The Little River Canyon and Desoto State Park
Little River Canyon National Preserve was established on October 21, 1992. Many unique habitats, gorgeous vistas, and abundant recreational opportunities are found in Preserve. Little River flows along the top of Lookout Mountain through an upland forest backcountry until it reaches Little River Falls just south of Ala. 35. The falls are the beginning of the canyon.
Little River is noted for being pure and unpolluted. The river has carved the sandstone for millennia creating a habitat for many endangered and threatened species and a playground for people that should be enjoyed for generations to come. Geology, biology and human endeavor come together to shape the stories of this precious preserve.
Canyon Rim Drive
Canyon Rim Drive (Ala. 176) follows the west rim of Little River Canyon. Sightseeing is the most frequent activity with many spectacular overlooks and undeveloped trails. Some of the overlooks have picnic tables. World class whitewater and outstanding rock climbing challenge adventurous visitors.
The drive along the canyon is breathtaking any time of year. Wildflowers blooming for most of the year add beauty to the majestic scenery. The roaring of the river and the singing of the birds mix with the soothing wind to inspire the visitors to the canyon. From the smallest mosses to the largest rock faces, the beauty and vastness of the preserve is overwhelming. Canyon Rim Drive is part of Lookout Mountain Parkway, which leaves the canyon south of Bear Creek.
Little River flows out of the canyon as it leaves Lookout Mountain at Canyon Mouth Park. This day-use facility features hiking, picnicking or simply relaxing near the water. The hiking trails here thread through the lower canyon overlooking rapids and boulder fields. This is a popular takeout for whitewater enthusiasts.
About the Backcountry
No facilities are in place in the backcountry in Little River Canyon. The backcountry is a multi-use zone with trails, whitewater, fishing, and even managed hunting. The backcountry and adjacent DeSoto State Park have scenic trails with numerous cascades and waterfalls and the best developed hiking areas.
Little River Canyon National Preserve is located in northeast Alabama, 40 miles west of Rome, 45 miles northeast of Gadsden, 50 miles southwest of Chattanooga, 75 miles east of Huntsville, and only 90 miles from Atlanta.
Little River Canyon National Preserve is best reached by Ala. 35 east of Fort Payne, Alabama. DeSoto State Park is located at the north end of the preserve on county road 89. Canyon Mouth Park is located on Ala. 273 north of Leesburg, Alabama.
Little River Canyon National Preserve
2141 Gault Avenue North
Fort Payne, AL 35967
If you are interested in hiking near The Little River and canyon area, here is a trail
description, which may help:
The Lookout Mountain Trail
Little River Canyon Mouth Campground to Ala. Hwy 35: This route requires some off trail walking on pavement as well as trail. This route follows the west rim of Little River Canyon for the next 21 miles. The paved road ascends from the campground entrance to the western rim of the canyon and follows the canyon northward.
Attractions to be seen along the Rim Parkway include Eberhart Point Park, with great views northward into Little River Canyon, Crow's Point, with great views southward into the canyon, Grace's High Falls on the south edge of Bear Creek and Umbrella Rock, a unique rock formation in the middle of the road. Little River Falls, a 60' waterfall is located just south of Ala. Hwy 35. This is the beginning of the canyon. From the bridge on Hwy 35, go 1 mile west towards Ft. Payne, then turn right (north) onto a gravel road and go .8 mile to Edna Hill Church, the southern terminus of the Desoto Scout Trail (DST).
From the church, walk down the road .2 mile. After the road turns left, take the 2nd road on your right. Cross a small creek after 200 yards and notice a DST sign on your right. You will notice DST signs along the jeep road at various distances. At approximately 1 mile, you will pass a DST Mile #13 sign on your left. Bear to your right (east) at 1.8 miles, where a road on your left intersects the trail. Descend and cross Hurricane Creek at approximately 2 miles. Continue on the roadbed.
At approximately 3.8 miles, reach the Little River at Hartline Ford, another area that allowed settlers to cross the river. The trail will cross over a small creek here and continue north parallel to the river. At 4 miles, notice a road on your left. Ascend north for a short distance at 4.3 miles. Cross a small creek at approximately 4.9 miles. Pass by several DST signs. At approximately 5.3 miles, cross a small creek. The Desoto Scout Trail (DST) will bear right (east) towards the Little River and a campsite used by scouting groups and other hikers. The trail will ascend after crossing the creek and bear left (northwest). Reach the top of the ridge at approximately 5.7 miles and continue northwest. Ascend for 200 yards, where a side trail on your right will lead east. The main trail will bear left, continuing northwest, with a side road on your left that leads southwest.
