Little River Canyon National Preserve

Little River Canyon National Preserve

Things To Do

Little River Falls

Little River Falls is located off Highway 35 next to the bridge in Gaylesville, Alabama (the bridge is the boundary between Gaylesville and Fort Payne). This is the first stop to make on your scenic tour of the park entering from the north. The formation of Little River Canyon begins here with the 45-foot waterfall. A paved semi-steep trail leads to an overlook of the falls.

The amount of water going over the falls depends on the amount of rainfall. In the winter and early spring the water level is high. Kayakers love this time of year because they can kayak the river. The water level is low in the summer and fall. No matter the season; Little River Falls is a very beautiful place to visit.

There are picnic tables and grills located in a shaded area next to the parking lot.

Restrooms (no running water) are located at the end of the parking lot.

There is a 50-car paved parking lot. You can park across the street in the excess parking lot if this lot is full.

This area is closed after dark. No parking is allowed when the park is closed. Camping is not allowed in this area.

There is no charge for this area.

Scenic Drive

The 11 mile developed scenic drive is located on the western side of the canyon along Highway 176 (off Highway 35).  This area is located near Fort Payne, Alabama. The developed scenic drive begins with Little River Falls Boardwalk Overlook and ends at Eberhart Point Overlook.

The canyon drive continues on County Road 148 (DeKalb County)/275 (Cherokee County) to the Canyon Mouth Day Use Area. Although there are no developed overlooks along this drive, the scenery is amazing at some places. This road is newly surfaced, but very steep. RVs and buses should exercise caution or avoid County Road 148/275 entirely.

The Scenic drive allows the visitor to view the splendor of the canyon from a series of overlooks. Each overlook has a pull-off to park and enjoy the scenery; very little walking is required. Touring the scenic drive and the overlooks is free of charge. It is open during daylight hours. No one is allowed in these areas after dark.

Little River Falls Boardwalk
Little River Falls Boardwalk Overlook offers a view of the falls from afar. You can see the river as it begins its journey down the canyon. This is the first overlook along the eleven mile developed scenic drive (Highway 176). The boardwalk is 100 feet long and six feet wide. It provides easy access to visitors in wheelchairs or other disabilities. In the winter and early spring you may see kayakers as they run the rapids of the river. In the summer and fall you may see wildlife along the river. The view from the overlook is very colorful in the fall. Take a few minutes and enjoy your picnic lunch at one of the several picnic tables here.

Lynn Overlook
The second turn in is Lynn Overlook. It has a long driveway through a sandstone rock glade. This rock glade is one of the best examples in the Preserve. It is the easiest to access on the rim drive. Eight rare plant species live at this site. Elf Orphine is a small red plant about an inch tall. The flower usually blooms with the onset of the spring rains. Little River Onion is a perennial herb with typical onion shape and odor. The bell shaped flower is white with a pink tinge. It is leafless and has a cluster of 15-25 flowers on top. This plant is extrememly rare outside of the Little River area, and was a candidate for the threatened and endangered species protection. Several varieties of Coreopsis including some rare species are found here. The flowers are yellow with serrated tips. When you have identified all the plants, sit down and enjoy a picnic at one of the four tables.

Mushroom Rock
Mushroom Rock is a rock formation found in the middle of Highway 176. The rock is shaped like a giant mushroom. It has also been known as Needle Eye Rock due to the slot in its base. The story is that several decades ago, a road crew constructing the original scenic drive is credited with saving this canyon landmark. Plans called for the rock formation we now call Mushroom Rock to be removed. Construction staff refused to blast it away. The crew built the road around it instead. Thanks to the determination of the crew to leave the formation intact, Mushroom Rock is in the national preserve. Writing graffiti on the rocks is illegal. The park removes graffiti with sand blasting, which deteriorates the rock.

Across from Mushroom Rock is a series of rock outcrops. This is a great place for novice climbers or children to get their first taste of rock climbing.

Hawks Glide Overlook
Hawks Glide has a great view of the fall colors. The folage is very thick at this overlook. Many interesting plant species are found here including the Coral or Trumpet Honeysuckle. You may also be fortunate enough witness the majestic flight of the soaring raptors from this overlook.

Canyon View Overlook
You can view Wolf Creek Overlook from here. This overlook offers a fantastic view of the canyon. Little River is about 400 feet below the overlook. You may see kayakers on the water during the winter or early spring. This is a great place to take photographs.The fall colors are beautiful toward the end of October through December. In the spring and summer everything is lush and green. During the winter the view is of icicles and white trees. You also have a better view of the cliffs and rapids after the leaves have fallen. There are also picnic tables available.

The sheer sandstone cliffs with the many overhangs offer a challenge to experienced rock climbers.

Wolf Creek Overlook
Wolf Creek Overlook has one of the most beautiful views of the canyon. You can see Canyon View Overlook to your left. To the right you see the deep canyon with the river running through it. You can also see the fork where Little River and Wolf Creek join together. You will want to take photo's of this view, so don't forget to bring your camera. This is the perfect place to sit at one of the picnic tables and enjoy the scenery. The sandstone cliffs tower over 400 feet above the water. During the winter you may see kayakers running the rapids in the river below. Experienced rock climbers rappel over the sheer cliffs all year long.

