Southern Region Viewing Area
Coleman Lake Recreation Area, Shoal Creek Ranger District. Photo: Alabama Birding Trails.
Appalachian rose gentian (Sabatia capitata) is uncommon but can be seen along the roadsides and in the fire-maintained pine woodlands north of Coleman Lake. Photo: Ryan Shurette, U.S. Forest Service.
Above, Woodoats (Chasmanthium latifolia) and below, cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), are common along the drains that dissect the open upland pineywoods of the area. Photos: Ryan Shurette, U.S. Forest Service.
Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis). Photo: Ryan Shurette, U.S. Forest Service..
Catesby’s trillium (Trillium catesbei) grows on the semi-shaded slopes adjacent to Coleman Lake. Photo: Mark Pistrang, U.S. Forest Service.
Coleman Lake Recreation Area
Forest: National Forests in Alabama
District: Shoal Creek Ranger District
Description: The Coleman Lake Recreation Area is located on the Shoal Creek District of the Talladega National Forest and is a prime destination for a variety of recreational opportunities, including camping, hiking, fishing, swimming and nature-watching. This part of the Talladega is located in the mountainous ridge and valley region and is typically very varied in topography. The lake itself is a 17-acre man-made reservoir within the recreation area proper. There are 39 campsites with water and electrical hookups, bathhouses, 29 picnicking units, and a trail system around the lake where visitors can observe the flora and fauna of the riparian zones and marsh areas. The adjacent dry habitats are comprised of hundreds of acres of upland pine forests, including mature longleaf pine stands. These areas are frequently prescribed burned by Forest Service personnel to provide open park-like habitat for the endangered Red-cockaded woodpeckers, which inhabit the area. All this frequent burning produces a diverse sea of native herbaceous vegetation under the open pine canopy, which in turn, provides a good opportunity for botanical exploration. Several species of native bunchgrasses are abundant in these systems and serve as flashy fuels during fire events.
Wildflower viewing: In the dry woodlands, multiple species of asters and bonesets (Eupatorium) are abundant, and in late summer and into fall, their blooms are quite colorful against the senescing bunchgrasses. Native legumes (including Desmodium, Tephrosia, and Lespedeza) are interspersed in the grass-dominated understory. Showy herbs like colicroot (Aletris farinosa) are also common in the uplands in summer. The Shoal Creek District uplands also contain several uncommon plant species, like the Appalachian rose gentian (Sabatia capitata) and Smith’s sunflower (Helianthus smithii).
Between the uplands there are numerous fingers of riparian habitats along the drains that bisect the drier habitats. In summer, these drains are a nice cool spot to look for wildflowers, under the shady cover of mature American beech trees. Here, look for trout lily (Erythronium americanum), wild gingers (Hexastylis spp.) woodoats (Chasmanthium latifolia) and cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis). Catesby’s trillium (Trillium catesbei) is fairly common on the slopes in the drier zone between the drains and the uplands. Flowering in this trillium species generally peaks during April and May on the Shoal Creek District.
Coleman Lake is also a hotspot for birdwatching. Species such as Red crossbill and Red-cockaded woodpecker nest near the Pinhoti Trail parking lot, just north of the Recreation Area. For more information about birding at Coleman Lake, visit the Alabama Birding Trails website's Coleman Lake web page.
Safety First: General outdoor safety guidelines apply for this part of the Talladega National Forest. Watch out for venomous snakes and stinging insects in warm weather. There is plenty of steep topography on the Shoal Creek Ranger District so watch your footing. Scattered natural snags (standing dead trees) are always present in the forests so keep an eye out for them, especially in windy conditions. Frequent prescribed burning in the Coleman Lake area also leaves a lot of burned out stump holes, so look down as well as up.
Directions: From I-20 in Cleburne County, take the Heflin Exit (199), and follow US 78 east for approximately 8 miles, through Fruithurst, to Edwardsville. Turn left onto County Rd 61 at the sign for Coleman Lake and continue for approximately 7 ½ miles. Turn right onto Forest Road 532, and the right (in approximately ¾ mile) onto Forest Road 500. The entrance to Coleman Lake Recreation Area is about 1 ½ miles ahead on the right.
Ownership and Management: USDA Forest Service, Talladega National Forest, Shoal Creek Ranger District.
Nearest Town: Edwardsville, Alabama.