Cheaha Creek is a tiny but tasty morsel of forbidden Alabama whitewater fruit. It takes time to get to. If you go and it has too little water, there are not too many solid plan B's in the area (outside of Salt, which is hardly worth it, Upper Hillabee, which is too easy, and Talledega, which is OK). But if it is running, you will not be disappointed. If you could find a run like this that was two to three miles long, it would be Mecca.
The main attraction here is Devils Den rapids, dubbed "The Alabama SixPack" by Mike Huff. They are just upstream of Lake Chinnabee on the west side of Mount Cheaha. It's a bit like the Tellico ledges, only compressed. Overall, they drop a total of almost 100' in a comparatively short distance. The first part is a 4' drop onto a 3' slide. The next is a like a big Powell Falls with a semi-launch pad on the left. After that is a slide or vertical slot move on the right, about 4' total. Next is the major move, a 12'-15' drop, only do-able at low water on far left with a ferry just above it from right to left, with consequences if you mess up. You can run a slot on the right at moderate to higher water. The fifth part is a 6' pourover with a slot move (double drop?). Next is a 3' broken ledge followed by 3.5' slot / broken ledge. Finally after 50' of flatwater, you encouter a long "speedway boulder garden class IV" slide. Staying right is good since the rocks on the left seem to be pin-friendly. At least 100 yds of class III+ (with an ugly tree hazard as of spring 2010) brings you to the lake.
There are a couple of put in and take out options, depending on the season. You can always put in just above Cheaha Falls by hiking down a gated road uphill from Lake Chinnabee. The falls may be runnable (Bill Patterson thinks so). It is a 40' total drop with a boulder or two greeting your landing. The next mile or so has only a couple small rapids. You can also hike up and just run the Pack by parking at the lake and following the hiking path on river right. The lake parking area is the obvious take-out (be sure to pay the $3 user fee to avoid the big fine), but it is closed during the winter. You could walk the 1.3 miles back uphill to the main road, but I would not recommend that at all. Your other take out option is to set shuttle by driving downhill to the next road, FR637. Stay on 637C and you'll end up at a low water bridge. There are a few rapids and about 4 portages because of trees from the lake to FR 637C. Another good way to tell if Cheaha is going once you are there is the flow over the 637C bridge. If the water is flowing a foot or more over the bridge then it is really cranking. If it is dry, you are out of luck.
It's hard to judge level from afar. The pictures show a visual guide rock on river left at the lake that David Crow and Adama Wood like to use. The Hillabatchee gauge also seems to do pretty well based on a limited number of runs.
Finally, as of late 2010:
Maggie Johnston now owns the cabin on the hill across Talladega Creek from the Waldo Old Mill restaurant and rents it out as a guest house. This as an option for boaters who are interested in paddling Talladega Creek, Hatchet Creek or others in the area. See her VRBO site
On July 1, 2003, I came home to Eastaboga for the 4th of July holiday from my summer job at Camp McDowell. Coincidentally, Tropical Storm Bill came through Alabama that same day. I didn’t have any of my gear with me, so my brother Wes graciously let me borrow his, and we headed over to Cheaha Creek. I had hiked the Silent Trail that runs along the creek a few times previously, but never this close to such a big rain. We parked at the lake and hiked up the ½ mile or so to the top of the Six Pack. It was good to go, so I got dressed while Wes set up at the bottom of the first drop with camera and rope. I am forever indebted to Wes for running safety, taking pictures, and letting me borrow his gear to boot! I ran the first drop far river left, ducking under a mountain laurel at the top. The second drop was good fun, and I ran it pretty much down the middle (first picture). Since I was in a playboat, I was greeted with a bit of a backender at the bottom. The next drop was a sloping ledge that I ran on the far left (second picture) with another backender at the bottom. Soon I was at the big boy, Devil’s Den (third picture). Most of the water goes over the middle onto rocks, and maybe you could ferry across to run it off the left, which had good water, but I was not up to it. At the level that day there was a barely boat-wide line on the right angling back toward the middle that was good as long as you hit it just right. I totally botched it the second time I tried, but no pain followed, so it’s a safe line. After Devil’s Den is an awesome 7 foot boof (4th picture) followed quickly by another 4 foot drop. The top drop is best boofed angling a little bit right. The last drop of the Six Pack was possibly one the most fun rapids I’ve ever run. It’s really long (by my standards) and really fast and fun. The "speedway" name works well. You can’t tell how much this rapid drops from the trail, because the viewpoint is far up on the ridge. But it’s a whole lotta fun. The rest of the creek down to the lake was really fun too, really tight, creeky class II-III. It was one of the best days of paddling ever for me. A beautiful 85 degree day in July with cool clean water and fun drops that I’d been wanting to run for at least a year. Thanks Tropical Storm Bill.