Shown above: The view at Buck’s Pocket’s Point Rock overlook
Many geological wonders are found along the eroded edges of the Cumberland Plateau in north Alabama, northwest Georgia and east Tennessee. When a creek or river interacts with the edge of a plateau, you get features like waterfalls, cascades, coves, gulfs, gorges and canyons. Rocky bluffs, natural bridges, caves and other amazing rock formations are also typical of such places.
In this article, I would like to spotlight five gorges that are found in public lands along the outline of the lower Cumberland’s Sand Mountain, Little Cumberland Mountain and Lookout Mountain in this tri-state area — roughly in the region between Chattanooga and Huntsville — where you will find it relatively easy to enjoy the lofty scenery that only these kind of gorges can provide.
Two of these gorges with publicly accessible vistas are at state parks and the others are on federal, state or local preserves. If one isn’t enough to satisfy your appetite for breathtaking panoramas, their relatively close proximity make it easy to see all of them in one weekend, or at least three of them in one day. They are:
- Buck’s Pocket State Park
- Cloudland Canyon State Park
- Little River Canyon
- Pisgah Gorge
- Walls of Jericho
At the first three, it’s possible to park close enough to the scenic overlooks that you’re only a short walk from the best views. At Pisgah Gorge, you will need to be able to hike a little over a mile — roundtrip — on beautiful mountain terrain to enjoy the most spectacular view.
You would need to spend up to a half day hiking to fully enjoy the best parts of the fifth gorge, Walls of Jericho. But, it’s a wonderful hike down, and back up, a mountain.
Here’s a map showing the locations of these five gorges:
You’ll love the gorge view at Buck’s Pocket State Park
The gorge view at Point Rock overlook is easy to get to, and you can also drive to the gorge floor to enjoy the creek area. It’s easy to photograph and share the beautiful view. It’s a great place for taking in fall colors, hiking, birding or picnicking.
Little Sauty Falls is less than a half mile from the Point Rock boardwalk. About two miles west of the overlook, South Sauty Creek’s gorge meets Guntersville Lake in a beautiful area known as Morgan’s Cove. That’s one of my favorite places for spotting bald eagles and hiking along the edge of the lake.
On the western edge of Sand Mountain, this northeast Alabama state park has a nice RV campground and about nine miles of hiking trails including a new off-road vehicle trail that opened in 2019.
The Point Rock overlook is about 78 miles from Chattanooga. It’s 60 miles from Huntsville. Smaller nearby cities include Scottsboro, Fort Payne, Boaz, Albertville and Guntersville.
Check out my article about the park: A guide to the trails at Buck’s Pocket State Park.
See the official Buck’s Pocket State Park webpage.
You’ll want to take your time taking in the jaw-dropping view at Cloudland Canyon State Park
At an elevation of nearly 1,900 feet above sea level, the primary scenic overlook at Cloudland Canyon easliy provides the highest view among the gorges featured in this article. On the western edge of Lookout Mountain, you can see a considerable distance to the north. Often above the morning clouds, it’s a great spot for photographing landscapes and fall colors, and for watching soaring raptors.
It's only about 0.2 miles from the parking lot to the overlook shown above. The area has great shade and is also the best place to park for hiking to the park’s two named waterfalls, or for a picnic. The waterfall hike is very steep but anyone who would enjoy a trail with dense alpine forest, giant boulders and a cascading creek will love it.
That canyon overlook is only about 22 miles from downtown Chattanooga. It’s 111 miles from Huntsville and about 100 miles from metro Atlanta. The town of Trenton is at the foot of Lookout Mountain only eight miles away.
Visit the official Cloudland Canyon State Park webpage.
Choose between seven deep-gorge overlooks at Little River Canyon
Pictured: Looking towards the southwest at the Wolf Creek Overlook at Little River Canyon
With a wild river and its tributaries providing awe-inspiring sights and sounds, two easily viewable waterfalls, and nine easy-to-get-to scenic overlooks, the spectacular Little River Canyon is queen of all Alabama gorges.
Seven of the overlooks are at least 200 feet above the gorge floor, and the other two are at Little River Falls in the area before the popular gorge starts getting very deep. The two highest overlooks each provide panoramic views from about 400 feet above the river.
A wonderland of enormous boulders, cliff overhangs and secret waterfalls, the canyon has its own rim parkway that gets you very close to the overlooks as it snakes its way for over 12 miles through the rugged forest on the eastern edge of Lookout Mountain starting just eight miles from Fort Payne’s historic downtown.
