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Little River Canyon National Preserve

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Little River Canyon National Preserve: Journey into Alabama’s Wilderness

Little River Canyon National Preserve, located in northeast Alabama on the border of DeKalb and Cherokee Counties, was established in 1992. The preserve spans 15,288 acres, with 11,042 acres under federal ownership and management. Its primary purpose is to protect the remarkable landscapes of Little River Canyon, the pristine Little River, and the diverse plant and animal species that inhabit the area. Together with the adjacent Desoto State Park, Little River Canyon National Preserve offers a wealth of scenic views and recreational opportunities for both locals and visitors.

Situated on the southern edge of the Cumberland Plateau, the preserve showcases the unique topography of this region. Comprised of sandstone and other sedimentary rocks, the area has been shaped over millions of years by water erosion, resulting in a stunning landscape of ridges, outcroppings, and gorges. Little River Canyon, a prominent feature of the preserve, is a remarkable testament to this erosive process. Carved into the flat top of Lookout Mountain, the canyon reaches depths exceeding 600 feet, making it one of the deepest canyons east of the Mississippi River and the deepest in Alabama.

Little River Canyon National Preserve protects and provides for the enjoyment of the scenery, ecology, and history surrounding one of the Southeast’s deepest canyons carved by the nation’s longest mountain-top river. – Little River Canyon National Preserve Purpose Statement

The defining force behind the creation of Little River Canyon is the Little River itself. Noteworthy for flowing atop a mountain for most of its length, the river boasts exceptional water quality. Originating in northwestern Georgia, the river maintains its pristine condition as it meanders its way to Weiss Lake. The protection of this water quality, as well as the preservation of the scenic, recreational, and ecological values, is ensured by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the designation of the river and its tributaries as Outstanding National Resource Waters by the state of Alabama.

The diversity of plant and animal species within Little River Canyon is particularly notable. The convergence of the Cumberland Plateau and Gulf Coastal Plain physiographic regions, combined with the varied microhabitats created by the rugged canyon features, has resulted in a rich and unique ecological community. Some species found in the preserve are of special conservation concern due to their limited geographic distribution, such as the Kral’s water-plantain (Sagittaria secundifolia). Additionally, federally endangered species like the green pitcher plant (Sarracenia oreophila) can be found within the preserve.

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Visitors to Little River Canyon National Preserve can partake in a wide range of recreational activities. Swimming, fishing, climbing, and world-class whitewater paddling are among the popular options, with peak paddling season occurring during the winter and spring months. Canyon Rim Drive, also known as Alabama State Road 176, runs along the west rim of the canyon, offering scenic drives and access to several overlooks providing breathtaking views into the canyon. Cherokee County Road 275 extends along the west rim, leading down to the canyon mouth. Hunting and trapping activities, managed in collaboration with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, are permitted within the preserve according to established legislation.

Little River Canyon National Preserve is a cherished natural gem that showcases the unique beauty and ecological diversity of northeast Alabama. Whether visitors seek awe-inspiring vistas, outdoor adventures, or encounters with rare plant and animal species, the preserve offers an array of experiences for all who venture into its remarkable landscapes.

Things to Do at Little River Canyon National Preserve

Little River Canyon National Preserve is renowned for its enchanting waterfalls, which serve as the crown jewels of this natural paradise.

Little River Falls: Standing at an impressive height of 45 feet, Little River Falls is the most iconic and visually striking waterfall within the preserve. Carved meticulously through sandstone over countless years, the roaring waters have sculpted a magnificent canyon that leaves visitors in awe. The flow of the falls is strongly influenced by the seasons, so planning your visit during rainy months guarantees a more dramatic and captivating view. As the cascading waters plunge into the pool below, they create a refreshing oasis, perfect for those seeking respite from the summer heat. Adventurous souls can take a dip in the inviting swimming holes, feeling the exhilaration of the powerful current. For visitors with limited mobility, the nearby boardwalk offers accessible pathways, ensuring that everyone can marvel at the captivating spectacle of Little River Falls.

Little Falls (Martha’s Falls): While not as towering as its counterpart, Little Falls, also known as Martha’s Falls, exudes its own unique charm. Nestled amidst lush greenery, this picturesque waterfall cascades gracefully into a serene pool, forming a tranquil haven for those seeking solace in nature’s embrace. To reach the falls, a scenic 0.75-mile trail, bearing the same name, leads adventurers on a captivating journey through the preserve. Descending 137 steps to the riverbank, hikers are rewarded with the soothing sound of rushing water and the opportunity to immerse themselves in the enchanting surroundings.

