The canyon below DeSoto Falls
Little River Canyon rim
In the northeastern corner of Alabama on Lookout
Mountain, near the town of Mentone, in DeSoto State Park,
you find the most magnificent waterfall in Alabama, DeSoto
Falls. Dropping 104 feet into the west fork of Little
River, these pristine headwaters meander a few miles
downstream to find their way into the heart of Little
Just above the falls stands a twenty-foot high dam, built
in the 1920's by a brilliant, self-educated electrical
engineer, Arthur Abernathy Miller. It was created to help
supply power for his hydroelectric generator which was
constructed below the falls. Today, if you cross the dam
and take the trail down to the site, you find remnants of
the concrete base where power was generated to supply the
Alabama towns of Fort Payne, Mentone, Valley Head,
Collinsville and Menlo, Georgia. Miller and a partner also
bought 300 acres surrounding the falls to divide into
building lots with plans for a community. Included in the
plans was a park at an old fortress below the falls. The
great depression, no doubt, played a big part in the
demise of the project.
Today DeSoto Falls is open to the public with minimal
barriers. If you want a picture of the falls at the crack
of dawn, there is no gate to bar your entrance. Except for
a couple of warning signs and some old railings, you are
free to enjoy the area in its natural state. I have seen
young kids scamper across the narrow dam and I've seen a
teenager in need of attention, disappear over the edge of
the falls to stand on a narrow rock ledge. It is a
dangerous place for those who abandon caution.
Occasionally someone jumps from the falls and is seriously
injured and I've heard of one recent death. I can't
commend the park service enough for preserving the natural
beauty of the area instead of installing chain length
fence or some other atrocity for the sake of safety, like
they have at other parks in Alabama. DeSoto Falls remains
a landmark of Alabama's natural beauty.
When Hernando DeSoto explored the nearby Coosa valley in
1540, he never visited the falls which was later named
after him. As recorded by federal troops in 1863, they
were originally known as Indian Falls. Such a beautiful
place was cherished by American Indians long before
Europeans knew the continent existed. Not far from
Mentone, across the Georgia line, artifacts have been
found that date back about 2000 years. Thirty miles away
at Russell Cave, Indians artifacts have been dated back to
around 8,000 BC. Ruins of three cave dwellings used by the
Indians still remain below DeSoto Falls. An interesting
first hand account of the area, including the ruins, was
written by Albert James Pickett in his book, History of
Alabama, in October, 1850. (Pickett)
The caves are usually referred to as the Welsh caves.
There has been speculation by historians that the caves
were built by Prince Madoc, a Welsh explorer who may have
landed in Mobile Bay in 1170. Some, however, totally
disregard the idea. Although the possibility can't be
ruled out, much of the speculation has been driven by
folklore and wishful thinking. In 1850 when Pickett
examined the caves and what has been termed a "fortress"
made of piles of stones in the river bed, he found no
evidence of anything other than the work of natives.
A precarious, 90 foot trail leads to the caves and, in
places, is only wide enough for one person. It can be
slippery and the drop-off is around 325 feet. Most of the
rocks observed by Pickett in 1850 at the ruins of the
fortress were removed by stone masons to build the dam
above the falls and probably homes. The site of the DeSoto
Falls fortress is now owned by the State of Alabama who,
along with the owners of surrounding private property,
watch over and protect the area. It is not open to the
Along the rim of Little
"Blue hole" on Little River
Brooks branch enters Little
Fall foliage alongside
Canyon Rim Drive
Boulders on Little River
Little River Canyon
Little River Canyon
Little River Canyon National Preserve
Little River is the only river in North America that runs
virtually its full course atop a mountain. It forms on top
of Lookout Mountain and reaches its base twenty-four miles
later. Along the way, you can find drops over 600 feet
from the top of sandstone cliffs to the canyon floor.