The gorge is the most-visited portion of the 15,000-plus acre Little River Canyon National Preserve.
Most visitors come just to see the waterfall near the state highway, but multitudes of whitewater enthusiasts, rappellers and scenic landscape lovers visit the canyon each week. In the summer, young folks in large numbers visit a popular swimming hole that’s only a few hundred yards south of the waterfall.
Personally, I have taken several hundred pictures at Little River Canyon since the 1980s. A few dozen of those can be viewed on my other canyon articles:
The overlooks at Crow Point and Eberhart Point are found at the deepest part of the canyon, but the view at Wolf Creek Overlook is just as breathtaking. You’ll want to visit at least two of those.
Pictured: Looking toward the southwest at Crow Point.
It’s 60 miles from Chattanooga, 87 miles from Huntsville and 99 miles from the Atlanta metro area to the heart of Little River Canyon.
The views at Pisgah Gorge can be a pleasant surprise and will not disappoint
It’s not at a state park or national preserve. The gorge view is found on the edge of a 33-acre tract of land adjacent to the town park. The land is owned and maintained by the local Civitan Club. But, Pisgah Gorge’s views and easy to get to waterfall viewing area surprise many first-time visitors with their scope and good looks.
Under most conditions you will hear the first waterfall as you walk past the baseball field at Pisgah Civitan Park. Follow the sound past the left side of the picnic pavilion with the red metal roof and you’ll find a large viewing deck. A short trail to the left will take you to to the banks of Little Bryant Creek at the top of the waterfall you saw from the deck.
The trail to the right will take you to a small stream that tumbles down to the second waterfall. You can walk down the stream. It’s about 70 yards down the rocky slope. Go back up to the trail and keep going until you get to a cliff overlook that offers an amazing view of the same waterfall from about 200 feet above it. Go a few hundred yards further and you will reach the lovely gorge view pictured above.
Little Bryant Creek and Bryant Creek merge just west of that overlook to form Jones Creek which then travels about three miles before emptying into Guntersville Lake at Jones Cove.
You cannot hike any further downstream as you would be trespassing on private property.
A May or early June visit to Pisgah Gorge would allow you to view a large number of mountain laurel bushes in bloom.
TRIP IDEA: While you’re around this part of Sand Mountain, consider also taking in the amazing bluff view at the town of Section’s Weathington Park, which is 13.5 miles west of Pisgah (map). It’s on the way if you’re coming from Scottsboro or Huntsville.
Like Buck’s Pocket, Pisgah Gorge is found on the western edge of Sand Mountain. It’s about 46 miles from downtown Chattanooga and 55 miles from Huntsville.
For more photos, see my article, Northeast Alabama’s Pisgah Gorge in pictures (with 20 photos).
Walk into the vista at the Walls of Jericho
There are no scenic overlooks like the four gorges above. There’s not a place where you can just drive up, walk a short distance, and lay your eyes on the distant hills and bluffs like you can at the gorges. Instead of simply viewing a great vista, you must walk into the vista.
But for hikers, it’s an amazing trek of about six miles, roundtrip, from the Alabama trailhead to the actual “walls” inside Tennessee. It’s even further if you want to see the best waterfall which is as far as you can go before turning around. You’ll need to set aside a full morning or afternoon. The hike is quite a bit longer from the Tennessee trailhead.
The Walls of Jericho Alabama trailhead is 66 miles from downtown Chattanooga and 54 miles from Huntsville.
Google map to the parking lot at the Alabama trailhead.
See also my article, Hiking at the Walls of Jericho.
All five of the gorges above are within an easy two-hour drive of Huntsville and Chattanooga in the mountains that are part of the lower Cumberland Plateau. The region is home to many beautiful places where you can enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking, boating, fishing, birding or simply taking in scenic views.
These five gorges are also among the South’s best places to enjoy fall colors with the peak usually falling in the first half of November.
For people visiting the Guntersville Lake area, or the Lookout Mountain area — or for those vacationing in Chattanooga or Huntsville — a side trip to two or more of these gorges would be a good addition to your itinerary. Of course, visiting all five in one weekend is very doable.
NOTE: Careless or foolish behavior while hiking in gorges and visiting scenic overlooks can be deadly. I cannot be held responsible for any injuries that occurs to any persons who fall from cliffs or into caves, creeks or rivers, at any of the locations mentioned on this website. Be careful out there.