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

This article provides information designed to help you plan the perfect hike at this park that now has over 40 miles of trails for hikers to enjoy when the new horse trails are included. Below, you will find: 

  • Trailhead pinpointers for each featured trail
  • Helpful trail details including recommendations and what to expect regarding terrain, scenery and more
  • 30 photos from various trails
  • A custom map of the primary park area 
  • A custom map of the horse trails area

Lake Guntersville State Park has many features that make it a standout among Alabama state parks. The view at the lodge, the hilly golf course and the miles of scenic waterfront are some of them — just to name a few.

For many people who love the outdoors, the hiking trails that lead deep into the woods are what make it one of the state’s best.

 

NOTE: You will see a large number of references to Taylor Mountain below. Many of the state park’s amenities including the lodge, chalets, golf course and zip lines are on top of that mountain. In addition, other primary amenities like the RV campground, the beach, main boat launch and docks are at the foot of Taylor Mountain to the west.

Hiking is my preferred activity at any state park. But, whether you prefer hiking, trail running, mountain biking, horseback riding or birding in the forest, you will have no problem finding the perfect trail for spending a half hour, a Saturday morning or an entire weekend, doing what you love at Lake Guntersville State Park.

A combination of lake vistas, rugged Appalachian mountain terrain and a prevalent population of semi-tame whitetail deer are some of the highlights that help make using the trails at Lake Guntersville State Park a wonderful outdoor adventure. 

In the past three years, Northeast Alabama Chapter of Back Country Horsemen of America volunteers have worked diligently to add a few miles of new horse trails in the state-owned tracts of land on the northern edge of the state park.

Now, when you include the club’s latest Simp McKee Bains and Samuel Gordons Culbert Trail additions, along with some newer loops and spurs volunteers from the mountain biking community have added or paths they have restored — not to mention the dirt roads at the primitive campground and the path at the Trail of Tears boat ramp — the total trail distance in the park and adjoining acreage has climbed to nearly 40 miles.

At 5,909 acres, it’s Alabama’s third largest state park. The total public land area climbs to about 7,040 acres when you add the narrow portions of shoreline that belong to TVA and the 849 acres owned by the Alabama Forever Wild Land Trust that border the park in the area where the newest horse trails are found. 

The variety of trails allows for a range of choices from walking a few yards to a cave to circumnavigating your choice of mountains. The most enticing trails vary from very short but very steep to relatively flat. Most of the trails include going through at least one scenic cove or ravine, and there are a few wet-weather streams.

Most of the trails are multi-use. A few miles are for hikers and trail runners only. Signs at a few of the trailheads specify which activities are allowed on a trail. Most are labeled for hiking, trail running and mountain biking. Presently, the horse trails are designated for horseback riding and hiking (I’m sure trail running would be fine), although few people outside of the horseback riding community seem to know about them.

Dogs on a leash are permitted on all trails. People enjoy the trails in all four seasons.

Signs at some of the trailheads provide details such as distance, elevation gain and maximum grade. This type of information is especially helpful for those who use the trails for mountain biking. 

Many of the trails at Lake Guntersville State Park would not currently be useable if it were not for the work of volunteers. Members of the Mountain Lakes Cycling Club are to thank for their work to restore and maintain the trails where biking is specified.

Many of the best trails were rendered impassable by a pair of twisters that passed through the park during the historic tornado outbreak of April 27, 2011. As you hike, you will know when you are in an area that was hit by one of the tornadoes. All, or most of, the trees will appear to be less than 10 years old. 


Here’s a map to help you find a trail in the primary state park area...

View an extra large versions of map:

PDF

JPG


Let’s take a look at the trails I consider best for people who hike frequently. Here are the trails you need to know about if you enjoy state park hikes of the 2- to 5-hour variety. 


Enjoy a scenic walk in the woods on the Cutchenmine Trail

On an old roadbed built by Mr. Cutchen to improve access to his coal mine long before it was part of the state park, the Cutchenmine Trail traces the northern edge of the Short Creek portion of Guntersville Lake along the base of Sand Mountain from Hwy. 227 to the Dry Creek gorge. It features beautiful scenery with great canopies in a forest with a mixture of hardwoods and pines.

The spots where the trail passes near to the water add to the scenery and are great for trying to watch for bald eagles as well as other raptors and waterfowl. 

The small gravel parking lot at the trailhead only has room for two vehicles, three at the most. But, the recently reopened Cutchenmine Connector found on the north end at the parking lot at the Short Creek boat ramp provides several parking spaces. The latter option will add about 0.9 mile to your out-and-back hiking distance.

