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A guide to the trails at Buck’s Pocket State Park

A nice variety of out-and-back hikes are possible at this state park that’s found where South Sauty Creek’s scenic gorge meets Guntersville Lake. Trail choices range from rocky paths on the mountain slopes to relatively flat old roadbeds that closely parallel the lake’s edge.

One of three state parks within a half hour of my home, I find the alluring views, the untamed setting and the occasional bald eagle encounters drawing me back to the trails at Buck’s Pocket over and over again.

 

There’s no place I’d rather be when the forest awakens on a spring morning. The woods here can be like a jungle in the summer humidity. The hardwoods provide one of Alabama’s best displays of color in the fall, and the area where the creek becomes part of the lake hosts a wide variety of migratory waterfowl in the winter.

This article includes over 30 photos taken from the trails, or just off one of the trails, along with the following:

  • Trail details that let you know what to expect in regard to terrain and points-of-interest
  • A custom map for visual reference to trails and points of interest
  • Trailhead pinpointers to help you find a starting point with Google maps
  • A magazine-style version of this article

This park is easy to get to from Albertville, Boaz, Guntersville, Fort Payne and Scottsboro. If you enjoy hikes of the 1- to 6-hour variety, I hope the following information helps you decide to visit Buck’s Pocket State Park for a hiking adventure of your own.


Custom Buck’s Pocket map for hikers

Download an extra-large version of the map:

PDF

JPG


Enjoy a climb and a waterfall when you venture onto the Point Rock Trail

Due to its topographical diversity, great canopies, cascading streams and waterfalls, the Point Rock Trail is one of the best short state park trails in Alabama. If you only have time to see one trail at Buck’s Pocket, it would be a good choice.

Located in the hollow where Little Sauty Creek tumbles down the slopes of Sand Mountain, you’ll leave with memories of the trail’s hardwoods, boulders and a steep wet-weather stream. You’ll encounter a somewhat short, but steep, portion about a quarter-mile from the Point Rock boardwalk.

Just a few yards from the steepest section, you can walk to the bottom of Little Sauty Falls and view it from various angles.

Something unusual happens just downstream from the waterfall. When conditions are right, all the creek’s water drains into a small vertical cave that locals refer to as The Big Sink. As a result, you’ll usually find very little water along the half-mile long stretch of creekbed between the sink and the place where the small tributary empties into the bigger creek.

 In 2020, a new sign was added at the spot where the short path to the waterfall intersects with the Point Rock Trail. You’ll have to navigate some boulders to get a good look at The Big Sink.

For the most part — between the waterfall and the floor of the gorge  the trail parallels the creek. It crosses the creekbed in a wide, rocky area that rarely has visible water. 

The sun doesn’t get the opportunity to warm the hollow very much in the winter. You may find a lot of ice at the stream and waterfall, and giant icicles sometime form on the rock face at the bottom of the bluff.

Length: 1.1 miles one-way

Elevation info: Altitude minimum is 715 feet above sea level; altitude maximum is 1,043 feet above sea level

Trailhead pinpointer: 
At Point Rock (click for Google map)

At Park Road (map)

The Point Rock Trail is for hikers and trail runners only. Whether you start at the top or bottom, you will want to set aside some time to enjoy the view at the overlook. 

A large portion of the forest along the road leading to the overlook was damaged during the April 27, 2011 tornado outbreak, but the view from the overlook is still fantastic.

Point Rock overlook gallery

Keep your eyes on the lake from the Morgan’s Cove ORV Trail

At the foot of Center Point mountain for it’s entire length, you can see the South Sauty portion of Guntersville Lake from almost anywhere along this scenic trail which you will often be sharing with people on ATVs.

Since the park’s grand re-opening in June 2020, this and the other parts of the new ORV trail system have become more and more popular. Now, the number of ATVs, side-by-sides and off-road motorcycles seen on this trail often exceed the number of boat trailers parked at the boat ramp. 

NOTE: Persons riding ORVs must register and pay a small day-use fee at the main ORV trailhead near the park office before using the ORV trails. You are NOT allowed to begin an ORV ride at Morgan’s Cove. See the Buck’s Pocket ORV Trails page for details.

I have had a few bald eagle encounters along this rolling path that follows an old roadbed for almost 2.5 miles to the north. I recently shared the canopy with a flying pair for one magical moment. There are several places where you can access the water for birdwatching or taking pictures of the photogenic cove. The elevation change is milder here than on any of the other trails at this park.

Length: 2.45 miles one-way

Elevation info: Altitude minimum is 610 feet above sea level; altitude maximum is 719 feet above sea level

Trailhead pinpointer: At the Morgan’s Cove boat ramp (map)

An excellent trail for an out-and-back hike or run of up to five-miles, the Morgan’s Cove ORV Trail is only 12.7 miles from the Lake Guntersville State Park lodge. Highlights include great forest scenery and a nice waterfront view at a spot where the trail comes to a clearing directly on the lake’s shore. You’ll also be right on the edge of the water at the place where the big TVA powerlines cross the water.

Before or after your hike, be sure to take in the scenery from the pier.


Explore the mountain slopes on the Westside ORV Trail

Used mostly for horseback riding before the April 27, 2011 tornado made it unusable, this trail has a new name and a new primary purpose. It’s the middle portion of the new ORV trails. Running east to west, it connects the Morgan’s Cove area to the primitive camping area.

The impact of the tornado is still obvious on this trail, especially when you’re high up on the slopes. You would think that acres and acres had been clearcut if you weren’t aware of the storm damage. But, there are still many stands of grand old trees to be found along the way.

