Less than 50 miles from the Birmingham metro area, consider Gadsden a fun destination for a variety of water-themed outdoor activity (with 27 photos)
This midsized northeast Alabama city has a river running through its heart, a lake filled with waterfowl on its south side and an epic waterfall on its north side.
Make your way to one of Gadsden’s water-focused parks or greenways to enjoy fall foliage in November, and birdwatching, fishing, kayaking and scenic hikes any day of the year. Noccalula Falls, the Coosa River, the H. Neely Henry Lake and Black Creek provide several spots where you can have fun at the water.
Check out the map and information below for a little help planning a fun trip to the popular waterfall, plus the lake and river.
Waterside points-of-interest map large version: PDF
Gadsden Waterside Fun Quick GuideSee this entire article, including the points-of-interest map, in my FREE digital magazine:
1. Noccalula Falls Park
If you’re an Alabama resident, you’ve probably seen the 90-ft. waterfall at least once. It’s the stunning focal point of a multi-use park managed by the city of Gadsden that could actually be considered a combination amusement park and nature preserve.
Less than 2.5 miles from I-59 at exit 188, the waterfall is very easy to get to. Every week, thousands of visitors enjoy the scenery, hike or mountain bike on its trails, bring their kids to the children’s attractions, or take selfies at the statue of the native-American princess for which the falls is named after.
If you visit Noccalula Falls Park during the holiday season, you’ll get to see an amazing Christmas light display in the paid area of the park. The paid area also includes a botanical garden, a miniature train, a petting zoo, three 19th century log structures and a miniature golf course.
The waterfall and the park’s Black Creek Trails are free to enjoy, and an excellent RV campground is also located at the park. The waterfall marks the beginning of a small gorge that the creek has carved out of the southernmost tip of Lookout Mountain.
The main trail is a wide greenway of 1.7 miles in length that runs parallel to the creek as it works its way to the valley. Hikers, joggers and mountain bikers can access the crushed limestone trail at the wedding chapel near the waterfall or in the valley at the corner of Tuscaloosa Avenue and Black Creek Road (#2 on my map).
One of the main trail’s highlights is a boardwalk bridge that crosses a stream in a scenic ravine. The elevation change along the 1.7 miles is only about 170 feet — from 533 feet above sea level to 705 feet above sea level — but it has a couple of spots where the grade is over five percent.
For maximum waterside fun at Noccalula Falls, I recommend hiking on the trails that follow the edge of the creek. You can enjoy making your way along the rocky paths to a swinging bridge. The scenic gorge features a large number of massive boulders and gorgeous creekscapes. You can also walk behind the waterfall on the rocks that are almost always slippery due to the waterfall’s spray.
Learn more at noccalulafallspark.com.
Gadsden’s Coosa River waterfront
The Coosa River is one of the dominant features of the Gadsden landscape, and the city manages some wonderful riverside greenspaces where you can enjoy a variety of water-themed outdoor activities.
For those who arrive in the city by boat, there are six riverfront restaurants with docks, five with their own dock and one that’s adjacent to a city dock.
Let’s take a look at the city’s parks, boardwalks and docks that are on the Coosa River’s shore. These are free to enjoy.
3. The Riverwalk at Coosa Landing
Some great new features were completed in 2016 at the wooded tract of land adjacent to Coosa Landing. Found on the eastern banks of the river, the marina found there was already a popular launch for fishing boats and for getting a good look at the river between two historic bridges.
Now, The Riverwalk at Coosa Landing adds a great setting for exercising, birdwatching or teaching someone to fish.
Whether you bring your rod and reel, your walking or jogging shoes, a picnic lunch or a book, this is a great place for enjoying the river. Combine the historic bridges, some new wooden piers and docks, the new walking path and a wetland area, and you get a nice waterside setting regardless of your preferred activity.
A small lagoon gives anglers a shallow water option. The mostly crushed-gravel greenway is about 0.93 miles in length and features boardwalks and some small foot bridges. A Buffalo Wild Wings opened at the Riverwalk in 2019. The restaurant’s outdoor dining area overlooks the Riverwalk from only a few feet away.
If you enjoy trains, or maybe even if you don’t, you’ll want to hang around Coosa Landing until a locomotive rumbles across the 112-year old railroad bridge and trestle.
The c. 1909 railroad bridge crosses the river on the north side of Coosa Landing
You can get to the Riverwalk at Coosa Landing from behind the Dollar General store at 108. N. Hood Ave., or Buffalo Wild Wings at 91 E. Chestnut St. The Coosa Landing Marina street address is 200 Lake St. (Google map)
4. Gadsden Boardwalk and Splash Pad park
Across the river from the southern end of The Riverwalk at Coosa Landing, you’ll find another lovely riverside greenspace along with boat docks and an epic 1,000-ft. boardwalk. A still like-new splash pad is one feature of a well-manicured park that connects two restaurants to the boardwalk area.
One of the restaurants is Chili’s Grill & Bar. The other — a large seafood restaurant building — is currently vacant. A lovely fountain sits alongside the restaurants, creating a very appealing spot to wait for your table when the weather is fair.
In total, this greenspace spans over 1,500 feet on the west bank of the Coosa. It’s just off U.S. Hy, 411. (Google map)
5. Jack L. Ray Family Park
Also on the west bank of the river, this small park includes a shaded area with picnic tables, a boat launch and a nice deck for fishing or birdwatching. There’s also an area of grass between the trees and the deck that would be a good place to play catch, or to toss a football or Frisbee. Boat trailer parking is underneath the I-759 bridges. The deck, shown below, has its own parking lot.
Get to the area by turning off of U.S. Hwy. 411 between McDonalds and Waffle House on River Road. The park’s address is 129 River Road. This Google map will take you to the boat launch.
6. James D. Martin Wildlife Park
If you’ve ever driven to the rear of the Gadsden Mall, you’ve probably seen the sign for this park.
One of the best places in the Etowah County area for birders to see waterfowl, the wildlife area is found at a wide part of the Coosa’s H. Neely Henry Lake. It’s actually got two spots on the Appalachian Highlands Birding Trail map, one for the park in general, and one for the small island where dozens of herons are known to nest. The island is shown as Egret Rookery on Google maps (egrets are white herons).
You don’t have to be a birder to enjoy the James D. Martin Wildlife Park’s amenities.
Located where Black Creek meets the river, you’ll find a 1.4 miles long main greenway that will take you across the north edge of the lake before it turns south into a wetlands area. Almost completely flat for its entire length and perfect for walking, jogging and bicycling, 1 mile of the main path is constructed of crushed gravel while the other 0.4 mile is boardwalk.
In addition, there’s another nice short path at the edge of the mall parking lot. There’s also a very nice shaded doggy park, a short hiking trail on the island at the end of the main trail. And the park would certainly be a good place for fishing from the shore or a boardwalk, or for kayaking.
Google map to 11th Street trailhead (#7 on my map).
Gadsden is a good destination for a Saturday morning road trip, weekend getaway, or even a complete vacation. If you enjoy outdoor activities, be sure your visit includes one or more of these waterside properties.
Other Gadsden related articles
My trips to Gadsden almost always include a visit to its big historic downtown. See my article, Gadsden Alabama’s enduring historic downtown.