Grace High Falls: Rising as the tallest of the falls within Little River Canyon National Preserve, Grace High Falls showcases nature’s grandeur in all its splendor. However, its seasonal nature makes it a sight to behold during periods of increased water flow. When conditions are favorable, visitors are treated to a breathtaking display of cascading water as it plunges from towering heights, evoking a sense of wonder and admiration.

Beyond its stunning waterfalls and captivating trails, Little River Canyon National Preserve entices adventure seekers with an array of water activities that promise exhilaration and unforgettable experiences.

Little River Canyon is a paradise for kayakers and canoeists, offering a range of experiences suitable for all skill levels. Whether you’re a novice looking for a leisurely paddle or an experienced kayaker seeking an adrenaline rush, the river has it all. The calm stretches of the river, especially below the falls, provide an ideal environment for beginners to hone their skills and savor the tranquil beauty of the surroundings. As you navigate the river, keep an eye out for the abundant wildlife that inhabits the area, including turtles, otters, and a variety of bird species.

For those seeking a more thrilling escapade, the rapids below the falls present a formidable challenge. With fast-moving water and complex currents, these rapids demand precision and skill. Experienced kayakers will find themselves immersed in an adrenaline-fueled adventure, as they navigate the tumultuous waters and conquer the untamed forces of nature.

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Anglers will find themselves in angling paradise when they cast their lines in the pristine waters of Little River. The river is home to a diverse range of fish species, providing ample opportunities for a rewarding fishing experience. Fly fishing enthusiasts, in particular, will be delighted to discover the Red-eye Bass, a prized catch known for its spirited fight and impressive size, reaching up to 17 inches in length. As you wade into the cool waters, surrounded by the scenic beauty of the preserve, the tranquility of the moment is only disrupted by the excitement of a biting fish. It’s important to note that visitors aged 16 to 65 are required to obtain an Alabama or Non-Resident Fishing License to indulge in this beloved pastime.

A scenic drive along the 11-mile Little River Canyon Rim Parkway is an absolute must for any visitor to the area. As you navigate the winding road, you’ll be treated to awe-inspiring views of the waterfalls and towering rock walls that define the preserve. Eight overlooks are strategically positioned along the parkway, providing perfect spots to pause, absorb the grandeur of the landscape, and capture breathtaking photographs. From these vantage points, you can witness the sheer power of the falls and admire the intricate details of the sandstone cliffs that have withstood the test of time.

For those seeking to venture off the beaten path, Little River Canyon National Preserve offers opportunities for backcountry exploration. With 23 miles open to 4-wheel-drive vehicles, horseback riders, cyclists, and hikers, the possibilities are endless. Immerse yourself in the wilderness as you traverse rugged trails, discover hidden waterfalls, and witness the vibrant tapestry of flora and fauna that thrives in this untamed realm. As you embark on your backcountry adventure, be sure to come prepared with appropriate equipment, ample supplies, and a deep respect for the fragility of the natural environment.

Little River Canyon National Preserve is not just a haven for outdoor enthusiasts; it also offers a range of recreational facilities and amenities to cater to visitors of all ages.

With picnic benches, grills, and lush green spaces scattered throughout the preserve, Little River Canyon offers an idyllic setting for a family-oriented day of outdoor enjoyment. Pack a delicious lunch, spread out a blanket, and indulge in a leisurely feast while surrounded by the serene beauty of nature. Children can frolic on the playground, their laughter harmonizing with the sounds of birds and rustling leaves. For those seeking a more active pastime, the soccer pitch provides an opportunity for friendly competition and energetic play. Whether you’re hosting a family gathering, celebrating a special occasion, or simply cherishing quality time with loved ones, Little River Canyon National Preserve has all the ingredients for a memorable day filled with laughter and joy.

To ensure visitors’ comfort and convenience, Little River Canyon National Preserve offers a range of facilities and services. Restroom facilities are strategically located throughout the preserve, providing essential amenities for visitors to freshen up during their outdoor adventures. Additionally, a pavilion is available for reservation, perfect for hosting group events and celebrations amidst the picturesque surroundings. While camping within the preserve itself is not permitted, nearby DeSoto State Park and private campgrounds located just outside the preserve offer camping facilities for those who wish to extend their stay.

