Here’s what it’s like thru-hiking the Pinhoti Trail for the first time

Charles Duffy on his inaugural adventure through the Pinhoti Trail. (Charles Duffy)

Stretching across 171 miles of Alabama land (nearly 339 miles total), the Pinhoti Trail is one of the most scenic trails in the southeast. With terrain for all experience levels, the trail has been widely regarded as a great starting point for those looking to get into long-distance hiking.  

According to REI, a thru-hike is an end-to-end backpacking trip on a long-distance trail. Curious what it’s like? Here’s what New Orleans adventurer Charles Duffy experienced thru-hiking the Pinhoti for the first time.

Making the trek

Ready to go. (Charles Duffy)

Before talking to Charles, I assumed that anyone who thru-hiked all 339 miles of the Pinhoti Trail must have been a lifelong outdoor enthusiast. However, I came away from the conversation inspired, discovering that it’s a challenge nearly anyone can train for and conquer.

“I actually first got into long-distance hiking through watching YouTube videos. I watched Dixie, Bigfoot and Darwin on the Trail and I just found it fascinating. I bought all the equipment I could on the cheap. Then, lockdown happened. Once my government stipend hit, I upgraded all my equipment and decided it was time to head out. I had never done a purposeful hike of any length before, so, really, my first hike was the Pinhoti Trail.”

Charles Duffy

Charles has an unconventional background that ended up preparing him for his Pinhoti Trail excursion in unexpected ways—traveling across the country working for a Renaissance Fair. This wasn’t his first rodeo living in a tent in the woods, but the difference was the amount of people he was surrounded by.

Widely popular among hikers, backpackers and nature enthusiasts near and far, the Pinhoti Trail is well-known as an excellent spot for novice thru-hikers to dip their toes in the water.

However, the trail has significantly less traffic than other long-distance hikes like the Appalachian Trail, creating a mostly solitary journey.

“It was really satisfying to get to experience something different every day. The surprises are what you see along the way. When I was out there, I think I only met like five people. I think I like it a little better that way.”

Charles Duffy

For almost 30 years, Charles has called New Orleans home. While Alabama’s natural beauty comes as no surprise to those of us who see it daily, it was new to him.

“I never knew how beautiful Northern Alabama was. I’ve lived in New Orleans for about 30 years now, and I found the countryside and the people to be so beautiful and amazing. It’s just a really fun place.”

Charles Duffy

Exploring something new

Gorgeous views. (Charles Duffy)

After gathering the right equipment, Charles hit the trail. His buddy drove him up to Flagg Mountain, dropped him off and waved goodbye. His experience ended up being different than most.

Charles made it through 284 miles of the hike, almost 3/4 of the way, when he got heat exhaustion in Dalton, Georgia. Surprised by the “cool little town” he came across, Charles made the most of his time exploring parts of Alabama he’d never seen.

Instead of letting delays get in his way, he stopped to smell the flowers.

“There’s something called taking a ‘zero day’ where you stop hiking for the day. It was in the middle of lockdown so I didn’t have to be anywhere anytime soon. I spent a couple of days outside of Sylacauga at the Pinhoti Trail Center they have there. Then I spent a couple days checking out Talladega. I took my time, it was pretty great.”

Charles Duffy

Met with hospitality

Charles with former Heflin mayor Rudy Rooks. (Charles Duffy)

Among the cool things he got to experience by taking his time, Charles got to have a meal with the mayor of Heflin and a member of the Heflin Parks and Rec department.

Through unexpected weather and other surprises that popped up along the way, what truly moved Charles the most were the “trail angels”.

After starting the hike, Charles realized he forgot his tent spikes. A trail angel not only met him and lent him equipment, but they got lunch the next day, got more gear from a sporting goods store and went back on the journey.

“I was floored by all of the people who were so hospitable. They love the trail and the people that hike the trail so much that they’re willing to help you out in any way, shape or form.”

Charles Duffy

Take on the Pinhoti

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Making it happen. (Charles Duffy)

Charles lauds his time along the trail as a solitary experience that got him away from the hustle and bustle of daily life and back in touch with nature.

Would he do it again? Turns out, that’s not the important part after all.

“I don’t know if I want to do it again, but the cool thing, I know I’ve already done it before and I lived. I’m not that concerned anymore about things going wrong. I can always hit the trail again.”

Charles Duffy

Before you set out on your own long-distance hike, it’s imperative proper preparation, including physical conditioning and carrying necessary gear, takes place. Luckily, there’s a lively community of avid hikers ready to help you on your journey. Check out Pinhoti Trail Hikers on Facebook with fellow hikers of the trail.

Have you hiked the Pinhoti Trail? What has your experience been? Tag us @bhamnow and let us know.

Gabby Gervais
Gabby Gervais
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