Length: 4.5 miles out-and-back (2.25 miles one-way) from the trailhead at Hwy. 227; OR 5.4 miles out-and-back from the start of the Cutchenmine Connector

Elevation info: Altitude minimum is 528 feet above sea level; altitude maximum is 746 feet above sea level

Trailhead pinpointer: At Hwy. 227 (map); at Cutchenmine Connector at Short Creek boat ramp area (map)

Trail runners, those who want to combine hiking and birding, and mountain bikers looking for a somewhat less-technical, but scenic, trail will enjoy the Cutchenmine Trail.

Mostly untouched by the 2011 tornadoes, the trail starts at a narrow hollow that can be swampy during wet seasons. The elevation changes are not significant enough for most hikers to consider any of the hills to be climbs. The small gorge at the end of the trail is a good place for a break or for bird spotting. The deer here are not half-tame like the deer that reside around the RV campground, golf course and lodge. Expect to see other wildlife such as chipmunks and armadillos.

It’s an out-and-back only trail, and you will not see mountain bikers on the Cutchenmine Trail as often as some of the other trails.


Enjoy the variety of sights and scenes found along the Seale’s Trail

Between 1995-2020, the Seale’s Trail was the path I used most often at Lake Guntersville State Park. Named for a husband and wife who were very active in building and maintaining the trails at the park for several decades, it parallels the lake’s edge from the RV campground to the Hwy. 227 Town Creek bridge.

Length: 1.89 miles one-way

Elevation info: The lowest point of 595 feet above sea level is at the campground. The highest elevation along the Seale’s Trail is 720 feet above sea level.

Trailheads: At Hwy. 227 (map); at service road on east side of the campground (map)

The Seale’s Trail is a good choice for an out-and-back trek.

On the east end of the trail, you can park in the gravel area at the south end of the bridge. Most of the vehicles you will see at that spot belong to anglers who fish under the bridge.

On the west end of the trail, the closest parking lot for non-registered campers is at the store at the campground entrance. It will add 0.47 miles each way if you walk from there. This is the area where the semi-tame deer hang out in large numbers, so combining a walk along the road among the deer with a Seale’s Trail hike is a good option.

Hikers who are camping at the main campground, those who prefer hiking on a trail that doesn’t include a great deal of climbing, and those who prefer the views that the lakeshore offers will enjoy the trail.

While hiking or trail running on Seale’s Trail, expect to see some areas where large boulders are prominent. The trail is near some cliffs on the east end, and there are several places where the trail lies just a few feet from the shore. Some areas have a lot of roots or rocks, and some majestic trees are found here on the northern slopes of Taylor Mountain. 

There are some noticeable elevation changes, but you remain at the base of the mountain. Mountain bikers do not use the Seale’s Trail. Evidence of the April 27, 2011 tornadoes is found in the hollow where you’ll see a pump building and at the campground. Otherwise, the canopy is wonderful. 


Circumnavigate Taylor Mountain’s crest via the Golf Course Loop

A big percentage of the forest on top of Taylor Mountain was destroyed by the 2011 tornadoes, and the evidence is unavoidable on the Golf Course Loop, especially if you remember how it looked before the storms. 

Length: 3.9 miles when you include the short 0.3 mile that you walk, jog or ride on the road or the Benny Bobo Accessible Trail to get from the lodge to the golf course parking lot to complete the loop. 

Trailheads: At golf course parking lot (map); at the point where the loop crosses the road south of the golf course (map); at lodge/Benny Bobo Accessible Trail (map); at front of lodge (map)

If you want to start and finish on the mountaintop, you can park at the lodge or the golf course, or on the side of the road where the trails crosses just south of the golf course. You can connect to it at the front of the lodge by either going to the trailhead pinpointed above or by going through the grass at the helicopter pad.

People looking for a mid-length trail that has no significant climbs will enjoy this trail.

If you want to enjoy a morning hike that’s over a couple of miles in length but doesn’t go up or down a mountain, the Golf Course Loop is a good choice. It’s popular among mountain bikers, so expect to share the path with bikers who will almost always be traveling in a clockwise direction.

Highlights include a few places where you can enjoy a lofty winter view of the lake and mountains to the north, plus a few spots where you may need to duck if you hear someone yell fore.” If you are hiking in the summer or fall, take some time to check out the beautiful fairways and greens.

The mountain-biking community has added some alternate steeper trail choices in a couple of places along the Golf Course Loop. When you come to the forks in the trail, don’t worry. The alternate routes don’t add any significant distance and they always lead back to the main path.