Don’t expect to find any flat places in this area. You’re either going uphill or downhill on this trail which, on its west end, starts at a very steep spot next to Morgan’s Cove Road about 0.2 mile south of the boat ramp parking lot.

I use this trail to get to an old side trail that ends at the old rotting walking bridge. It’s one of the best spots for enjoying the lake setting or watching for eagles, and since you can no longer get to the other side on the walking bridge, you must hike around the lower part of the cove to get to it (unless you swim or ride in a boat). Forgotten by most, the side trail is not marked and has not been restored like the other trails.

You will enjoy a winter view of the lake from the Westside ORV Trail’s high point. There’s a low area found where this trail intersects with the Primitive Camping Road. You will find some epic mud holes in that area most of the time. Under really wet conditions, you can’t get through the area without getting in the mud. So, keep that in mind if you have new boots, or don’t want to get a coat of mud on your new Honda Talon.

Length: 1.15 miles one-way, not including the walk from the boat ramp parking lot or the primitive camping area

Elevation info: Altitude minimum is 624 at the muddy place; maximum is 790

Trailhead pinpointer:

At Morgan's Cove Road (map)  

At primitive camping area (map)


Enjoy the gorge floor’s best scenery along the Primitive Camping Road

The Primitive Camping Road, which is sometimes referred to as the Backcountry Campground Road or the Primitive Area Road, follows the contour of South Sauty Creek through the deepest part of the gorge. Hikers and ORV riders share this path.

It only comes to the edge of the water at each end. But I can’t resist leaving the path to explore the creekbed, and there are several other places along the way where you can easily do so.

At one place, high above the creek where a steep boulder-filled wet-weather stream is found, the old sand and rock road gets curvy while hugging the edge of a near-vertical dropoff. Even though this is one of the park’s flatter named paths, you will experience the essence of rugged mountain/gorge terrain as you pass through that spot.

In the creekbed just a few hundred yards from the east end of the road, you’ll see boulders that are bigger than dump trucks. It’s a good area to see some of the odd ways that water can change the shape of rocks when given enough time.

Length: 1.6 miles one-way

Elevation info: Altitude minimum is 601 at the west end; maximum is 761

Trailhead pinpointer:
East end (map)

West end (map)

Now considered part of the new Buck’s Pocket ORV trail system, walking or riding an ATV from one end of the park to the other is made possible by the Primitive Camping Road. For a hike of over 7-8 miles, you cannot avoid it. You wouldn’t want to.

The water level of South Sauty Creek varies a great deal depending on rain. For much of any given year — typically around 25 to 30 weeks there can be little to no visible water in the creekbed between the RV campground and the area where you’ll find the big boulders shown above.

But, the creek can rise dramatically following periods of heavy rainfall. You should avoid the creekbed entirely at those times. 

Water will sometimes engulf both the South Sauty Creek and Little Sauty Creek causeways. They barricade the roads in the lowest part of the gorge during flash flood warnings and other occasions when the water level is expected to reach dangerous levels.


Get to know the gorge’s north wall along the South Sauty Trail

Anyone who enjoys walking through wooded mountain slopes while constantly hearing the sound of whitewater (in season) will enjoy the South Sauty Trail. On the north side of the big creek, you’ll stay within earshot of the water for much of the hike. About midway, you’ll cross a rocky, cascading streambed while making your way through a scenic ravine.

Another Buck’s Pocket path with some dramatic elevation change, it seems much longer than its 3-mile out-and-back length. A steep section is responsible for that.

The neon orange paint they used in 2020 to mark the trail comes in handy. In some places, it’s easy to find yourself to be uncertain of the path’s direction, but the bright blazes will keep you on track.

 Length: 1.5 mile one-way

Elevation info: Altitude minimum is 685 at the trailhead; maximum is 956

Trailhead pinpointer: Map


Two short trails make it possible to walk among the high, rocky cliffs

The Indian House Trail and the High Bluff Trail, each only a few hundred feet in length, allow you to explore the giant boulders and dramatic overhangs that are found at the top of the gorge’s southern walls.

Both feature wet-weather streams and are good places to see rhododendron in bloom in the late spring.

You’ll need to park on the side of the road for each one. They are both hilly, but the elevation changes are not significant.

The Indian Trail has a scenic overlook with a view of Point Rock. Its open view of the gorge is also a good place to watch for raptors. You can also explore the streambed relatively easy.

At the High Bluff Trail, it would be easy to spend a half hour or more exploring the large collection of boulders found on the slopes there.

Trailhead pinpointer:
Indian House Trail (map)

High Bluff Trail (map)


With a total of just over 9 miles of trail or old dirt roads to enjoy, Buck’s Pocket is a great place in northeast Alabama to connect with nature. 

The park has finally recovered from the 2011 tornado, and campers who like to hike or ride ORVs will find it to be a wonderful place to spend a weekend or an entire vacation. Day-users who prefer hiking, ORV riding, birding, or similar outdoor activities will not be disappointed with any trip to this park that's filled with creeks, cascades, waterfalls, rock formations and wildlife.

Mountain bikers and horseback riders do not use the trails at this park which is now under the management of nearby Lake Guntersville State Park.


View this article in digital magazine format

The flipbook-style 7-page PDF includes the custom map.

Click here to open the digital magazine in a new window.

 

 


Related resources

Buck’s Pocket State Park official homepage

Alabama State Parks mapping resources

Grand reopening info


Check out my related articles

State parks of northeast Alabama

A hiker’s guide to the trails at Lake Guntersville State Park

Enjoy a self-guided bald eagle adventure at Guntersville Lake

Top 16 public spots for enjoying Guntersville Lake