The stone fence at the overlook, and all the others like it throughout the park, were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930's during the Depression. The CCC consisted of men between the ages of 17-28. The men had to be physically fit, unemployed, unmarried, have family dependents, and be willing to send an allotment home to their parents. They were paid $30 a month. Twenty-five dollars was sent to their families, leaving them with only $5 a month.

Crow Point Overlook
Crow Point was named for James Oscar Crow, Sr. He generously donated the land to the state park (the land was once owned by DeSoto State Park) to permit the public an opportunity to enjoy this picturesque spot. Look down the 300 foot cliffs to see where Bear Creek and Little River join together.

Enjoy a picnic in the shade on the rocks as you enjoy the view. The trail to the overlook is about 100 yards long. It has a curved semi-steep slope. Going down the trail is easy, coming up will give you a little workout.

Grace's High Falls Overlook
Grace's High falls is 133 foot seasonal waterfall that cascades off the cliffs. The falls does not usually flow in the summer. Sit down on the bench at the overlook and enjoy the tranquil feeling as you look across the canyon at this beautiful waterfall.

Eberhart Point Overlook
Eberhart Point is the last improved overlook along the scenic drive. It was once known as Canyonland Park. It had a very popular chairlift that took you over the canyon. At the top of the overlook is a restroom, picnic tables, grills and a bulletin board with useful information.

A concrete paved trail leads you to the overlook. The trail is easy with a slight slope. Once you are at the bottom of the trail, you will see large concrete pillars. Many years ago, these pillars were used to hold the chairlift that once operated here. Turn right beside the pillars and follow the trail. The river is on your left, the cliffs on the right.

Be safe and be prepared before you hike this trail. Pack a lunch with plenty of water to drink if you plan to spend much time on the trail. Wear sturdy hiking shoes and take a first aid kit. Cell phones do not work in the canyon. Day hike as long as you like, but remember you have to come out before dark. It is much harder hiking up than it is down. If you want an easier hike, try the Beaver Pond Trail or the Canyon Mouth Day Use Trail. A dirt trail with several switchbacks leads you to the bottom of the canyon. The trail is three-quarters of a mile long. Hiking down is a moderate to hard hike. Hiking back up can be very strenuous. The trail is unmarked, rugged and full of adventure. You will see rapids, climb over and under trees, over and under rocks, cross small streams and ledges.

Kayakers float the waters about six months a year. Kayaking is difficult and only recommended for the experienced. The rapids are a Class III-VI.

Canyon Mouth Day Use Area

Canyon Mouth Day Use Area is located off Highway 273 in Cedar Bluff, Alabama. Highway 273 is located between Highway 35 and Highway 68. Turn off Highway 273 onto County Road 275, stay to the right, follow to the gate, stop at the fee booth. Pay the $3 user fee per vehicle, put the ticket stub on your dashboard and park your vehicle.

This is a day-use area. Summer hours are 8:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. The gate will be locked at closing and any remaining vehicles will be towed. Camping is not allowed in this area. There is a $3 user fee per vehicle. Season passes are available for $10. The season pass allows the vehicle you register entry into the park for the entire summer season. National Park Passes are honored at this location.

Barbecue grills and picnic tables are plentiful. Most areas are shaded with easy access to the water. Restrooms with running water are available here. A water fountain is located just outside the men's restroom. The foot wash station is perfect for washing the sand off before heading home in your vehicle. It is located near the water fountain. A pavilion is attached to the same building as the restrooms. There are no working electrical outlets. Six picnic tables are available. We do not reserve any picnic tables or the pavilion.

The trail is almost a mile long. This easy trail is a great place to walk off all the delicious picnic food you ate. You can access the water from most areas of the trail. The trail is primarily shady. It is narrow with a sand or dirt surface. There are hills but no major obstacles. The trail ends at Johnnie's Creek. The bridge to the other side has long since been washed away.

Snakes are sometimes found sunning on the rocks. Please leave them alone. All animals and plants are protected by the National Park Service. Anyone found harming or harassing wildlife, collecting plants, leaves, or rocks are subject to a fine.

Trash cans are available throughout the park. If the trash cans are full please take your trash with you. This is a wonderful place to bring the family on a picnic near the water. Your pets are welcome as long as you keep them on a leash.

Backcountry Area

This area is located north of the canyon across Highway 35. This is the only area where camping is allowed. DeSoto State Park is located in the northern section of this area. ATV riders, 4-wheel drive vehicles, horseback riders and hikers all share this area.

There are 23 miles of primitive roads. The roads are narrow. Many have uneven surfaces and sharp turns. The surface of the road is dirt and chert. Several roads have creek crossings. Go slow and use caution while driving these roads. There are many blind turns and you never know when you will meet a horseback rider, ATV rider or another vehicle. If you meet another vehicle, one of you will have to backup or pull to one side.