March around Ellenburg Mountain via the Tom Bevill Trail

Length: 3.27 on the primary trail; 3.47 if you take the lower Bevill Alternate route on the east side of the mountain

Elevation info: Minimum altitude is 613, and maximum altitude is 863 feet above sea level

Pinpoint a Tom Bevill trailhead: Across from the Short Creek boat ramp parking area (map); from the closed road (map)

Named in honor of the World War II veteran who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1967 to 1997, the Tom Bevill Trail provides another choice for circumnavigating a small mountain.

But, this trail does not reach the top of a mountain as does the Golf Course Loop which follows the edge of Taylor Mountain’s summit. Remaining on the slopes, the Tom Bevill Trail stays a good deal beneath the mountain top: The highest peak on Ellenburg Mountain is 1,089 feet above sea level but the trail only takes you to 863 feet above sea level at its highest point.

The climbs are gradual. The trail does not pass near to the water at any spot. Highlights include wintertime views of the lake, scenic ravines with wet-weather streams, and rock formations. Anyone who may like to trek through the trees in a setting that features gullies and mountainside wildlife habitat will like hiking on this trail.

The Tom Bevill Trail is popular with mountain bikers who prefer to connect to it from other trails on its north side, or the closed road between Ellenburg Mountain and Graveyard Hill. Hikers and trail runners are welcomed to do the same.


Go over the mountain and deep into the woods on the Lickskillet Trail

Length: 1.6 miles one-way; you can enjoy a 1-mile portion by starting or turning around at the trailhead on top of Taylor Mountain next to Aubrey Carr Drive.

Elevation info: Minimum altitude is 633 feet, maximum altitude is 1055 feet

Trailhead pinpointer: Mountaintop trailhead (map); eastern end at small lot on Hwy. 227 (map); you currently get to the western end from Daniel’s Trail (map to roadside Daniel’s Trail access); alternately, you can connect to Daniel’s Trail from the Lodge Trail

I would recommend trails like this to trail runners, hikers, wildlife watchers, botany and geology students and birders. The Lickskillet Trail is a good choice for an out-and-back hike from any of the trailheads pinpointed above on the Google map links.

Before the April 27, 2011 tornado outbreak, the western part of the area that the Lickskillet Trail passed through was one of my all-time favorite places to hike. The old forest and ravine combo provided a breathtaking setting. But, trail maps published since the tornadoes didn’t even show that part of the trail.

I thought it would never be open again, but thanks to the efforts of volunteers, the last portion finally opened in 2020. The route is a little different. Scruffy young trees occupy much of the space where majestic old trees previously stood, but it’s great to be able to hike up and over Taylor Mountain’s upper spine once again. 

On the east side of Taylor Mountain, expect to cross the service road that goes down to the lakeside pump house. Whether you’re traveling east or west, you’ll enjoy the somewhat dramatic elevation change as you go through the hollow between Taylor Mountain and Bailey Ridge.

Now that all of the Lickskillet Trail is usable once again, it provides an alternative for traveling between the campground and the Town Creek Bridge. But remember, it takes you over Taylor Mountain, not around it. Take the Seale’s Trail to go around.

Another trail in this portion of the park, the Old Lickskillet Trail, has also been reopened.


Short connector trails to use for longer hikes

Some of the best hikes at Lake Guntersville State Park allow for using a short trail to connect to other, longer trails. There are many options that make it possible to go from north to south, or east to west, while moving from one named trail to another. 

Here’s some guidance for utilizing some of the key short trails to get to others trails that make longer hikes possible.


Climb Taylor Mountain on the short but steep Lodge Trail

With an elevation change of 452 feet over just 0.7 miles, the Lodge Trail is one of the paths I would recommend, but only if you first ask your doctor if your heart is strong enough.

Despite the climb, it’s one of the most used trails at Lake Guntersville State Park because it connects the RV campground and beach area to the facilities on top of Taylor Mountain.

Your chances of encountering deer on this trail are almost 50/50. Your chances of encountering some massive boulders about halfway up the side of the mountain are 100% certain.

Length: 0.7 mile one-way, 1.4 miles out-and-back

Elevation info: 632 feet above sea level at bottom; 1084 feet above sea level at top

Trailheads: At the bottom (map); at the top (map)

Persons who want to test their new heart-rate monitor, those who hope to observe semi-tame whitetail deer in a wooded setting and those who want to connect to the Golf Course Loop trail from the foot of Taylor Mountain will like this trail.

If you’re camping at the main campground, or you’re just visiting for the day and you park at the campground store, the Lodge Trail trailhead is your gateway to connecting to other parts of the park on foot. Use the trail to get to the scenic overlooks, the zip-lines or the lodge’s restaurant, for example. 

