Updated Sept. 29, 2021
Pictured above: Buck’s Pocket State Park’s Point Rock overlook
I always look forward to visiting the forests, overlooks, trails and greenways in the region where I live when the leaves are changing to their fall hues around the end of October and first half of November. Any time you combine fiery leaves of yellow, crimson and orange with natural features like mountains, gorges, valleys, creeks, rivers and lakes, there is the potential for lovely fall vistas.
I prefer hiking and biking among the hardwoods that are responsible for the spectacle over viewing the color from the roadway. Here’s a checklist of the places in northeast Alabama that will be in my weekend plans when the short but sweet peak season arrives.
Little River Canyon
Little River Canyon Rim Parkway near Fort Payne
Atop Lookout Mountain, Little River Canyon is one of the easiest to get to public land preserves that you’ll find anywhere, and it’s notorious for its fall colors. Along the Canyon Rim Parkway, there are nine named scenic overlooks where you can gaze into the colorful gorge.
For hikers, you can easily walk directly into some of the most stunning canopies of hardwood trees, and if you’re willing to venture into the canyon floor you will find it to be an unforgettable fall adventure.
The canyon is one of the most beautiful outdoor attractions in this part of the South. What could be a better complement to fall foliage than waterfalls, whitewater, rock formations and bluff views?
The view at Little River Canyon's Wolf Creek Overlook
During the past decade, I accumulated a large collection of Little River Canyon photos. A fall gallery can be found near the top of this page: Galleries: Little River Canyon.
DeSoto State Park
The east fork of Little River at DeSoto State Park
Also on Lookout Mountain, DeSoto State Park is only about 9.5 miles north of Little River Canyon’s Rim Parkway. You can enjoy some of Alabama’s most spectacular fall colors by simply driving to and through the park on County Roads 89 and 618. The roads inside the park are mostly covered by canopies of hardwoods, as are the hiking trails and the popular RV campground.
The east fork of Little River forms a small gorge in the park, so riverside hiking is very rewarding visually. Be sure to walk across the little bridge at the top of Indian Falls and to make your way to the Azalea Cascades from the Talmadge Butler Boardwalk Trail.
Anytime you’re at the park, don’t miss DeSoto Falls which is technically part of the park although it’s about 7 miles to the north.
Buck’s Pocket State Park
The Point Rock overlook at Buck’s Pocket is one of the most popular spots in northeast Alabama for viewing fall colors for a reason. The view is stunning. You may even spot bald eagles while you’re there.
The hiking trails are also great for enjoying the changing colors. Be sure to visit Little Sauty Falls, Primitive Camping Road and Morgan’s Cove.
Lake Guntersville State Park
A Lake Guntersville State Park scene along the Cutchenmine Connector trail near the Short Creek boat ramp area
If you’re there at the right time, any trail or road at this large state park will reward you with great fall colors. You’ll not find a better place to combine your favorite outdoor activities with leaf viewing. Don’t miss the opportunity to hike along the edge of the lake on the Seale’s Trail, the Cutchenmine Trail or the Main Horse Trail.
You can rent a boat or kayak at the Town Creek Fishing Center and enjoy the colors and fresh air found in that area of the park. Other options include zip-lining through some treetops on the edge Taylor Mountain, playing a round of golf, or simply enjoying the views at the scenic overlooks.
However you choose to enjoy the outdoors here, don’t forget to also watch for bald eagles while you’re looking at the leaves.
Other spots along the vast shoreline of Guntersville Lake
A scene at the city of Guntersville’s Sunset Drive linear park
Other than the state park, dozens of places along the banks of the big lake are great for enjoying the fall foliage display.
Some of the best spots are inside the city limits of Scottsboro and Guntersville, some are in between and some are tucked away in backwater coves.
Pictured, from top left: A scene from Hwy. 67 between Scottsboro and Langston, at Scottsboro City Park and at Weathington Park in Section.
My 2020 article, Top 16 public spots for enjoying Guntersville Lake, describes a large number of easy to get to places where natural features like mountains, coves and shoreline come together to provide lovely views.
DeKalb County Public Fishing Lake
If you are in the Fort Payne/DeKalb County area, the vistas you can see here make it a worthwhile side trip, especially during the fall colors peak. The Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division-managed lake is about 120 acres in size, and only about 13 miles from Fort Payne.