Little River Canyon is one of the deepest gorges in the
southeast and Little River is one of the wildest and
cleanest rivers in the southeast. After leaving the
canyon, it flows into Weiss Lake and on to the Coosa
River. If you are coming from Fort Payne, the nearest
city, take Ala 35 up and over the mountain until you cross
the bridge at Little River. Here you find Little River Falls
which marks the beginning of the canyon. It is easily
accessible with parking and a restroom. There is a paved
walkway to a platform overlooking the falls. At low water
levels visitors enjoy walking around the dry areas of the
river bottom just above the falls. This is one of
Alabama's most scenic waterfalls.
The calm upper stretches of Little River flow through
forested back-county until they reach Little River Falls.
The river is accessible for swimming or canoeing. Blue
Hole is a popular swimming hole a few hundred yards
upstream from the Little River Falls. There is a little
side road to pull off of Ala 35, to park by Blue Hole.
Below the falls, on the southern end of the preserve,
there are only a few access points to the deep canyon. In
the winter and early spring it offers class III and VI
whitewater for expert kayakers. I once walked down the
river from the falls until I could see the power lines
crossing the canyon at Lynn Overlook. I had hoped to cross
the river and climb up where I had previously found a way
down, but there was no way across the water without
risking getting my camera soaked. A memorable sight along
this trip was an unusually round boulder in the middle of
the rapids about the size of a bus.
After you visit Little River Falls, cross back over the
bridge and turn left onto Ala 176. This is the start of Little River Canyon Rim
Parkway, Alabama's most scenic drive, which runs
along the west rim of Little River Canyon and ends at
Canyon Mouth Park. It features a number of spectacular
overlooks. You find picnic tables and split rail fences,
but some of the more interesting views are along short
trails leading from the maintained overlooks. The main
portion of the parkway is well maintained with winding
curves and each overlook compels you to stop and see if it
is more spectacular than the previous one. If you are
willing to expend the effort to hike down to the bottom,
you will have a better perspective of the view from the
After you drive about a mile down the parkway, you come to Lynn Overlook. If you
walk the rim of the canyon back in the direction you
drove, you'll soon find a way to climb down the bluff to
the canyon floor. Few people will want to take this rough
way down, but it is one of the few ways down. There is no
trail and when you get to the bottom you should find a
marker to remind you where to go back up. There is only
one place to climb back out. I have gone alone into remote
areas of the canyon several times, but don't recommend it.
Like many such places in Alabama, there is no cell phone
reception. If you have an accident and can't climb out,
you could be in serious trouble.
Continuing along the canyon rim parkway, just past Lynn
Overlook on the other side of the road from the canyon is
Beaver Pond Trail.
This three-quarter mile loop is said to be popular with
bird watchers. It leads to a pond where beavers have made
dams and a variety of birds reside. It is an easy trail
through wooded and open areas.
If you want to take pictures of the canyon, there are a
number of picturesque views along Canyon Rim Drive.
However, bear in mind that you will be covering the same
photographic territory as hundreds of thousands of others
before you. I have noticed that even when out-of-state
professional photographers shoot the canyon, they tend to
come away with the same pictures everyone else does. If
you want unique pictures, make some effort and hike
sections of the canyon floor. In the dry summer there are
sections that are easily accessible. When the water is
higher, be prepared to wade back and forth through water
if you plan to go far. During wetter seasons, much of the
canyon is impractical to hike.
Following the canyon rim parkway, not far past Lynn
Overlook you pass over Brooks Branch and there is an
unofficial overlook where three or four cars can park.
There is a way down to the branch and on to the river.
After periods of rain it is a nice place to photograph.
The first step down from the overlook, maybe 10 ft, is the
most challenging step because you have to utilize a tree
trunk beside a stone wall to climb up and down. A nice
little waterfall which is just below the road marks the
head. There is no trail. You just follow Brooks Branch to
the river. It isn't far, but getting there involves
climbing around boulders and hopping rocks across the
branch. It is not for everyone, but when water is flowing
it is a pretty area. You should take something to drink
any time you hike into the canyon.