If you are staying at the lodge, use the Lodge Trail to get down to the beach, fishing piers and boat docks.

You won’t see mountain bikes on this trail. A good deal of the canopy in this area was damaged by one of the April 27, 2011 tornadoes, but that won’t prevent you from having a great hike.


Climb Taylor Mountain’s southern slopes on one of these trails

These three options allow you to go up and down Taylor Mountain’s southern slopes:

  1. Taylor Mountain Trail
  2. Waterfall Trail and Nature Trail combination
  3. Butler’s Pass and Moonshine Trail combination

If you use one of these trails to climb up to the Golf Course Loop, you can then use one of the others, or the Lodge Trail, to go back down the mountain.

All three trails feature some spectacular woodland scenery especially in the summer under humid, jungle-like conditions, and when the autumn color show is in progress. 

Taylor Mountain Trail

The mountain biking community added some new switchbacks to this trail just a few years ago to enhance the climb used to get to the Golf Course Loop most often by cyclists. Older maps don’t show the new hairpin turns which certainly help make the significant elevation gain more manageable while adding about 0.4 miles to the trail.

Length: 1.6 miles one way

Elevation info: Minimum altitude is 710 feet; the altitude is 1,028 feet at the point where it intersects with the Golf Course Loop

Trailhead pinpointer: Where it intersects with the Golf Course Loop (map), spur at road (map), the spot where it dead ends into the Cascade Trail (map)

Combine the Waterfall and Nature Trail

Length: 0.7 miles to the intersection with the mountaintop trails (go straight for just another 0.2 miles on the Nature Trail to get to the lodge)

Elevation info: 724 feet above sea level at lower trailhead; 1,113 feet at the Nature Trail trailhead in front of the lodge

Trailhead locations: At the bottom of the mountain (map); Nature Trail at the top of the mountain (map)

This hike is another one where you will find yourself alternating between tall, old canopies and scruffy, young trees that came up after the 2011 tornadoes. The ravine is quite scenic near the bottom where the tiny waterfall is found during wet seasons.

Butler’s Pass and Moonshine Trail combination

The Butler’s Pass Trail isn’t on the 1990s-era map I’ve had in my backpack for a couple of decades now. The mountain biking community added it to the southwest slopes of Taylor Mountain in recent years. 

Length: 2 miles (combined, and about 2.2 if you continue on to the lodge on the Nature Trail)

Elevation info: 724 feet minimum (Moonshine), 1024 maximum at upper trail intersection for the top of Butler’s Pass

Butlers Pass trailhead pinpointer: You can connect to it from three places now ...

At the multi-trail intersection near the top of the mountain (map); Lodge Drive across from the chalets (map); Lodge Drive lower alternate (map)

Moonshine Trail trailhead pinpointer: At the foot of the mountain at the multi-trail intersection (map); where Butler’s Pass and Moonshine Trail meet (map)

When you combine these trails, and start at the bottom, it’s a wonderful two miles going up the mountain. You’ll see some more of the park’s biggest trees on the slopes of what’s shown on some maps as Cedar Ridge.


Use the Meredith Trail to travel between the Town Creek Bridge and the Golf Course Loop

Another short trail that serves as a good connection for making longer hikes possible, the 0.8 mile long Meredith Trail intersects with the Lickskillet Trail on the ridge not far from where Hwy. 227 crosses Town Creek. It intersects the Golf Course Loop at its northeast corner.

Before the mountain-biking community began improving the park’s trails, the Meredith Trail was a two-mile path. If you look at an older map, you will see that the entire southeastern section of the Golf Course Loop was considered to be Meredith before they renamed that section to simplify things a little. 

You'll appreciate the gradual grade through the big trees on Bailey’s Ridge.


Terrell Trail: The closest trail to the park’s main entrance is a popular route

Only about 500 feet from where you turn into Lake Guntersville State Park’s main entrance, you will come to a small parking lot on the left. If the weather is fair, the lot can be full.

The small lot, which accommodates only 16 vehicles, is next to the Terrell Connector trail, which mountain bikers, hikers and trail runners often use to access the Terrell Trail and the other trails of the Graveyard Hill and Ellenburg Mountain area to the south. You can also connect to the trails that lead to the center of the park to the north.