The lake features a bait shop, a couple of fishing piers and a road that winds along the southern edge of the water taking you to some excellent spots among the tall pines and hardwoods.
NOTE: Before you plan a trip to the picturesque DeKalb County Lake, or any of the other 20-plus Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division public fishing lakes, there are a few issues to keep in mind:
- Unless you are “purposely fishing,” you can’t get on the water with any watercraft. That means you can’t enjoy your paddleboard, kayak or canoe unless you intend to fish.
- Most of the lakes, including the DeKalb County Lake, are closed from Dec. 1 to Jan. 31. That means no birding and no outdoor photography during part of the prime migratory birding season even though the DeKalb facility is site #46 of the North Alabama Birding Trail.
- During the 10 months they are open, they are only open five or six days a week.
Walls of Jericho
Turkey Creek deep within the forest known as Walls of Jericho
More remote than the other places above, but still easy to get to with trailheads that are right on the highway, Walls of Jericho is part of a large wildlife management area on the Alabama/Tennessee border. The photo above is actually within a few yards of the state line, and the primary natural wonders that attract hundreds of hikers a month are slightly inside of Tennessee.
Hiking down a hardwood-filled Cumberland Plateau mountain, and making your way along a creek, and then going back up the mountain, is as good as it gets for being close to fall foliage.
Check out my article, Hiking at the Walls of Jericho.
Green Mountain Nature Trail
If you are in the Huntsville area between the week of Halloween and the time the leaves fall from the trees, the hardwoods at Green Mountain Nature Trail (it’s also known as the Madison County Nature Trail) put on a spectacular autumn show. A large number of maples sit right on the banks of the lake.
Huntsville’s Hays Nature Preserve and Flint River Greenway
Less than 10 miles to the northeast of the Green Mountain Nature Trail above, the J.D. & Annie S. Hays Nature Preserve is a popular free destination where you can enjoy a playground with wooden equipment, an education center, about 8 miles of trails, a greenway, two small lakes, a kayak launch station, and more.
The Flint River and some of its tributaries run through the 500-plus acre tract. The paved Flint River Greenway connects to the Big Cove Greenway giving joggers and cyclists paths to get to neighborhoods to the north.
Noccalula Falls in Gadsden
The city of Gadsden’s biggest tourist attraction, the epic waterfall is the main thing to see at Noccalula Falls Park, but the trees surrounding Black Creek downstream from the falls provide some of northeast Alabama’s best close-up autumn scenery for those who are able to hike.
The park, which is near the southern tip of Lookout Mountain, has a main trail that leads all the way to and from the valley and some side trails that allow for walking among huge boulders and crossing the creek, and even venturing behind the waterfall.
See my article, Where to enjoy some waterside fun on your next trip to Gadsden.
Cherokee Rock Village
On Lookout Mountain near Sand Rock and Leesburg, this Cherokee County park is known for the gigantic sandstone boulders on the edge of the bluff overlooking Weiss Lake which is about 1,100 feet below.
I cannot imagine a better place to camp during the fall foliage season. The park features bluffside RV and tent camping sites and some short hiking paths.
A daily use fee is required.
High Falls Park
Near Geraldine and only 9 miles from Buck’s Pocket State Park, High Falls Park is operated by DeKalb County. The colors surrounding the path to the waterfall and the walking bridge that crosses over Town Creek can be spectacular.
Northeast Alabama Community College walking trail and lake
A walking path encircling a 4-acre lake is found at the rear of this community college which is between Scottsboro and Rainsville. The fall colors are great thanks to a large number of maple trees found along the the lake’s edge.
If you’re in the right place at the right time, just about any locale in the eastern half of the USA can be a great place to enjoy the visual spectacle that the hardwood trees provide in the fall.
I don’t know if I’ll get to see any of the places that are best known for their epic fall foliage — Shenandoah National Park, the Great Smoky Mountains or the Blue Ridge Parkway, for example — anytime soon. But, I’m going to soak in the colors that are found nearer to home in northeast Alabama as much as I am able.
It seems like the peak periods have occurred a little later in the past couple of years. It should occur roughly between Oct. 24 and Nov. 12. But after the above-average amount of rainfall we’ve had in 2021, who knows when the fall foliage peak will take place or what it will be like this time around? As usual, I can’t wait to find out.
For more trip inspiration about these and other nearby outdoor places, see these southernoutings.com articles: