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Little River Canyon: A first-time visitor’s sightseeing guide

This spectacular wild-river area is easy to experience thanks to its numerous scenic overlooks and curvy parkway that takes you to them

This article features 15 photos. Additional photos, including a fall colors gallery, can be viewed on the canyon gallery page.

Even if you have experienced the canyon dozens of times, you should still enjoy the photos and find the information helpful. Below you will find:

  • A detailed itinerary for seeing the canyon’s top scenic overlooks and other points of interest
  • A custom map showing the places mentioned in the article
  • Google map links to help you pinpoint scenic overlooks

As it is with most natural wonders and public recreation areas, there are a slew of outdoor activities that can be undertaken at the Little River Canyon National Preserve. It is best known for its views, so sightseeing is the most common activity, I’m sure. But hiking, outdoor photography, rappelling, fishing, bird watching and similar pursuits are also enjoyed by visitors practically every day. Adventurers who enjoy whitewater kayaking are often found heading downstream when the river in the gorge is suitable.

The national preserve can be considered one place with three separate parts: the gorge, the backcountry and the mouth park. The backcountry is a densely forested area of about 8,000 acres found upstream from the gorge. The mouth park, located where the river exits the gorge in the valley before it empties into the Coosa River at Weiss Lake, is a place where people enjoy picnics, swimming and exploring the river.  

Due to it’s easy to get to location, the gorge has by far the most visitors. And, it’s possible to see the most-popular sights in two hours or less. Unless you are pressed for time, I believe you’ll want to take your time and stretch your visit out to closer to three hours. 

A pair of spectacular and easy to find waterfalls and over a half dozen not-to-be-missed wild-river views await you without having to go far from your vehicle. Little River Canyon Rim Parkway (Hwy. 176) is literally only yards away from the sights described below. 

The gorge is about 11 miles long when measured at the river from Little River Falls to the Mouth Park. It’s a 22 mile trip via the Rim Parkway to travel between the same points in a car.  

Actually, the first and only thing many people see is Little River Falls. If you’re in the area, it’s worth the trip on its own, but I have often wondered how many visitors only experience this part of the preserve, and never knew what they’ve missed by not spending more time sightseeing along the Rim Parkway. 

It’s possible to see the top sights in two to three hours. If you want to experience the most-recommended scenic vistas in about two hours, consider the following itinerary. Use this map for a visual guide to the places mentioned in the article:

Map downloads: PDF

Extra-large JPG


Start at Alabama Hwy. 35 at the Canyon Center or Little River Falls

Start at the JSU Little River Canyon Center if you are there during their business hours. Then drive the short distance across the Hwy. 35 bridge to the Little River Falls parking lot (map), and take the short hike down the boardwalk trail to a viewing deck.

Google map to Canyon Center

Next, from the Little River Falls parking lot, go back 0.29 miles to the road across from the Canyon Center entrance and turn left onto the Rim Parkway (map).

The overlooks along the Rim Parkway’s first 12 miles are where you’ll discover that the views get better and better as the canyon get deeper and deeper. Each overlook has a nice large sign and a gravel parking area. There are rock and pole fences at each overlook designed to keep visitors from getting too close to the edge. Please don’t climb over them.  

The parkway is hilly and curvy like a roller coaster, and the park rangers enforce the speed limit.  

Little River Falls overlook is first only 0.42 mile down the parkway. You’ll get a nice view of the falls from a viewing deck. (map)

Falls overlook on Rim Parkway
Little River Falls overlook on the RIm Parkway
Lynn Overlook (map)

Next, continue down the parkway another 0.77 mile to the Lynn Overlook which is about 200 feet above the river. The whitewater rapids known as the Suicide section are almost directly below this point, and the Beaver Pond Trail is across the street. Just past this overlook is a good place to take a short, steep hike down to the river.