Terrell Trail length: 1.1 miles (Terrell Connector is 0.5)

Elevation info: Minimum altitude is 684 feet above sea level, maximum is 878

Trailhead pinpointer: Where it crosses the road (map); at multi-trail parking lot (map); parking lot for Terrell Connector near park entrance (map)

Coming within a few yards of reaching Graveyard Hill’s summit, Terrell Trail is one of the state park’s most popular trails in regard to the area’s thriving mountain biking community. For hikers and trail runners, it’s one of three scenic options for getting deep into the forested hills on the south side of the park.


Cave and King’s Chapel trails: Other options for getting to and from the parks south side

Like the Terrell Trail above, when you want to get from the center of the park to Graveyard Hill and Ellenburg Mountain or maybe even go south as far as the Cutchenmine Trail  either of these routes can provide a fun way.

The part of the Cave Trail south of Campground Road passes through two small hollows near the lake. The King’s Chapel Trail takes you up the northern slopes of Graveyard Hill. The chapel has been gone since before the state park included this tract of land, but the graveyard remains and is maintained by descendants of the folks that are buried there.


Hikers are welcomed at the Horse Trails

It’s like a whole other state park over at Town Creek Canyon. You’ll find opportunities for some great hikes on the horse trails found there. I had often wondered if the trails were for equestrian purposes only, so in the fall of 2020, I put on my old hiking boots and went to find out.

Yes! Hikers are welcomed. 

After sharing a trail or two with just a few horses, some other questions came to mind:

Which is faster: A slow horse or a fast hiker? I recently learned that I would have to walk a little over 4-miles-per-hour to keep up with a horse, even if it appeared to be walking very slowly. I can’t maintain a pace like that for long in the mountains.

Is it easy for a horse to climb a mountain on a muddy trail? I was quite surprised to see how easily a horse can handle some very steep, very wet places while carrying an adult, even in places that are hard for me to walk upright.

Here’s my map of the horse trails at Town Creek ...

View an extra-large version:

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JPG

I had seen a large number of horse trailers parked at the horse trailhead on many occasions, and had seen the horse trail map online. Now I have also hiked the entire main horse trail as well as some alternate routes including a newly marked trail to a scenic overlook.

Main horse trail length: 6.5 miles one way

Elevation info (Main trail): Minimum altitude is 613 feet above sea level, maximum is 840. One spot on the Stubblefield Mountain Loop reaches over 1,100 feet above sea level.

Trailhead pinpointer: Main trailhead (map), connector behind the Town Creek Fishing Center (map), access from Smith Cemetery (map)

I enjoyed three separate hikes there during the fall of 2020. On the first two hikes, I started on a connecting trail (Smith Cemetery) that’s not even on the map yet. On the third hike, I started at the horse trailhead and explored the 3-mile portion I did not see on the other days. 

The horse club lengthened a couple of trails, and established new paths on the mountain slopes as late as 2019. See the latest Simp McKee Bains and Samuel Gordon Culbert Horse Trails map in JPG and PDF format on the state park's horse trail page.

The potential for wildlife habitat is extensive in the canyon. According to a few of the horseback riders I have chatted with, bears have been sighted at the northern end of the canyon. I haven’t seen any bears yet, but I have seen several eagles, small mammals and a great deal of waterfowl. 

Due to the Town Creek location of the horse trails, it would be an excellent idea to combine primitive camping, fishing and horseback riding.


Additional Lake Guntersville State Park photos

Alabama offers a diverse selection of places to go to enjoy the outdoor activities of your choice. That diversity is reflected in the state’s 21 state parks. They provide an easy way for people to escape to the wilderness in a surprising variety of settings.

No other Alabama state park provides more topographical diversity than Lake Guntersville State Park. And when you include the horse trails, especially the new additions, an old hiker like me has some nice new options to explore. 

The 2011 tornado damage is becoming less and less obvious at the park. New paths have opened or been improved in the decade since the storms, and the work continues on some trails that have not yet reopened. Some have been renamed, altered or consolidated. Some, like the Daniel’s Trail found in the woods where the tamest deers roam, are not on new maps but they are once again open. 

From the lodge or campground, families that like to hike can easily hike to their hearts content and, when they are not hiking, they could enjoy all the state park’s amenities without getting back in their vehicle until it’s time to leave.

There are enough trail options to make spending three days and two nights at the state park a great weekend getaway.


Enjoy this article in magazine format

If you have come across this page using a tablet, laptop or desktop computer, check out the digital magazine version of my hiker’s guide to the trails at Lake Guntersville State Park.

CLICK HERE to view digital magazine.


Related resources

Lake Guntersville State Park horse trails page

Lake Guntersville State Park hiking and mountain biking page

Lake Guntersville State Park reservations page (lodge, chalets, campground)

Alabama State Parks mapping resources home


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State parks of northeast Alabama