At approximately 6.7 miles, the trail will leave the jeep road and take an abrupt right turn. Come to a fenced area just off the road. Continue along the fence on your right until you reach the corner of the field. Here, cross onto the right side of the fence. This area was extremely overgrown when I hiked it and nearly impassable. Until this area is cleared and marked, I strongly recommend hiking the DST trail along the Little River to Desoto State Park.
At approximately 8 miles, the trail will reach Straight Creek near an old stone CCC bridge. Pass under the bridge ruins and cross the creek by way of the rocks in the creek-bed. Ascend to the park service road on the far side of the creek. Hike along this road for the next 1.9 miles. (At approximately 9 miles, a side trail on your right descends down to the Little River and DST Trail) Continue on the service roadbed. The trail will bear right (north) 100 yards before the end of the service road and closed entrance.
The next 1.5 miles of the trail, known as the Deep Woods Trail within Desoto State Park, will parallel Little River and the DST Trail. After passing by the picnic area, swimming pool and tennis courts, the trail will bear left and cross County Road 89 near the rock bridge church and north entrance to the park. From here, it will continue another 1.5 miles northwest before reaching the Desoto Parkway near the west entrance to the park.
De Soto State Park
DeSoto State Park is adjacent to the preserve. It has a lodge, motel, restaurant, cottages, campsites, and camp store. Activities in DeSoto State Park include a nature center, pool, playground, tennis court, trails and picnic areas.
White (Deep Woods) Trail (easy)
This is the longest of the main park trails an has a number of access points along its route, enabling one to walk sections of the trail rather than the whole trail. The first half of the trail is more secluded while the remainder of the trail east of County Road 89 runs close to the swimming pool, picnic area and numerous cottages along the stream. I am describing the trail beginning in the northwest corner of the park.
The trail starts approximately 75 yards north of the western park entrance. From the road, head east soon ascend. After crossing a clear-cut area with power lines, the trail continues to ascend to the right. Reach the park road leading to the wilderness camp area at approximately .25 mile. Cross the road and intersect the ORANGE trail in less than 300 feet. The trail quickly enters a thickly forested area and then an area with larger pine trees as it swings to the northeast. Reach the park road running through the wilderness camp area at .5 mile.
After crossing the road, the trail makes a switchback and heads southeast before reaching a clearing at approximately .75 mile. Notice a sign for the Deep Woods Trail. Bear left on the dirt road for approximately 300 feet. Another sign at this point directs the hiker to the right. The next part of the trail passes over and through a number of rock formations before it reaches County Road 89 near the northern park entrance. A short spur trail near the end leads to paved park road close to the information center building.
The next 1.5 miles of the trail run close to park facilities and along the west fork of Little River. After crossing County Road 89, the trail passes near the tennis courts and soon passes between a small creek and the swimming pool area, the WHITE and YELLOW trails merge briefly. After approximately 150 feet, bear right and ascend steeply. The WHITE trail reaches the picnic area. The trail picks up again to the left and downhill 90 feet from the end of the rock building. (Another spur trail leads downhill to intersect the YELLOW Trail)
Descend from the picnic area and cross a footbridge over Indian Falls. (A spur trail on the right leads approximately 300 feet to County Road 89) After crossing the footbridge, the trail forks (the YELLOW Trail descend to the stream; a spur trail on the right ascends to rental cottages) Take the "middle" trail, pass 2 cottages, and bear right when the trail splits again. Ascend and pass more cabins before descending. A spur trail soon descends left to intersect the YELLOW Trail. (Several connecting trails in this area allow the hiker to walk parts of both the YELLOW and WHITE trails) Another spur trail on the right ascends to the cottages. Pass Lodge Falls on your right at approximately 2.3 miles More connector trails lead down to the YELLOW trail along the river. Continue to follow the white markers as you pass half a dozen more rental cottages. The trail ends at a dirt road at approximately 3 miles. Follow the dirt road (right) past several rental cottages before coming to the Lodge/Motel.
Red (Azalea Cascade) Trail (easy)
This "maze" of connecting trails has several access points. Two parking areas on County Road 89 just south of the Country Store, as well as the ORANGE and BLUE trails, provide several points from which to walk the trails.
From the small parking area, the trail leads west and passes through two large boulders known as Needle Eye Rock. After passing through the rocks, the trail will bear left and soon reach a junction. By taking the trail to the right, you will walk along the ridge and reach a second junction at approximately .2 mile (This is the ORANGE Trail leading to Laurel Falls) from this point, the trail descends down to Laurel Creek, cross on a foot-bridge and bear left along the south side of the creek. This part of the trail will end at County Road 89, but another foot-bridge will cross the creek and intersect that part of the trail running along the north side of Laurel Creek. Bear right at this point. Another junction soon allows the hiker to bear left and walk back to the original starting point or continue along Laurel Creek before ending at a small parking area on County Road 89.
Blue (CR Caves) Trail (easy)
This "secluded" trail branches off from the RED Trail and intersects the ORANGE trail approximately 1.5 miles later.
