I was eager to get there and so were my children, witnessed by their wiggles and constant chatter on the drive up.

When we finally pulled off the main highway to enter the park, it was just a matter of minutes before we were able to stop at the first look-out. We pulled off, everyone jumping out, and were immediately taken back by the view.

Looking down upon thousands of acres of trees and mountains was beautiful. Dog and all, we just stood there and stared for a few minutes. Even my busy kids got still, taking in the vastness of the moment. Your perspective can change quickly when you realize that what’s around you is so big and you are so small.

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My oldest son, Braxton, has a way of seeing details I sometimes miss. He pointed out how the clouds above cause shadows on the land below, something you wouldn’t notice in the day to day busy of life.

My youngest son, Shep, found a tiny field amongst the trees and quickly asked if that’s where they farm? I was quite proud of his observation and giggled. Sunlight was perfectly beaming through the clouds onto my kids, like pictures depicting light around angels. I’m beginning to realize that with every new view we see with our eyes, a new view is laid on our hearts.

The moment came and went. We drove on up the mountain to set up camp.

Cheaha was easy to navigate and the main office to check-in is right off the main road. The staff was accommodating and the office included a nice general store for snacks and necessities. My kids were quite fascinated to find there was an outdoor dog faucet and dog bowl. Braxton walked in the building just as he heard the clerk say, “next to the dog park.” I was gitty at this point that the dog had joined our journey.

We chose a semi-primitive campsite. It was clean and spacious. We were able to pull our truck right next to our spot, having it close by at all times.

Cheaha also has an on-site hotel and restaurant, as well as a pool. I found this unique and quite nice. I know families that want to get into the wilderness with their kids but don’t have the time to do the “camping.” If this is more your speed, Mt. Cheaha is perfect for you.

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The first thing my kids want to do every trip is find the water hole, so we unloaded as little as possible and changed into our swimsuits for the lake.

We had a short scenic drive from our campsite to the lake. The kids were happy to see a diving platform, as well as a park. My children wasted no time, out of the truck and into the lake in less than 60 seconds.

The view from the lake was nice and the swim was refreshing. We swam over to the diving platform and took turns pretending like we were Olympic champions. Even Shep got brave. He’s not about to let his brother and sister out do his larger than life ego.

After we swam to our hearts content, we headed back to camp to cook supper. Thankfully, my husband had arrived. He set up our tent and was building a fire. If ever there is a person that likes to take charge and be the boss, it is my husband. He can quickly turn into a drill sergeant and I have to remind him we are not in the military.

On the menu: hot dogs and chili. Simple and tasty. Isaac also brought a dozen ears of fresh corn. “Why on earth,” I asked, “did you bring a whole dozen? We won’t eat all that.”

“For our camp neighbors. I knew we could help feed someone.”

And there you have it; my husband is a talker and a friendly man, always up for making new friends.

Sissy cooked our chili and helped Isaac with the corn, while the boys enjoyed walking Scout to the dog park. Shep took a few bike excursions and the boys even made it up to the look-out tower, not far from our campsite.

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We were soon enjoying dinner and Isaac invited our new neighbors over for corn on the cobb. It was humbling and rewarding to meet new people with similar ambitions for their family. The idea of getting away from the hustle, to sit back and enjoy each other. In todays culture of go, go, go, families are longing to slow down.

It was a beautiful evening with new fellowship and tasty food under a canopy of trees, stars and moonlight.

I huddled into the tent early with the boys, while Sissy sat fireside curled up in her daddy’s lap. Our daughter is going into the sixth grade this Fall, and I’ve come to realize these childish moments are not going to last forever. They laughed and talked well into the night. I said my blessings, thankful for this time.

Rise and shine is early when your camping, 5:30am early. I was glad to rise, eager to see the morning view form a look-out near our campsite. My husband hooked me up with a cup of instant coffee and off we went. The morning view was worth the long nights rest.

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Isaac decided to hit up the lake early with the kids. This was a wise decision as no one else on the entire mountain was swimming at 7:00 am. The water was calm and the air still had that early morning coolness. Everyone worked up an appetite and we soon headed back to enjoy sausage and smores for breakfast.

Our hikes for the day included: Bald Rock Boardwalk, Pulpit Rock and High Falls.

They were all exceptional and kid friendly. This has come to be my favorite part of each adventure, being on the move to find something new, watching my kids explore, being in their own little worlds.

Bald Rock Boardwalk is a newer addition to the park. It’s meant to be a handicap accessible trail but it’s perfect for families, especially with toddlers and strollers. It was first on our list and the end was a spectacular view. We captured a family picture, dog included. This trail is short, making it simple and fun.

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Next up was Pulpit Rock. This is a great trail for kids like mine who are active and busy. Rocks, stumps, simple climbing, streams, forest, and all under a shaded canopy of trees. At the end, you’ll find that picture-perfect spot, where you feel as though you are standing on the edge of the world.

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Our last trail was High Falls waterfall. It’s a 15-minute drive out of Cheaha, highly recommended; easy access with parking available. It’s a short trail, rocks and streams and beautiful scenery. The sound of rushing water throughout the trail keeps you moving and on the hunt for its source. We found the falls within ten minutes of setting out. My kids enjoyed this trail as it had more climbing than others. The falls and pools of water where as lovely as expected.

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On the walk down, I had a personal moment with mother nature. I’ve been struggling with new purpose and direction since closing our store. It’s put a sad feeling in my heart that sometimes turns to anger and resentment, emotions I’m not comfortable with.

It was hot and being left behind by my fast children I found myself knees bent into the stream and began splashing my face with the cold, clean water. While shedding a few tears, I asked God to clean me and make me new again. I asked him to wash away the hurt and show me the way. The thing is, I know that new things are coming, and I know we made the right decision for our family, but sometimes our minds go before our heart. Our emotions trail behind, they need time to process and catch up, and that’s ok. But the water, that day, on my skin, in the wilderness, was exactly what I needed.

I joined my family at the bottom of the hill and we headed back to camp. We packed up for the day, ate a few snacks and headed home.

One common realization I’ve had since the beginning of our {AL Bucket List} is our minds don’t get time to rest in our day to day living. We wake up thinking about the next move and we go to sleep thinking about what move we’ll make when we wake up. If our mind can’t rest, how then does the soul rest? We have to find space to do nothing. Space to just be and see what’s around us, with no to-do or agenda. My hope is you and your family can find this space too, even in your own backyard.

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