9 Improbable Outside Experiences In Fort Payne, Alabama

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The city of Fort Payne is located in northeastern Alabama, near the state line of Tennessee and Georgia. Nestled in the foothills of the southern Appalachian Mountains, atop Lookout Mountain, this quaint village offers outdoor recreation visitors an amazing array of activities and is my favorite place in the state for outdoor fun.

what is your pleasure Hike? kayaking? look at the waterfall? It’s all awaiting you in the Fort Payne area. Here are nine outdoor experiences not to be missed.


“Little River Falls is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Alabama.”
(Image credit: Joe Cuhaj)

1. Small river falls

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

Part of Little River Canyon National Preserve, the falls mark the start of one of the deepest canyons east of the Mississippi River (more on that in a moment). The best vantage point to see the falls up close is at the Little River Falls Picnic Area off Highway 35. A composite boardwalk from the parking lot makes viewing the falls ADA accessible.

The picnic area has space for 100 cars and enough space for RVs. There are also picnic tables and grills so you can spend a day exploring. Admission is free.

Pro tip: The early bird gets the view

Early risers are treated to a beautiful rainbow in the spray at sunrise. And you should arrive early. Most days the car park is completely full by 11am

2. Real backcountry swimming holes

Cool off in one of the two good old-fashioned swimming holes at Little River National Preserve.

Small waterfalls

The first is one of Alabama’s most famous swimming holes, 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 cold summertime treat is located at the base of Little Falls, a 10-foot cascade not far downstream from Little River Falls. It spills over a bed of sandstone to form this deep, cold and hugely popular swimming hole.

Here’s the rub – you’ll have to hike to get there via the Little Falls Trail. The trail is a three-quarter mile hike along the rim of Little River Canyon. It’s a moderate hike to the end, where you descend about 300 feet steeply to the river and swimming hole, but your hike will be rewarded with stunning views of the gorge along the way.

The Little Falls Trail begins at the end of the boardwalk at the Little River Falls Picnic Area off Highway 35.

blue hole

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

Pro Tips: Be prepared

  • The path to Little Falls is spacious and keeps you safely off the canyon rim, but still use caution and don’t look over the rim.
  • Remember that you will need to take your swimming gear with you – towels, sunscreen etc – so don’t forget them and leave them in your car.
  • The Blue Hole parking lot is small and can fill up quickly. Arrive well before 11am
  • And remember that there are no lifeguards at the swimming areas.

A gentle sheet of water above Little River Falls in Canyon Mouth Park.
(Image credit: James Deitsch / Shutterstock.com)

3. Kayaking on the small river

It’s hard to believe that kayakers actually walk through the turbulent waters while marveling at the tumbling Little River Falls, but they do—and that’s only for very experienced kayakers. However, there are sections of the river that any kayaker can enjoy during the winter and spring when the river is crowded.

In the miles of rivers above Little River Falls and in Canyon Mouth Park at the end of the reserve, kayakers have a paddling experience that ranges from a gentle raft ride to Class I and II rapids.

Experienced kayakers can shoot from Class II kayakers to Class VI rapids under the falls when the river is really flowing and full. This area has been used for training by Olympic teams from around the world.

Pro Tip: Before putting your boat in the river, please read the National Park Service safety tips.

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

4. Little River Canyon Rim Avenue

For something less adventurous but still spectacular, pack a picnic lunch and drive the 11-mile drive down the Little River Canyon Rim Parkway for some breathtaking views.

There are eight viewpoints along the route where you can stop and take in the incredible scenery – the soaring cliff faces, unique rock formations and pencil-thin waterfalls like Grace’s High Falls; the numerous hiking trails, such as the easy-to-walk Beaver Pond Loop and the extremely difficult Eberhart Trail; and the many faces of nature all year round; the lush greens of summer and the fiery oranges, yellows and reds of fall.

The ride begins less than a half mile west of the Little River Falls Picnic Area off Highway 35.

Pro Tips: Travel smart

  • Before you set off, visit the Little River Canyon Center and pick up a brochure showing the route and the viewpoints and waterfalls.
  • The valet advises RVs not to drive on the parkway. It has a lot of sharp, blind turns.

DeSoto Falls from DeSoto Falls picnic areaDeSoto “Falls can be easily viewed from the DeSoto Falls Picnic Area at County Road 613.”
(Image credit: Joe Cuhaj)

DeSoto State Park

DeSoto State Park, a 3,502-acre wilderness northeast of town, is a great source of Fort Payne’s outdoor recreation. It’s a haven for hikers, mountain bikers, campers, adventure seekers and more.

5. DeSoto cases

DeSoto Falls is one of the tallest and most impressive falls in Alabama and one of the most visited.

DeSoto Falls was once a natural waterfall, but in 1925 the West Fork of the Little River was dammed to create the state’s first hydroelectric dam. From the dam, the stream thunders 104 feet down a rocky base before losing contact with the cliff face and plunging into a beautiful blue pool below.

The falls can be easily viewed from the DeSoto Falls Picnic Area at County Road 613. From the large parking lot, a paved and rocky ADA accessible trail leads to the rim of the falls for incredible views. The trail is perfect for families with smaller children.

Pro Tip: For your own safety, do not cross the steel railings at the edge of the waterfall.

The ADA-accessible Talmadge Butler Boardwalk Trail at DeSoto State Park.
The Talmadge Butler Boardwalk Trail at DeSoto State Park “is ADA accessible with decks and picnic tables located on the pool formed by the azalea cascade.”
(Image credit: Joe Cuhaj)

6. Hiking

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

A popular hike for visitors is a 2.4-mile loop created by connecting four of the park’s trails — the Talmadge Butler Boardwalk, the Azalea Cascade Trail, the Laurel Falls Trail, and the Lost Falls Trail. This easy hike takes you to three impressive waterfalls, starting with the Azalea Cascade, which is framed by the vibrant colors of wild azaleas in season. The 360-foot boardwalk portion of the hike is ADA accessible with decks and picnic tables set on the pool formed by the azalea cascade.

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

7. Mountain biking

DeSoto State Park also has something for mountain bikers – 11 miles of fast-paced singletrack that will satisfy any biker’s craving for speed.

The most challenging route is the CCC Quarry Bike Loop, a 5-mile, super-tough route that will test your skills.

For something the whole family can enjoy, there’s the Family Bike Loop, a beautiful and easy 2.5-mile ride through the woods that takes about an hour for the average cyclist. It’s a great opportunity to get the kids having fun exploring nature.

8. Zipper lining

Get your adrenaline pumping as you soar through the treetops at DeSoto State Park at the Screaming Eagle Aerial Adventure. Six zip lines ranging in length from 100 to 350 feet and six sky bridges give you a view of the park and its unique geological features like never before.

Pro Tips: There is a fee for the Aerial Adventure and reservations are recommended.

9. Camping

If you like camping then DeSoto State Park is the place for you where you can spend a wonderful night under the stars.

The park offers 94 fully serviced tent and RV sites with level gravel surfaces, water, electricity, picnic tables, and fire pits with grills. The canopy of trees also makes summer camping fun and the pitches are spaced far enough apart to give you plenty of privacy.

The park also has 18 primitive pitches (no water or electricity) and wall tent sites where large cabin tents are provided – just bring your food and cooking supplies.

If you prefer a more comfortable night’s sleep, book a room in the 1930’s Historic Lodge.

Pro Tip: Reserve well in advance of your vacation. Campgrounds and hotel rooms fill up quickly, even in the winter when visitors come to the park looking for peace and quiet in light snow dusting.

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