The Little River Canyon Center, which features a gift shop offering nature-inspired treasures, welcomes visitors from Tuesday to Sunday, between 10 am and 4 pm. The best part? Admission to the center is completely free, allowing you to immerse yourself in the educational exhibits and gain valuable insights into the preserve’s natural and cultural history (hours and admission subject to change).

Canyon Mouth Park, another notable area within the preserve, operates under varying opening hours throughout the seasons. In spring and fall, it opens from 8 am to 6 pm, extending its hours until 7 pm during the summer months. In winter, the park closes an hour earlier at 5 pm. These hours are subject to change, so it’s advisable to check with the park authorities or visit the official website for the most up-to-date information.

When it comes to admission fees, vehicle entry to the preserve is priced at $15 per day, granting access to the breathtaking natural wonders and recreational opportunities. For frequent visitors and enthusiasts, annual passes are also available, allowing unlimited access throughout the year at a discounted rate (admission fee subject to change).

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Little River Canyon National Preserve stands as a testament to the power and beauty of nature, captivating all who venture into its embrace. From the majestic waterfalls that cascade into pristine pools, to the exhilarating adventures that await on the river, every corner of this preserve beckons with untamed splendor. With its extensive trail network, accessible pathways, and recreational facilities, Little River Canyon National Preserve offers something for everyone, ensuring that visitors of all ages can create lasting memories amidst the wonders of the natural world. So pack your bags, lace up your hiking boots, and embark on a journey of discovery as you immerse yourself in the enchanting realm of Little River Canyon National Preserve.

The Flora and Fauna of Little River Canyon National Preserve

Little River Canyon National Preserve is not only a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts but also a haven for a diverse array of plant and animal species. This chapter explores the vibrant ecosystem that thrives within the preserve’s boundaries, highlighting the rich biodiversity and the unique creatures that call this remarkable landscape home.

The preserve’s varied topography, ranging from deep canyons to towering cliffs, supports a wide range of plant communities, each adapted to specific ecological niches. From lush forests to rocky slopes, Little River Canyon boasts a tapestry of plant life that adds to its natural beauty and ecological significance.

The forests within the preserve are primarily composed of hardwood trees such as oak, hickory, and maple. These majestic trees provide vital habitat and food sources for a multitude of wildlife species. Along the riverbanks, you’ll find stands of willow, sycamore, and river birch, their leaves shimmering in the sunlight and offering shade to the river’s inhabitants.

Throughout the preserve, wildflowers add splashes of color to the landscape. From the delicate blooms of trillium and lady’s slipper to the vibrant petals of cardinal flower and black-eyed Susan, these wildflowers create a stunning display during the spring and summer months. Additionally, the rocky cliffs and slopes are adorned with hardy plants such as mosses, lichens, and ferns, which cling to the rugged surfaces, adapting to the harsh conditions.

Little River Canyon National Preserve provides a sanctuary for a remarkable array of animal species, ranging from elusive mammals to graceful birds and fascinating reptiles. The preserve’s diverse habitats support a thriving ecosystem that supports both common and rare species.

Among the mammals that roam the preserve are the white-tailed deer, raccoons, gray foxes, and bobcats. These elusive creatures find refuge within the dense forests and secluded canyons, utilizing the natural cover and abundant food sources available. The preserve also hosts smaller mammals, including squirrels, rabbits, and bats, which contribute to the intricate web of life within the ecosystem.

Bird enthusiasts will be delighted by the presence of over 147 species of birds within the preserve. The diverse habitats offer nesting grounds and foraging areas for a wide range of avian species, from songbirds like the Eastern bluebird and Carolina wren to raptors such as the red-tailed hawk and bald eagle. The melodious tunes of warblers and thrushes fill the air, while the aerial acrobatics of swallows and swifts add to the spectacle.

Little River itself is home to various fish species, including smallmouth bass, redeye bass, and sunfish. These fish species thrive in the clear, cool waters of the river, attracting anglers seeking a rewarding fishing experience. Additionally, the preserve’s aquatic habitats support an array of amphibians, such as frogs and salamanders, and reptiles, including turtles and snakes.

