December 20th, 2003; around 12:00 pm
Ryan & Debi Cragun
We left Cincinnati at 4:00 am and were on our way to Orlando for a week vacation. We re-directed our route in order to stop by the last two state highpoints I had not visited in the South – Alabama and Florida.
After leaving the main freeways, the drive up to the highpoint is fairly scenic, though it is likely more scenic during the other three seasons as many of the trees were leafless and brown. The roads are well-kept but narrow.
We pulled into the state park to find some very nice-looking bungalows and a restaurant. There is a $1.00 per person fee to enter the park. The guidebook we were using said there were cabins in the park, but these looked more like condos. If I had known they were so nice, I may have arranged our trip so we stayed there that night (though the bed and breakfast where we ended up staying that night was also very nice).
From where you enter the park it is about 2 miles to the summit tower. There are a bunch of cellular and radio towers next to the summit tower along with some other stuff, but what the other stuff was or will be was not apparent as much of it was under construction when we visited (see the pictures below).
We parked opposite the summit tower and found the highpoint marker along the path leading up to the tower. The door to the tower was closed and I wasn’t sure if we could just walk in, but I tried it anyway and it opened right up. I quickly realized why the door was closed – the summit tower is heated! That’s right, a heated summit tower. Never seen that before.
The climb is quick and at the top, there is a ‘pay-to-view’ telescope in a beautiful, wood-paneled lookout. The lookout room at the summit offers a nice, panoramic view of the surrounding countryside. The view isn’t America’s best, but it is pretty nice. The only problem we had with the summit tower was that, with how cold it was, the windows were accumulating condensation, so you couldn’t really capture an entire vista without cleaning the windows (it wasn’t too cold, but it was surprisingly chilly, say mid-40s or lower with the wind chill).
We had another couple visiting the highpoint snap some pictures of us and we did the same for them. They were from Alabama and were very nice. We spent a few minutes up there snapping pictures and enjoying the view (the fact the tower was heated helped us want to stay).
Overall, it’s a nice highpoint to visit, especially considering it is a drive-up (the only hiking involved is climbing the summit tower). The final thing I should note is that, instead of re-tracing our route back to I-20, we continued on SR-281 hoping to save ourselves some time as we were headed south. The result? First, we missed a turn and ended up driving about 5 miles before the road we were on ended. It was actually quite disappointing because that road was wide, very nice, and recently paved. When we realized we couldn’t continue on that road, we backtracked and found SR-281, which quickly degraded into a road that had been paved 20 years ago (though it was adequately patched). The road was also very narrow, barely affording room for two small-sized cars. There was, however, one cool thing about it – it had banked turns (and a lot of them). When possible, I approached the road as a race track, not slowing much for the turns and enjoyed the feeling of my momentum being re-directed. When you can’t see beyond the turn, you obviously shouldn’t speed through them as I did pass about 6 or 7 cars coming the other way, but when you can, the high-speed banking makes the narrow road kind of fun to drive.
We drove the to southern border of Alabama that night and stayed in Olde South Inn bed and breakfast, which was very nice, before continuing on to Florida’s highpoint and Orlando the next day.