Near the foot-bridge crossing Laurel Creek, follow the blue tree markings and ascend away from the creek. The trail passes through heavy brush and makes its way along the ridge numerous rock formations on your left. At approximately 1 mile, a spur trail on the right leads to Lost Falls on Laurel Creek. The trail continues near the creek before crossing at approximately 1.4 mile. Cross a large rocky area where the blue markers will be painted on the rocks. Intersect the ORANGE trail. (Walking to your right will lead back towards the campground area; walking straight will lead to the wilderness camping area)
Silver (Christensen) Trail (easy)
This trail is divided into two sections. The first part connects the park campground with the Information Center. The second part runs from the campground to the paved park road northwest of the campground, where it intersects the ORANGE Trail.
From the Information Center, the trail starts near the end of the parking area (Near the park road entrance into the parking area). After a short distance, the trail begins a gradual ascent. Reach the campground area at .4 mile. The trail picks up again on the other side of the pull-in campsite. From the road, the trail continues northwest and reaches a junction with the YELLOW Trail after 150 yards (This trail connects the SILVER and ORANGE trails). The SILVER Trail continues northwest and reaches the park road and ORANGE Trail at approximately 1.1 miles from the Information Center trailhead. The first part of the trail is more heavily traveled, since it connects the campground with the Information Center and Country Store.
Orange Trail (easy)
This 1.9 mile trail runs form the RED Trial to the wilderness camping area. Vehicles can be parked in the small parking area on County Road 89 for the RED Trail, or a small area .5 mile northwest of the campground entrance on the park road where the ORANGE Trail crosses the road. The road leading to the wilderness camping area is locked, with access only for those who are camping at that location. The trail from the park road to the camp area is only .2 mile; so that part of the trail may easily be walked "in&out."
From its junction with the RED Trail, the ORANGE Trail heads north and soon swings west. At .1 mile, reach a large rock structure on your left and a spur trail just ahead on your right. This short trail lead s to the nearby campground. Cross a small creek and continue, reaching another spur trail on your left at .5 mile (this short trail leads to Laurel Falls, a small falls on Laurel Creek). After crossing a rocky area, the YELLOW Trail intersects with the ORANGE Trail at approximately .7 mile (this .4 mile trail leads to the SILVER Trail just west of the campground area). At .9 mile, cross another rocky area and at 1.1 mile, reach a spur trail on your left that leads to Lost Falls, another small falls on Laurel Creek. Reach a junction with the CR Caves Trail at 1.3 miles. Blue markers on the rocks to your left will mark this trail, which crosses Laurel Creek and later intersects the Red Trail. The ORANGE Trail swings north and reaches the park road at 1.7 miles. The last .2 mile brings you to the wilderness camping area. Picnic tables and a small covered pavilion make this a nice rest stop for those who may wish to hike the WHITE Trail back to the Information Center and Country Store. This would complete a "loop" hike of approximately 3.25 miles.
Yellow (Blue Berry Lane) Trail (easy)
This .4 mile trail connects the SILVER Trail near the campground to the ORANGE Trail .2 miles from Laurel Falls. It can be walked as a "contour trail" just mentioned or in conjunction with the ORANGE and BLUE Trails to create a "loop" hike.
Gold Trail (easy)
This short 250 yard trail connects the campground area to the Country Store and Information Center. Another very short connector trail leads from the south end of the campground to intersect the ORANGE Trail. These "connector" trails allow those who use the campground easy access to the trails in the park.
Yellow (DST) Trail (moderate)
This trail is part of the longer DESOTO SCOUT TRAIL, which runs from the Comer Boy Scout Camp north of the park to an old church near Al. Highway 35 south of the park and near Little River Canyon.
Cave Trail (easy)
This is one of two short trails near Desoto Falls, which is located 7 miles northeast of the park information center. After turning off Country Road 89 onto the road leading to Desoto Falls, you will drive around several curves in the road. Look for the power lines on your right and a small road with a large boulder blocking the road from the vehicle traffic.
The trail transverses the canyon rim for approximately .5 mile. The latter part of the trail makes a loop with a nice observation point for a great view of Desoto Falls. Close to where the loop begins, there are a series of caves below the rim but accessible by climbing down approximately 10-15 feet. There is no sign posted, so the caves may be hard to locate.
Close to where the trail begins, there is a side trail to the right that leads to Icebox Cave and also to the Basin Trail.
Basin Trail (easy)
This trail begins .2 mile before the Cave Trail. Walk down the dirt road on your right and under the power lines. The trail descends to the West Fork of Little River. After approximately .2 mile, come to a large tree. The trail will descend to your right and reach the river at approximately .7 mile and ending below Desoto Falls.
For directions to Desoto State Park click here!
Kayaking The Little River