The preservation and protection of the diverse flora and fauna within Little River Canyon National Preserve is a key focus for the National Park Service. Efforts are made to maintain and restore habitats, ensuring the long-term survival of the species that depend on them. Scientific research and monitoring programs provide valuable insights into the population dynamics and ecological interactions of the preserve’s wildlife.

Visitors to the preserve can engage in citizen science initiatives, contributing to ongoing research efforts by documenting their wildlife observations. These observations help researchers gain a better understanding of the biodiversity within the preserve and inform conservation strategies for the future.

Little River Canyon National Preserve is more than just a picturesque landscape; it is a thriving ecosystem teeming with plant and animal life. From the towering hardwood forests to the crystal-clear waters of the river, the preserve provides a home for a diverse array of species. As you explore the trails and witness the wonders of this natural treasure, take a moment to appreciate the intricate web of life that exists within its boundaries. Little River Canyon National Preserve stands as a testament to the importance of preserving and protecting our natural heritage for future generations to enjoy.

Little River Canyon National Preserve History

Little River Canyon National Preserve is not only a testament to the power of nature but also a place steeped in history. The preserve’s captivating landscapes have witnessed the passage of time, with human civilizations leaving their indelible mark on the land. Let’s delve into the rich history that adds depth and significance to this remarkable natural treasure.

Long before European settlers arrived in the region, Native American tribes thrived along the banks of the Little River and within the surrounding areas. The Cherokee and Creek tribes were among the indigenous groups who called this land home. These native peoples relied on the abundant resources provided by the river and its surrounding forests. The river served as a vital source of sustenance, providing fish and fresh water, while the forests supplied game for hunting and materials for crafting tools, shelters, and clothing.

The Native Americans had a deep spiritual connection to the land, viewing it as sacred and essential to their way of life. As you explore the preserve today, you can still feel the echoes of their presence in the form of ancient artifacts and traces of their settlements. These remnants serve as reminders of the vibrant cultures that once flourished in harmony with nature within the very boundaries of the preserve.

The arrival of European settlers in the 19th century brought significant changes to the region surrounding Little River Canyon. The land, previously inhabited by Native American tribes, became part of the expanding United States and was gradually transformed by the forces of industrialization and development.

The abundant water resources of Little River attracted settlers who recognized the potential for harnessing its power for industrial purposes. Along the riverbanks, water mills and small-scale factories sprung up, taking advantage of the river’s energy to power sawmills, gristmills, and textile mills. These enterprises played a crucial role in the local economy, shaping the landscape and providing employment opportunities for the growing population.

The industrialization of the region, however, came at a cost. As factories and mills proliferated, the once-pristine natural landscape experienced the impacts of deforestation and pollution. The unregulated exploitation of resources threatened the delicate ecological balance that had existed for centuries, necessitating a shift towards conservation and preservation.

Recognizing the need to protect and preserve the natural beauty and ecological integrity of Little River Canyon, conservation efforts began to emerge in the early 20th century. Local residents, environmentalists, and concerned citizens rallied together to safeguard this unique landscape for future generations.

In 1992, the efforts culminated in the establishment of Little River Canyon National Preserve, designated as a protected area under the National Park System. This designation granted the preserve the necessary resources and recognition to ensure its long-term preservation and accessibility to the public. Today, the National Park Service oversees the management and conservation of the preserve, working diligently to balance preservation with recreational opportunities for visitors.

Beyond its natural beauty, Little River Canyon National Preserve also holds cultural significance. The preserve’s visitor center and interpretive exhibits offer a glimpse into the region’s history, showcasing the interplay between human civilizations and the surrounding landscape. Visitors can explore displays that highlight the traditional practices, tools, and artifacts of Native American cultures that once thrived in the area. Additionally, the center provides educational programs and guided tours, allowing visitors to delve deeper into the history and ecological significance of the preserve.

By understanding the historical context of Little River Canyon, visitors gain a greater appreciation for the land’s resilience and the importance of its preservation. The preserve stands as a living testament to the interwoven relationship between human history and the natural world, reminding us of the need to protect and cherish these precious landscapes.