There are a variety of berries and nuts in this area. Visitors are welcome to collect up to a five gallon bucket per day for personal use only. All vehicles must remain on numbered roads at all times.There are endangered species in this area. Driving off the numbered roads may kill the plants and destroy the habitat. Fines will be severe if the endangered species are harmed. Mudding (purposely spinning in a muddied area) is not allowed. This could result in a fines and revocation of Off-Road Vehicle Permit. Crossing the river or creeks when the water level is high is unsafe. High water increases the chance that your vehicle will tip over or be carried downstream. If this happens, you could face severe penalties for damage to the natural resources.

Hunting is allowed during specified dates and times.

Fishing

Fishing is allowed anywhere along Little River inside the Preserve if you have a valid Alabama or Non-Resident Fishing License. Children under 16 and adults over 65 are exempt from a fishing license. Seine fishing or fishing with nets is not permitted. Canyon Mouth Day Use Area is the perfect place to fly fish. The clear water is easily accessible.

Some types of fish of interest to fishermen in Little River are:

  • Redeye Bass
  • Spotted Bass
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Longear Sunfish
  • Green Sunfish
  • Black Crappie
  • Channel Catfish
  • Flathead Catfish
  • Long-Nose Gar

You may catch an occasional trout, but the trout is not native to Little River. Privately stocked trout will sometimes escape into Little River.

The use of motorized boats is not allowed within Little River Canyon National Preserve. This includes trolling motors on boats.

ATV Riding

Off-road vehicle use within the Little River Canyon Backcountry Area has seen a dramatic increase during the past several years. Motorized conveyances regularly utilize the backcountry roads to access the area for recreational riding, hunting, fishing, etc.

County Road 295 Parking Lot
From Highway 35 (one mile before the falls heading toward Rome, Georgia) turn LEFT onto County Road 295. Veer RIGHT at the split. You will pass Edna Hill Church (old abandoned church with no windows or doors). You will cross a small bridge. Turn RIGHT into the first gravel parking lot on your RIGHT. Unload your ATV and continue on Road 05.

Contact our office if you need a map of the area.

While most of the use is by responsible operators, a number of impacts have been identified which can damage a wildlife habitat, accelerate erosion and effect water quality within the Backcountry.

The National Park Service is implementing an Off-Road Vehicle management program designed to keep the area open to safe and responsible off-road vehicle use, while simultaneously protecting the wildlife habitat and other resources in and around Little River.

Operators of any motorized vehicle can help protect riding areas by staying on designated roads and operating vehicles in a responsible manner. "Mudding," riding up and over embankments, operating in flowing streams, or operating on excessively wet or muddy roads creates unnecessary erosion, damages road and causes an increase in silt flowing into waterways. These illegal activities will result in fines and revocation of Off-Road Vehicle Permit.

As a visitor to the Preserve you are required to follow certain rules designed to ensure the health and safety of everyone and to promote a pleasant and rewarding Backcountry experience. We all have a responsibility to respect the environment, therefore, leave no trace of your passing.

* Be courteous and help preserve the roads by leaving no trace of your traveling.
* Try to avoid wet or muddy roads. Save them for dry times.
* Stay on numbered roads 01-11.
* Litter spoils everything. Please help us to keep the Preserve free of litter.
* Do not collect or disturb any plants, animals, rocks or cultural artifacts.
* Drive directly across streams when fording. It is damaging to the resources and illegal to travel up or down the streams and/or river.

By following a few safety and conservation regulations, each operator can help keep this area open for a variety of users, while also helping to protect and conserve the area.

Effective July 1, 1996, the National Park Service has established the following rules in an effort to keep safe and responsible off-road vehicle use open within Little River Canyon Backcountry.

Note that these rules apply to any and all unlicensed motorized vehicles, conveyances and modes of transportation.

Licensed motor vehicles or other conveyances displaying current license plates do not require an off-road permit, but are still subject to applicable rules.

RULES FOR OFF-ROAD VEHICLES

1. The Backcountry is a DAY-USE AREA. No riding is allowed after dark unless it is during hunting season and you are hunting.

2. While inside Little River Canyon Backcountry, the operator of any non-licensed motor conveyance must possess a signed Off-Road Vehicle Permit at all times.

3. All motorized conveyances must remain on signed and posted roads (01-11) at all times. The only permitted crossings of Little River are at Billy's Ford and Hartline (Jack's) Ford. All other travel in the streambed is prohibited.

4. The operator must possess a state-issued photographic identification at all times.

5. No person less than 16 years of age shall at any time operate any motorized conveyance.

6. The maximum number of passengers or occupants in or on any motorized conveyance shall not exceed the manufacturer's recommendation and/or the total of individual seats on the conveyance.

Permits are free and must be picked up in person at the Superintendent's office located at:

Little River Canyon National Preserve Headquarters
2141 Gault Avenue North
Fort Payne, Alabama 35967
(256) 845-9605