9 Fantastic Outdoor Experiences in Fort Payne, Alabama

Located in northeast Alabama, near the state border with Tennessee and Georgia, is the city of Fort Payne. Nestled in the southern foothills of the Appalachian Mountains atop Lookout Mountain, this quaint village offers visitors who love outdoor recreation an incredible array of activities and is my favorite stop in the state for outdoor fun. .

What is your pleasure? Trek? Kayaking? Watching the waterfall? It’s all waiting for you in the Fort Payne area. Here are nine outdoor experiences not to be missed.

“Little River Falls is one of Alabama’s most spectacular waterfalls.”
(Photo credit: Joe Cuhaj)

1. Little River Falls

The 45-foot-tall Little River Falls are one of Alabama’s most spectacular waterfalls and one of the state’s most popular attractions. While many waterfalls in Alabama dry up in the summer heat, Little River still puts on a good show, despite severe droughts.

The falls are part of the Little River Canyon National Preserve and mark the start of one of the deepest canyons east of the Mississippi (more on that in a moment). The best vantage point to see the falls up close and personal is from the Little River Falls picnic area on Hwy 35. From the parking lot, a composite boardwalk makes viewing the falls ADA accessible.

The picnic area can accommodate 100 cars and enough space for motorhomes. There are also picnic tables and barbecues so you can spend a day exploring. Free entry.

Pro tip: early risers get the view

Early risers will be treated to a magnificent rainbow in the spray at sunrise. And you should arrive early. Most days the parking lot is completely full by 11 a.m.

2. True Backcountry Swimming Holes

While at Little River National Preserve, cool off in one of two good old-fashioned swimming pools.

small fall

The former is one of Alabama’s most famous swimming pools, but it suffers from an identity crisis. Some call it the Hippie Hole. At one time, its official name was Martha’s Falls. Today it is known as Little Falls.

This amazing and chilly summer treat is located at the base of Little Falls, a 10-foot waterfall not far downstream from Little River Falls. It pours over a bed of sandstone and forms this deep, cold and extremely popular swimming hole.

Here’s the catch – you have to walk to get there using the Little Falls Trail. The trail is a three-quarter mile hike (one way) along the rim of Little River Canyon. This is a moderately difficult hike until the end, where you climb steeply for about 300 feet to the river and swimming hole, but your hike will be rewarded with stunning views of the canyon as you go. of road.

The Little Falls Trail begins at the end of the Little River Falls Picnic Area Parkway on Highway 35.

blue hole

The second is Blue Hole, a calm and tranquil stretch of Little River with a slow flow making the mountain’s crystal clear waters the perfect spot for families and new swimmers. Blue Hole is located just a quarter mile east of Little River Falls on Highway 35.

Pro Tip: Be Prepared

  • The trail to Little Falls has plenty of room and takes you safely away from the edge of the canyon, but be careful and avoid looking over the edge.
  • Remember you need to take your swimming gear with you – towels, sunscreen, etc. – so don’t forget and leave them in your car.
  • The parking lot at Blue Hole is small and can fill up quickly. Arrive well before 11am
  • And remember, there are no lifeguards at swimming holes.
Spectacular fall colors at Canyon Mouth Park in Little River Canyon
A gentle stretch of water above Little River Falls in Canyon Mouth Park.
(Photo credit: James Deitsch / Shutterstock.com)

3. Kayaking on the small river

It’s hard to believe that when you marvel at the thundering falls of Little River, kayakers actually race across its turbulent waters, but they do – and that’s only for very experienced kayakers. There are stretches of the river, however, that all skill levels of kayaker can enjoy in winter and spring when the river is full.

In the miles of river above Little River Falls and at Canyon Mouth Park at the end of the preserve, kayakers will experience paddling that ranges from a gentle float trip to Class I rapids and II.

For experienced kayakers, below the falls when the river is really full and full, kayakers can shoot Class II to VI rapids. This area has been used by Olympic teams around the world for training.

Pro tip: Before launching your boat, please read the National Park Service safety tips.

Little River Canyon in Fort Payne, Alabama
Little River Canyon in Fort Payne, Alabama
(Photo credit: Joe Cuhaj)

4. Little River Canyon Rim Walk

For something a little less adventurous but still spectacular, pack a picnic and take the 18 km route on the Little River Canyon Rim Parkway for breathtaking views.