Little River Canyon National Preserve is a place where history comes alive. From the presence of Native American tribes who revered the land to the industrialization and subsequent preservation efforts, the preserve’s history adds depth and significance to its breathtaking landscapes. As you explore the trails, gaze upon the waterfalls, and immerse yourself in the wonders of the preserve, take a moment to reflect on the stories that shaped this remarkable place. Little River Canyon National Preserve stands as a testament to the power of conservation, reminding us of our responsibility to protect and preserve the natural and cultural heritage that defines this extraordinary landscape.

Little River Canyon National Preserve Trails

Little River Canyon National Preserve boasts an extensive network of trails that cater to hikers of all skill levels, inviting them to explore the hidden treasures of this natural wonderland.

For seasoned hikers seeking a thrilling and rewarding adventure, Little River Canyon National Preserve offers a selection of challenging trails that wind through dense forests and rugged terrain. These trails not only provide a rigorous workout but also grant hikers unparalleled access to breathtaking viewpoints and hidden gems. Among the most notable are:

Eberhart Trail: Short but steam, this 0.8 mile journey that winds through lush woodlands, rewarding you you to a beautiful swimming spot and rocks to lay out on. As you traverse the trail, be prepared to encounter steep inclines and rocky terrain, rewarding your efforts with captivating vistas that showcase the preserve’s natural grandeur.

Little River Backcountry Trail: A true test of endurance, the Backcountry Trail spans approximately .3 miles and immerses hikers in the untamed beauty of the preserve. This trail takes you deep into the heart of nature, where you’ll encounter captivating rock formations, cascading streams, and the opportunity to observe the diverse wildlife that calls the preserve home.

Little River Canyon National Preserve also caters to visitors who prefer a more leisurely hiking experience or have mobility limitations. These accessible trails ensure that everyone can savor the natural beauty without constraints. Notable options include:

Little River Canyon Trail: Meandering for 1.4 miles, the Canyon Mouth Park Trail offers a scenic stroll along the riverbank, allowing visitors to relish the tranquil views of the canyon rim, and a rewarding waterfall at the end. This easy trail is perfect for families and those seeking a more relaxed outing while still enjoying the picturesque landscape.

Beaver Pond Trail: This simple short trail (1.4 miles) offers a nice stroll through the woods for hikers and more casual walkers alike. Don’t be fooled by the name though – there’s no pond view!

What’s Nearby Little River Canyon National Preserve

Little River Canyon National Preserve is surrounded by several noteworthy destinations that offer additional recreational opportunities and natural beauty. Just a short drive away is DeSoto State Park, located in Fort Payne, Alabama. This scenic park features stunning waterfalls, hiking trails, and campsites, providing visitors with a chance to immerse themselves in the beauty of the region. Another nearby park is James H. “Sloppy” Floyd State Park, situated in Summerville, Georgia. This serene park boasts a peaceful lake for fishing and boating, as well as picnic areas and nature trails.

Cloudland Canyon State Park, located in Rising Fawn, Georgia, is a must-visit destination known for its breathtaking views of the canyon, waterfalls, and extensive hiking trails. Manning Mill Park, situated in Rockmart, Georgia, offers opportunities for outdoor activities such as fishing, hiking, and picnicking in a tranquil setting. Lastly, Fort Mountain State Park, located in Chatsworth, Georgia, features a scenic lake, miles of trails, and an ancient stone fire tower, all surrounded by the beauty of the Chattahoochee National Forest. These nearby locations provide visitors with a variety of options to explore and enjoy the natural wonders of the area surrounding Little River Canyon National Preserve.

Little River Canyon National Preserve Parking Information

To access Little River Canyon National Preserve, visitors can follow the directions to the main entrance located on Highway 35 in Fort Payne, Alabama. From the town center, head northeast on Highway 35 for approximately 10 miles until you reach the entrance of the preserve.The entrance is well marked with signage

There is ample parking available at the entrance area, including a nearby paved parking lot. However, during peak periods and weekends, the parking lot can fill up quickly, so it is advisable to arrive early or consider carpooling if possible.

Additional parking areas can be found at various trailheads and overlooks throughout the preserve, allowing visitors to explore different sections of the park. Be sure to obey all parking regulations and respect any designated parking areas to ensure a smooth and enjoyable visit to Little River Canyon National Preserve.

Further Reading

Little River Canyon National Preserve Photos

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Little River Canyon National Preserve Address & Directions

Little River Canyon National Preserve, 4322 Little River Trail #100, Fort Payne, AL 35967


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