There’s a big boulder in the parkway (map)

When you start back down the parkway, go 0.87 mile to the next landmark, the Umbrella Rock, a big rock formation on a steep hill in the middle of the road. Some maps or websites call it Needle Rock or Mushroom Rock. There’s also some other massive boulders here that are worth checking out.

Lower Two-Mile Trail and Hawk’s Glide 

Hit the road again and go another mile, and, if you’re watching for it, you’ll see a sign for the Lower Two-Mile Trail and a small dirt parking area (map). Don’t stop unless you want to hike. See my canyon hiking article for details about this and other trails.

From the Lower Two-Mile Trail sign, it’s 0.74 mile to Hawk’s Glide overlook (map). From Hawk’s Glide, expect to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the water which will be about 300 feet below you. But, the best is yet to come.  

Canyon View and Wolf Creek overlooks 

Get back in your car and drive only 0.71 miles to the Canyon View overlook (map). If you walk over to the overlook ledge you can see the Wolf Creek Overlook to your right. The views are unforgettable, so have your camera ready.

FUN FACT: If you were a bird, you could fly about 800 feet to get from one overlook to the other. But since you’re only a human in a car, it’s a hilly, curvy 5,000 feet via the parkway.

Looking west from Canyon View overlook (left), and looking east

(Wolf Creek Overlook map)

Wolf Creek flows down a narrow ravine that separates these two overlooks. There’s not really a trail, but it’s my favorite place to take a two- or three-hour hike to the river and back. There are some amazing cascades and small waterfalls that most people don’t even know about. 

Crow Point (map)

You’ll understand why it’s called the Rim Parkway while you’re on the 0.97 mile section of road between the Wolf Creek Overlook and the Crow Point Overlook. The road is near the canyon’s edge, and I’m sure the views from a car or motorcycle make a lot of people nervous. It does me, each and every time.

SEE ALSO, ENCHANTED PLACES: LITTLE RIVER CANYON’ TOP HIDDEN WONDERS

If you could only visit one overlook, Crow Point would be a good choice. It’s only 6.5 miles from where this tour began at Hwy. 35. Park near the sign, walk down the hill to the overlook, and you’ll find yourself standing on top of a sheer rock cliff about 400 feet above the river. 

Crow Point view
Looking west at Crow Point

Bear Creek flows between Crow Point and Eberhart Point. Fun fact: It’s only 845 feet between these two overlooks for a bird, but it’s five miles via the parkway. 

Graces High Falls overlook (map)

Before completing the five miles from Crow Point to Eberhart Point, you’ll want to stop at the Graces High Falls overlook unless you’re visiting during a dry spell. There will probably be no falls to see if it has been dry. But it’s a nice sight if there is a good flow of water.

Graces High Falls
Graces High Falls
The overlook has a small parking area on the road’s edge, and a nice viewing deck. It’s 0.39 mile from Crow Point.

Looking at Crow Point from Eberhart Point
Eberhart Point (map)

If you are following my recommended itinerary for a two-hour sightseeing tour, this is the last stop. There are two overlooks below the Eberhart Point sign. Both provide a great view of the river and of Crow Point’s vertical rock cliff.

If you arrived at this point from the south rather than from Hwy. 35, you could do the tour in reverse easy enough.

The rim parkway continues just south of Eberhart Point at County Rd. 148, but there are not any more overlooks to visit.

There was an amusement park near Eberhart Point back in the late ‘60s to early ‘70s. It had a chairlift that took people from the top of the gorge to the river’s edge. There was a road that was built to service the chairlift, and you can hike the same path today. The hike is about 0.75 mile one-way. It’s steep with a grade of over 20 percent in a couple of spots, so it’s difficult for a short hike. 

What if you have less than two hours to spend at the gorge?

