Noccalula Falls

By Frank Emory
Click any image for a full size tour
Noccalula Falls
From under Noccalula Falls

Noccalula Falls
Black Creek below Noccalula Falls

Noccalula Falls
Gnarled tree below Noccalula Falls

A family stands behind the Falls

Black Creek below Noccalula Falls
Black Creek after a downpour

branch enters black creek
A branch flowing to Black Creek

black creek
Black Creek after heavy rain


At the western end of Lookout Mountain in Gadsden Alabama lies one of our state's most impressive waterfalls, which drops 90 feet. It is one of the most visited natural attractions in Alabama and is most impressive after a period of heavy rains. During dry times, I suggest you spend your time and gas money elsewhere if you are seeking natural beauty.

There is also a botanical garden displaying over 25,000 beautiful azaleas beneath tall pine trees. I believe there is a small fee for this as well as some family attractions including a pioneer village, kiddie train and petting zoo. The petting zoo seems to be popular because it includes a variety of animals: goats, sheep, llamas, rams, a whitetail buck, rabbits and guinea pigs. The park is open from March until the end of October, whereas the waterfall itself can be visited year-round.

Along the bowl-shaped perimeter of the falls is an iron fence to prevent people from falling off. It enables you to get close to the edge without any danger. With so many visitors it is a necessary precaution, but reminds me of a zoo where you get to see wild animals, but is not quite the same as an African safari. And then there's the fast food restaurant right next door. If you want to photograph the falls, the challenge is getting a good picture without the man-made elements spoiling it. Regardless, it is a beautiful site when the water is up.

Marking the falls is a bronze statue of Cherokee princess Noccalula who, according to local legend, plunged to her death after being ordered by her father to marry a man she didn't love. Whether true or not, it is a part of Alabama folklore that has been embraced. Previously, the waterfall was known as Black Creek Falls.

Not only is there natural beauty to be seen at the top of the falls, but in Black Creek below. There used to be a trail that led to a bridge that crossed the creek downstream, but high water swept it away. I don't know if it was ever rebuilt. You can ask at the entrance to the botanical gardens if the trail is still open and if so, enter there. Or, you can get to Black Creek without paying a fee by walking along the parking lot side of the falls until it gradates down to the water. It is unmanaged by the park but that should appeal to true nature lovers.

Years ago, by the botanical gardens area, a concrete walkway and steps led down to the area behind the waterfall. That was a wonderful experience for the public but the path is now gated and locked. (If you enlarge the vertical photo you can see a family behind the falls in the late 1980's.) If you insist on going behind the cascading falls, you can walk down the canyon on the parking lot side to the creek. Then walk up to the falls and go under at your own risk. I'm sure the park officials would prefer everyone keep out. There is no trail (see the third photo). Underneath the stone ceiling behind the falls you can see heavy rocks have fallen over the years. The odds of one falling on you is small, but not impossible. The real danger is slipping and falling on the wet, jagged rocks that cover the floor. A heavy mist keeps the rocks wet and you as well.

There is some danger in going under the falls but, on the other hand, it's not nearly as dangerous as going over the falls as three kayakers did in November, 2011. Park officials said they arrived after the plunge and asked the crew to leave the property. This is probably the biggest waterfall ever ran in the Southeast U.S. You can find a dramatic video of it on YouTube.

How to get to Noccalula Falls

From Birmingham take Interstate 59 north toward Gadsden. After you pass by the main Gadsden exits you'll come to a large Naccalula Falls sign at the appropriate exit. Take a right and it's not far.