Following along Canyon Rim Parkway, shortly after you pass
Mushroom Rock, which sits in the middle of the road, you
come to a small pull off with a park service sign to Lower
Two Mile Trail. This is a well established trail. It is a
steep .2 mile hike to the bottom and a favorite put-in for
kayakers in the spring. If it is your first time to hike
to the canyon floor, this might be a good choice because
of the short distance.
Continuing along the parkway, after several
overlooks you eventually come to Crows Point. It is one
of my favorites. Down below, Bear Creek Canyon joins Little River
Canyon. You can look across the canyon to Eberhart Point.
Not far past Crows Point is an overlook to Grace's High Falls,
the highest waterfall in Alabama, falling 133 feet. It is
a seasonal waterfall, hundreds of yards in the distance
across Bear Creek Canyon. It offers a nice view in the
springtime before foliage blocks the view, but in the dry
summer and fall there is no falling water to see.
If you want to experience the beauty of these falls, you
can hike down into the canyon after spring rains. Few
people attempt this because it is not easy. On my first
attempt, from Little River Canyon up Bear Creek, I
eventually reached water that was too deep to cross. On my
next attempt I spent several hours hiking down Bear Creek
Canyon to the falls. I eventually found a shortcut
which can make your trip much easier. The shortcut along
with photos and an account of my trip are here: Grace's High
Further down Canyon Rim Parkway on the other side of Bear
Creek Canyon is Eberhart
Point. This overlook has picnic tables, a rest
room and a barbecue grill as well as some of the canyon's
nicest overlooks if you walk down the paths past the
official overlook. A three-quarter-mile trail leads to the
floor of Little River Canyon and is well used. This is the
easiest way to get to the canyon floor. It is not the most
scenic path down but it is wide and well maintained,
suitable for anyone with the will.
Kayakers use Eberhart trail as a take-out or as a put-in.
Downstream is seven or eight miles of long flatwater,
broken up occasionally by class II and III rapids, with
one class IV that can be easily portaged. Along the river
an unmaintained trail leads all the way to Canyon Mouth
Park. It is not well defined and in some places there
seems to be no trail at all. Some of it is fairly rugged
hiking and requires crossing the water. Also, at the
bottom of Eberhart trail, you can walk up Little River to
Bear Creek Canyon and on to Grace's Falls when the water
is low enough. The problem is, when the water is low, the
falls aren't very impressive. In the dry summer you can
explore many areas of Little River Canyon that are
impossible during wet seasons. It is a very different
experience at different times.
The best of the Canyon Rim Parkway ends at Eberhart Point.
The lower, CR 275 section of the parkway was once paved,
but is no longer maintained and full of potholes. There
are no major overlooks, however there is Powell Trail a
put-in for a class II canoe trip to Canyon Mouth Park. It
is longer than Eberhart trail and unmaintained, but well
used and more aesthetically pleasing. It is also good for
a strenuous six mile, day long hike to Canyon Mouth Park.
Or you could hike up river from Powell Trail to Eberhart
Point. Nowhere in the canyon are you allowed to stay
Canyon Mouth Park.
After leaving Eberhart Point, you can avoid CR 275 and
still reach Canyon Mouth Park by waiting and turning left
onto CR 127. It will come back into CR 275 where you will
then turn right. This soon brings you to Johnnies Creek
and Johnnies Creek Falls. Going down the mountain here
involves the steepest section of road I've seen in
After Little River flows out of the canyon it passes
through Canyon Mouth Park. This day-use facility at the
bottom of the mountain includes a restroom, running water,
picnic areas with barbecue grills, a beach area and a mile
long trail. This is the place to go when you want to pack
a picnic basket, take the family sunbathing, wading,
hiking, barbecuing and enjoying the outdoors in a park
setting. It is a popular swimming area and marks the
end of the 14,000 acre Little River Canyon Preserve, one
of the most impressive natural wonders of the south.