Alabama’s Little River is a big surprise. It’s one of the few rivers that originates and runs its entire length on top of a mountain. It’s also a surprise because so few people know about this scenic gem in northeastern Alabama.
The mountain is Lookout Mountain, which is essentially a high ridge extending 90 miles northeastward from Gadsden, Ala., to its abrupt end overlooking Chattanooga, Tenn. Lookout Mountain is famous for several things, including the Civil War battlefield of the same name and its current status as a mecca for hang gliding.
Little River Canyon National Preserve features a deep gorge, a scenic drive, beautiful waterfalls, steep cliffs, lovely forests and a plethora of recreational possibilities. Yet it’s surprisingly little known, having seen only 224,000 visitors last year, despite being less than two hours from Atlanta or Birmingham. Those who do come here are glad they did, because the preserve earned a 4 ½ star rating from Trip Advisor. I recommend it for any road trippers traveling in the region. If you live in Alabama, Georgia or southern Tennessee, it’s a great weekend destination.
To get there from Birmingham, take I-59 to Fort Payne (Exit 219), then drive a few miles east on SR 35 to Little River Falls. From Atlanta, take I-75 north to Exit 290, then follow SR 20 through Rome to the Alabama border. Just beyond the state line, turn right onto SR 35, which leads to the park.
At Little River Falls, you’ll find a beautiful waterfall with a short trail leading to the point where my photo was shot, as well as a picnic area and restroom. Just west of the falls, turn left onto the scenic drive that parallels the gorge for 11 miles and leads to numerous viewpoints. Activities here include hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, kayaking, canoeing, fishing and rock climbing. There’s no campground; the park is open during daylight hours only. The visitor center is on SR 35 just west of the park. There’s no entrance fee, although it costs $3 to use the Canyon Mouth Picnic Area at the south end of the preserve. You’ll find limited accommodations in Fort Payne and a wide selection in Gadsden, Ala., or Rome, Ga.
For more information, including a good park map, go to www.nps.gov/liri/