Along the route, there are eight viewpoints where you can stop and take in the incredible scenery – towering rock faces, unique rock formations and slender waterfalls, like Grace’s High Falls; the many hiking trails, like the easy-to-travel Beaver Pond Loop and the very difficult Eberhart Trail; and the many faces of nature throughout the year; the lush greens of summer and the fiery oranges, yellows and reds of fall.

The route begins less than half a mile west of the Little River Falls picnic area on Highway 35.

Pro tips: travel smart

  • Stop at the Little River Canyon Center before heading out and pick up a brochure that will show the route, lookouts, and waterfalls.
  • The park department recommends that recreational vehicles not use the parkway. It has many steep and blind turns.
DeSoto Falls from DeSoto Falls Picnic Area
DeSoto “the falls can be easily viewed from the DeSoto Falls Picnic Area on County Road 613.”
(Photo credit: Joe Cuhaj)

DeSoto State Park

A huge source of outdoor recreation in Fort Payne comes from DeSoto State Park, a 3,502-acre wilderness just northeast of the city. It’s an oasis for hikers, mountain bikers, campers, thrill seekers, and more.

5. DeSoto Falls

DeSoto Falls is one of the tallest and most stunning waterfalls in Alabama and one of the most visited.

DeSoto Falls was once a natural waterfall, but in 1925 the West Fork of Little River was dammed to create the state’s first hydroelectric plant. From the dam, the torrent rumbles over a 104-foot rock base before losing contact with the rock face and crashing into a beautiful blue pool below.

The falls are easily seen from the DeSoto Falls Picnic Area on County Road 613. From the large parking lot, an ADA-accessible paved and stone path leads to the edge of the falls for incredible views. The path is perfect for families with small children.

Pro tip: For your safety, do not cross the steel guardrail at the edge of the falls.

The ADA-accessible Talmadge Butler Boardwalk trail at DeSoto State Park.
Talmadge Butler Boardwalk Trail at DeSoto State Park “is ADA accessible with decks and picnic tables located atop the pool formed by Azalea Waterfall.”
(Photo credit: Joe Cuhaj)

6. Hike

DeSoto State Park is your base camp for hiking adventures in Fort Payne. The park has 35 miles of hiking trails that lead to spectacular views of a canyon formed by the turbulent West Fork of Little River and several waterfalls.

A favorite hike with visitors is a 2.4-mile loop made by connecting four of the park’s trails – Talmadge Butler Parkway, Azalea Cascade Trail, Laurel Falls Trail, and Lost Falls Trail. This easy hike takes you to three impressive waterfalls, starting with the Azalea Waterfall, which is framed by the vibrant colors of wild azalea when in season. The 360-foot-long boardwalk section of the hike is ADA-accessible with patios and picnic tables located atop the pool formed by Azalea Waterfall.

Pro tips: There is no entrance fee to enter the park. Be sure to pick up a trail map from the park’s country store.

7. MTB

DeSoto State Park has something for mountain bikers too – 11 miles of fast singletrack that will satisfy any cyclist’s need for speed.

The toughest route is the CCC Quarry Bike Loop, a super rough 8km track that will put your skills to the test.

For something the whole family can enjoy, there’s the Family Bike Loop, a nice and easy 2.5-mile ride through the woods that takes average riders around an hour. It is a great opportunity to bring children to have fun exploring nature.

8. Zip lining

Get your adrenaline pumping as you soar through the treetops of DeSoto State Park on the Screaming Eagle Aerial Adventure. Six zip lines, 100 to 350 feet long, and six sky bridges give you views of the park and its unique geological features like never before.

Pro tips: The aerial adventure is chargeable and reservations are recommended.

9. Camp

If you love camping, then DeSoto State Park is the place for you where you can spend a glorious night under the stars.

The park offers 94 fully hooked-up tent and RV sites with level gravel pads, water, electricity, picnic tables, and fire rings with a grill. The canopy provided by the trees makes even summer camping a pleasure, and the sites are far enough apart to give you plenty of privacy.

The park also has 18 primitive sites (without water or electricity) and wall tent sites where large cabin tents are provided – just bring your food and cooking equipment.

If you’d rather spend the night in something cozier, book a room in the 1930s Historic Lodge.

Pro tip: Make reservations well in advance of your vacation. Campsites and hotel rooms book up quickly, even in winter when visitors come to the park to stay quiet with a light dusting of snow on the ground.

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