General Location. East of Gadsden, near the town of Piedmont.
Length & Difficulty: 4 1/2 miles; moderate.
Elevation Change: 400 feet maximum.
What’s Special: Wildflowers, solitude.
Topo Maps: Borden Springs and Indian Mountain USGS quads.
To reach Davis Mountain, drive to Piedmont and take U.S. Highway 278 from the north side of town. Follow Highway 278 east for about 7 miles to highway marker 146. Just past the marker there will be a U.S. Forest Service parking lot on the right. Park here and cross the highway. Go east along the shoulder of the highway for a couple of hundred feet. At this point you should see a limestone rock road on your left separated from the highway by a ditch. Cross the ditch and the trailhead is to your right. The trail is blazed with the white turkey foot marking of the Pinhoti trail.
The north end of this trail is located after the 145 mile marker of Highway 278. Look for State Road 45, turn onto 45, take the second road on your right and travel until after the highway goes from pavement to dirt. About 3 miles from Highway 278 you will see a jeep road on the left. Just past the jeep road look for an opening in a pine thicket. This will be the north end of the Davis Mountain section of the Pinhoti Trail.
Davis Mountain is the northernmost section of the Pinhoti Trail, the longest continuous trail in the state. The Pinhoti Trail is 110 miles long and runs from Porter’s Gap (on Highway 77 southeast of Talladega) to the northern end of Davis Mountain. The Pinhoti trail is recognized as a National Recreation Trail by the Forest Service and is an extension to the Appalachian Trail.
This section of the Pinhoti Trail runs over private property. The owner, Gerald Willis, has given an easement to the Alabama Trails Association, which maintains the trail. The land is currently for sale and is being considered for purchase by the Forest Service.
Davis Mountain was once an open pit mining site, with ore from the mines feeding the steel industry in Birmingham and Gadsden. The trail passes through several old iron ore pits along its path. Remnants of slag and ore can still be found along the way. That’s not to say you’ll be hiking through an industrial wasteland. Today the areas has been reforested and features numerous wildflowers including purple coneflower, indian pinks, butterfly weed, bee balm, and Cardinal flower. There are also plentiful blueberries and muscadine grapes. The hike also features good views of the mountains to the east (Georgia) and great views of Indian Mountain to the northeast, which the trail will eventually cross. The area is isolated and serene.
To begin the hike from the south end of the trail, travel through a switchback about a quarter of a mile where you will enter an old iron ore open pit mine. After walking 1/10 mile you will exit the pit and the trail will turn left and follow a rocky glade. About 1/2 mile into the trail you will turn into a flat area in a clear-cut and begin to descend to a section of trail with some tree cover bearing north, then at a right angle up a hill through blueberry bushes topping the hill into a clear-cut. The blueberries are usually ripe by early summer.
After a couple of hundred feet the trail drops into a drain and suddenly turns west along the ridge line gaining elevation to 1150 feet. At this high point you will have a window view to the north of the Indian Mountain ridge line. From this point the trail plunges into a canyon through a series of 6 switchbacks to an altitude of 890 feet, where it crosses a stream, a road, then after 100 feet begins climbing the north wall of the canyon. After 1/2 mile and grade change the trail reaches its highest point of 1170 feet in a large rock garden under a cover of trees, probably providing the best rest stop and camping location on the mountain.
The trail proceeds through tree cover for a couple of hundred feet then runs along a ridge line, crosses a saddle, then a road in a clear-cut. The trail follows an old road bed running through a gap and after several hundred feet, turns off the road and follows a ridge line to the east where a magnificent view of the elevated valley and two large lakes can be seen. The trail crosses an old road again and then back along a ridge line in a westerly direction crossing the ridge top facing out to the north and Hurricane Creek.
After a series of switchbacks and an encounter with a rocky draw, the trail reaches Hurricane Creek. At one time the ATA put in a cable along an old log to cross the creek. Unfortunately the cable was stolen. The creek is fordable where the trail crosses given a normal amount of rainfall. If it has been raining heavily, you may have to walk a 1/2 mile downstream to an old railroad trestle. Cross the trestle and a footlog over a swampy area and follow the trail through a pine thicket. Exit the trail at the northern terminus.