Hearing the sound of the water while overlooking this wild river from 200 to 400 feet above can make your day. But, if you don’t have time for the two-hour sightseeing tour described here, but you want to see the best parts of the gorge, the best way to shorten your itinerary would be to stop at fewer overlooks. To help you pick which ones to see, or possibly skip, on your first visit, here’s my ranking of the overlooks:

1. Crow Point
1. Eberhart Point (tie) 
3. Little River Falls boardwalk trail viewing deck 
4. Wolf Creek overlook
5. Canyon Overlook 
6. Grace High Falls overlook 
7. Lynn Overlook
8. Little River Falls overlook 
9. Hawk's Glide overlook

More than sightseeing

If you plan to do more than sightsee, there’s a lot of ways to extend your adventure.

Mountain biking and horseback riding are allowed in the backcountry area. 

A local adventure company, True Adventure Sports, is located between Dogtown and the Eberhart Point part of the canyon. They offer group rappelling, kayaking, caving, zip-lining and other outdoor activities, some of which take place at Little River Canyon National Preserve.

Due to the difficult terrain, the canyon section of the preserve has very few officially named trails for a land area of its size. For hikes over two miles, walking the rocky riverbed and fighting your way through riverside rhododendron and other bushes is necessary.  

CAUTION: Remember that cliffs, rivers, waterfalls, creeks, boulders and forested areas can be dangerous. Flash flooding is relatively common in many places in the preserve. Stay away from the riverbed following very heavy rainfall like is common with tropical storms.  

Please note that Little River Canyon’s rapids are not beginner-friendly. In fact, under many conditions, the higher-rated rapids like the Suicide Rapids, Humpty Dumpty Rapids and Bottleneck Rapids should only be attempted by seasoned whitewater enthusiasts. I’ve seen lots of kayakers leave the water and carry their gear around those places. Sadly, a good number of kayakers have drowned through the years. 

Wildlife

Naturally, most animals that are common in this region are common at the preserve. You will likely see a lot of birds and small mammals on any visit. Vultures are everywhere. Crows, hawks, ducks, geese, great blue herons, woodpeckers and other common birds are also likely to cross your gaze. 


Vultures enjoying the view at the Wolf Creek Overlook

I’ve seen flocks of wild turkeys and also been lucky enough to see falcons and kingfishers. Considering the canyon’s proximity to Weiss Lake, a bald eagle would not be a surprise.

Mammals like deer, rabbits, possums, skunks and armadillos are common, of course. I have seen an occasional coyote, fox or bobcat. There are some Eastern black bears and wild hogs in the preserve. 

There’s a lot of habitat potential for snakes, frogs, small lizards and small fish and they are, indeed, everywhere throughout the canyon.

More information

Found just a few miles outside the city of Fort Payne, the canyon was designated a State Wild and Scenic River by the Alabama legislature in 1969, and was looked after by nearby DeSoto State Park until it became a national preserve in 1992.

Little River Canyon National Preserve contains over 15,000 acres. The river is now also designated as a National Wild and Scenic River.

Snaking from north to south, Little River travels most of its length atop the plateau known as Lookout Mountain. A few creeks, including Yellow Creek, Wolf Creek, Bear Creek and Johnnies Creek, feed into it along the way.

The river forms the boundary between two Alabama counties: DeKalb and Cherokee.

Canyon Mouth Park has picnic areas, a soccer field, easy river access, a new playground and more. There is a day use fee at this area. It’s the only place in the preserve where that is true. Access to all other areas is free.

Little River Canyon is an excellent road trip, weekend getaway or staycation destination for persons traveling from the Atlanta, Birmingham, Chattanooga and Huntsville areas. Furthermore, it is one of the best things in the region to enjoy if you are vacationing in a nearby Lookout Mountain cabin, Gadsden or anywhere in northeast Alabama or northwest Georgia.

It's easy to get to Little River Canyon
FROMDISTANCEDIRECTIONS
Atlanta100 Google map
Birmingham 94 Google map
Chattanooga 58 Google map
 Learn more about the preserve:

My favorite Little River Canyon hikes

Gallery: Little River Canyon

 

Enchanted places: Little River Canyon’s top hidden wonders  

https://www.nps.gov/liri/index.htm

http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-2354