The Little River cuts a breathtaking canyon punctuated with waterfalls as it flows atop Lookout Mountain in northeast Alabama near Fort Payne — also known as the “Sock Capital of the World” and home of the country music super group “Alabama.” Little River Canyon National Preserve is a place of water and rock that can be enjoyed by car.
While some come here for rock climbing or kayaking, most folks will be satisfied to take in the views from one of eight overlooks along Canyon Rim Drive, the scenic route that snakes along the west side of the canyon south of Ala. 35.
Little River Canyon National Preserve was made a unit of the National Park System on Oct. 21, 1992. The area was previously protected by the state of Alabama as part of DeSoto Sate Park and through the leasing of 10,000 acres from Alabama Power Company for $1 a year.
Things to do
Canyon Mouth Park, the most southern spot in Little River Canyon National Preserve, offers easy access to the cool, clear water of the river. Be sure to pack a diving mask and snorkel because the water is clear enough to see the river bottom and watch all the finny critters swimming about. Take the trail that leads upstream to find less crowded swimming spots.
Canyon Mouth Park has picnic tables and restrooms, making it a fine spot to spend a lazy afternoon swimming and sunning.
Little River Canyon is a popular destination for extreme sports types. The canyon walls attract rock climbers and the rapids draw whitewater paddlers.
Hiking options are somewhat limited. Beaver Pond Trail, just off Highway 176, is an easy three-quarter mile loop trail that leads you through azaleas, pines and hardwoods to a pond created by a beaver dam. There is a short, but very steep, trail to the canyon floor 500 feet below Eberhart Point.
Why you’ll want to come back
While not part of the park, Orbix Hot Glass is a stone's throw from the canyon rim where glassblowers turn sand into art. The hot heart of the glassblowing studio is an electric furnace set to 2,000 degrees and a crucible filled with 450 pounds of molten glass. It is fascinating to watch the artisans take just a small blob — as bright, burning, glowing and pulsing as a dab of the sun — to create colorful, delicate pitchers, bowls, plates and Christmas ornaments.
Flora and fauna
When snorkeling in the Little River, you’re likely to spot blue shiners, Alabama shiners, bronze darters, rainbow trout and a variety of catfish, sunfish and bass.
Birdwatchers may spot hawks, vultures and possibly a bald eagle from one of the canyon overlooks. Other birds found in Little River Canyon National Preserve include wild turkey, evening grosbeak, purple finch, redheaded woodpeckers, nuthatches, wrens and various vireos.
By the numbers:
- Website: Little River Canyon National Preserve
- Park size: 13,797 acres or 21.5 square miles
- 2010 visitation: 192,576
- Funky fact: Little River Canyon was known as May's Gulf or May's Gulch until a name change in 1939.
Inset photo of the "mushroom" rock formation along the way: The_Gut/Flickr