A trip to Grace's High Falls

By Frank Emory
Click any image for a full size tour
Bear creek converges
              with Little River
Bear Creek converges with Little River

Bear Creek
Upper section of Bear Creek

Branch joins bear
Side branch joins Bear Creek

Bear Creek
Lower section of Bear Creek

Grace's High Falls
Grace's High Falls

Rappelling Graces
              High Falls
Rappelling Graces High Falls

below graces high
Wildflowers near Grace's High Falls

I suppose most people who visit Graces High Falls get there by following Eberhart Trail into Little River Canyon and walking up Little River to Bear Creek. Once you reach Bear Creek, the best thing to do is go ahead and wade across an area that is wide, but not even knee deep. Then walk up Bear Creek as far as you can until you have to cross back over. The falls are just around the bend from there.

My son, Dylan and I attempted this after heavy rains in early April, 2008. We crossed a narrow place in the creek but it turned out to have a spot that was almost waist deep. Between the slippery bottom and the current, Dylan got his shirt soaked and I got the bottom of my camera bag wet. When we made it as far as we could go up the creek and needed to cross back over to get to Graces High Falls, it was late in the day and there was no way to tell how deep it was, so we turned back.

A couple of weeks later I decided to find a way down into the upper stretches of Bear Creek Canyon and hike down to the falls. I got to the canyon about 8:00 in the morning and after some scouting, I found a way down at a branch which is about 1.5 miles from Crows Point. With some minor difficulty, I was able to pick my way the short distance to the bottom. The water from the branch falls over a stone wall just before it reaches the canyon floor and the surrounding area is somewhat picturesque. (see photo - Upper section...) I crossed the water and spent the biggest part of an hour composing through my viewfinder. I took a few shots but got nothing spectacular. A different season, time of day or water level and better pictures might be found.

From there I spent much of the day hiking along Bear Creek trying to reach Grace's High Falls. Considering the winding course of the creek, it was probably about one and a half miles. It would have been helpful if I had noted a landmark or two when I was on the canyon rim, but it hadn't crossed my mind. Normally, one and a half miles isn't far to hike. But when you are picking your way over and around obstacles, crossing back & forth across the creek and searching for pictures, hours can go by without getting very far.

Watching for snakes can also slow you down. I have visited Little River Canyon a number of times over the years and never seen a snake, but am confident they've seen me. I know that when cold weather arrives, some snakes move to higher, dryer ground to hibernate for the winter. In a dry summer they find their way to water. On this fine day in mid April, I considered the chances of crossing paths with a snake far less than than it would be in the summer.

The canyon had been crisp earlier in the morning but by mid-day, it had warmed up. I began thinking the falls had to be around each bend in the canyon. Eventually I came to a unique place where the creek narrowed as it passed through a stone confinement and dropped lower. It was a cleaner area with flat stone and roaring water - a good place to relax and finally get a good picture. I sat may equipment down and took out my camera. I started toward the water when I spotted my death laying curled on a rock just in front of me.

An adult water moccasin, also known as the cottonmouth, was enjoying the sun. It didn't hear me because of the roaring water. Most snakes crawl away if they hear you coming, but territorial water moccasins are aggressive and will stand their ground or even approach an intruder. Unlike the copperhead which has a quick strike and release pattern, the cottonmouth has powerful jaws that latch on during a bite and deliver a big dose of venom.

I continued on after concluding that Grace's High Falls couldn't be far and if I was ever going to get a picture of it from down below, this was it. I began scanning ahead for snake shapes, determined not to step on one. A few minutes later, I looked over a rock before stepping over and there lay another one with its tail partially submerged in water. At this point I seriously questioned the importance of pictures of Graces High Falls, weighing them against the value of my life. My fifty pound dog had once been bitten by a copperhead and couldn't be touched without howling out in pain. If I were to be bitten, I wouldn't be climbing out of the canyon any time soon, if ever. I continued on in a very awkward manner trying to choose the best path and avoid snakes at the same time.

In walking through Alabama's woods, it's easy to walk with abandon. But there is one thing everyone should remember: Never step over a log or fallen tree without looking first. Logs are ideal psychological anchors for snakes. Teach your kids to always look before stepping over and every log they cross becomes a sign in the woods that reads, "Watch for Snakes."

By mid afternoon, time for taking pictures of Grace's High Falls was running out fast. I had to get out of the canyon before dark. A divergence in the terrain suggested a possible way up and out of the canyon. I spent about half an hour climbing up the side of the canyon and discovered there was, indeed, a way out. This gave me extra time and I also caught a glimpse of the falls in the distance.

To make a long story short, I eventually made it to the falls. There were climbers who had rappelled directly over the falls, right through the water. I got a few pictures but now that I know a shortcut I may go back some day for better ones. After nine hours I came out of the canyon on the other side, about 2 1/2 miles from where I was parked. Some locals stopped in the road and the driver asked if I had climbed out of the canyon. While telling him a few details of my day, the women with him kept grinning and trying to hold back from snickering. I suppose they wondered who in their right mind would want to go down in the canyon. He wished me good luck and drove off.

The shortcut to Grace's High Falls

Not far from Eberhart Point is Mile Marker 15 which is by a branch that runs into Bear Creek Canyon. On the other side of the branch from the marker, on past the branch, you will find a very steep way down to the bottom. There is no trail. At the bottom of the canyon someone has painted a yellow marker on a tree. (As of April 2008). Go down stream on Bear Creek about .4 mile and you will reach the branch which flows from Graces High Falls. This is the prettiest place on Bear Creek. It's a short hike up the branch to the falls. Good luck.