In Lower Alabama you get just a few weeks of perfect weather. Crisp mornings and mild humidity are a luxury in this part of the state. When summer’s oppression fades, it’s time to explore the woods. For those living in the Wiregrass, one of the best options for an outdoor adventure is the Conecuh National Forest.
The 84,000-acre Conecuh National Forest is located in Covington and Escambia counties near the Florida state line. Conecuh offers several outdoor recreation opportunities, including hiking, mountain biking, camping, fishing, swimming and stargazing.
For a day trip, it’s best to get an early start on the two-hour drive from Dothan to Conecuh. No worries though. Once you’ve packed your gear and gassed up the car there’s time for Dakota Coffee Works. Dakota offers muffins, breakfast sandwiches, and some of the best coffee in town.
In the woods
Hiking the Conecuh is a classic stroll through southern woods. The smell of pine perfumes the air and intermittent shade gives way to warm sunshine as you cross the many seasonal creek beds along the trail. This flat, easy trek will help scrub away the hustle of home.
Conecuh has three main trails – the 13-mile North Loop, 5.8-mile Five Runs Loop, and 20-mile Conecuh Trail (a combination of the North and Five Runs loops plus a connector trail).
The North Loop cuts through longleaf pine forest, one of the most ecology diverse habitats in North America. Once the dominate ecosystem from Texas to Virginia, coastal longleaf forests are home to hundreds of plant and animal species, some of which are protected or endangered, including black bear, Eastern indigo snake, gopher tortoise, and red-cockaded woodpecker.
Trail highlights include two seasonal cypress ponds, Nellie and Gum. When full, the ponds attract an abundance of wildlife. Expect to see deer and be serenaded by an army of tree frogs on the lookout for mates. For backpackers, this is a great spot to camp and enjoy the sights and sounds.
Mountain biking is allowed on the North Loop only, but the trail is rarely crowded. By pedal or foot, the North Loop is a great introduction to the forest.
The Five Runs Loop takes you from the Open Pond Recreation Area to the banks of Five Runs Creek. There you’ll find a quintessential southern swimming hole, Blue Spring. The water is cold and crystal clear with a hint of blue. It’s a great place to cool your feet after a day of hiking.
The 20-mile Conecuh Trail is an excellent trail for beginners and seasoned backpackers alike. With several access points to forest roads, you can easily create your own adventure by hiking the entire trail or as much as you like.
If a day trip is too short, reserve a campsite at the Open Pond Recreation Area. During your stay explore nearby Blue Lake, fish in the various ponds throughout the forest, or squeeze in some target practice at the renovated Conecuh Shooting Range. Permits and/or licenses are required to camp, fish or shoot within the forest.
Hunting is allowed in the forest and adjacent Blue Spring Wildlife Management Area. The trails can be temporarily restricted or closed during hunting season. When planning your trip check the U.S. Forest Service site for dates and restrictions.
Back in Dothan
If you’re back in town before sundown, check out Dothan Trail Park. Alabama’s Forever Wild Land Trust partnered with the City of Dothan to create this 319-acre nature area and trail system. The 10 miles of trails are open to both hikers and mountain bikers. There are two trailheads on Fortner Street and one on Narcisse Drive.
After a day in the woods it’s time for barbecue. Dothan has several options when it comes to smoked pork. However, one of the best is The BBQ Shack on Brannon Stand Road. They serve excellent North Carolina style barbecue (sauce on the side) from this cinder block shack with a metal roof. You can’t go wrong with the ribs, cole slaw or potato salad. Other recommendations include KBC Butcher Block for a modern twist on Southern cooking and Fire Stone Wood Fired Pizza and Grill.
From Dothan, take Alabama Highway 84 to Andalusia.
North Loop / North Conecuh Trailhead
From Andalusia, take U.S. 29 South for 9.7-miles. Turn left on AL 137 for 4 miles. The trailhead is on the left.
Five Runs Loop / South Conecuh Trailhead
From Andalusia, take U.S. 29 South for 9.7-miles. Turn left on AL 137 for 5 miles. Take a left on County Road 24. In half a mile turn right on County Road 28 (FS 336A). Take a left at the “Y” intersection. Travel for .1 mile and turn right to the trailhead.
The North Face at Eagle Eye Outfitters
Eagle Eye Outfitters is an independent outdoor lifestyle retailer in Dothan, Alabama. With a dedicated staff of outdoor enthusiasts and tech geeks, Eagle Eye offers the very best in outdoor apparel and equipment from The North Face, to ensure that our customers are comfortable, safe and outfitted for anything the outdoors can throw at them.
Originally written by RootsRated for Eagle Eye Outfitters.
Featured image provided by Joe Cuhaj