Little River Falls, Alabama

When I was looking for waterfalls to visit in Alabama during a trip this past weekend, I was surprised to find out that there were a number of waterfalls in the Little River Canyon National Preserve. Just over six years ago, I had visited DeSoto Falls State Park, which has a number of waterfalls (DeSoto Falls Indian Falls, Laurel Falls, Lost Falls, and the Azalea Cascades, and maybe a one or two others). I had no clue that just a few miles away was the Little River Canyon with even more waterfalls. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure that I would have driven the additional distance to see these other falls.

But when you miss waterfalls one time, it’s the perfect excuse to go back and visit! And so I did. The Little River Canyon is a fascinating place to visit. It is a surprisingly beautiful canyon. There is an enjoyable but winding drive that takes you along the canyon rim, and they have done a very good job of placing overlooks at the right places. But, comically enough, to see Little River Falls, you don’t have to drive along the Canyon Rim Drive (though you still should). Little River Falls is found right at the intersection of two roads before you start your journey (assuming you approach the falls from the same direction as I did).

Once you find the parking area for the falls (which isn’t particularly difficult), the “hike” to the falls isn’t particularly difficult either. There was a very nice ranger/volunteer handing out maps, and he referenced the stairs down as the “hard” path and the wheelchair accessible ramp as the “easy” way back. I thought this funny, as it seemed like there may have been only 20 or so stairs to the falls. (There were probably a few more, but there aren’t any heart warnings involved with going down these stairs, at least compared to other places I’ve been.) I actually found the ramp back up more tedious because it took me way out of the way to get back to my car! (There really aren’t any additional views to be had by taking the long way.) The views to be had at the designated areas, though, are definitely worth it. (And while you’re at this area, realize there’s a hike to another smaller waterfall, Martha’s Falls, that’s enjoyable.)

Directions:

  1. If driving along I-59, you could either take exit 218 or 222 to get to the falls. I think I took exit 222 as I was heading south, and turned left onto US-11.
  2. Drive along US-11 to the intersection of US-11 and AL-35. Turn left onto AL-35, and then turn left after a few blocks to stay on AL-35.
  3. Once on this route, it’s a pretty easy drive to the falls. The parking area for the falls is found on AL-35 just after the intersection with AL-176 (which is the scenic drive). The signage for the falls makes it relatively difficult to miss.
  4. At the parking area, it’s a short walk to the falls.

Accessibility: 10/10 (easy, there is a wheelchair-accessible ramp)
Length of Hike: 0.1 miles round trip
Height: 45′

Little River Falls in January 2016

Where in the World is Little River Falls?

Laurel Falls, Tennessee

Great Smoky Mountains National Park has a significant number of waterfalls. While not all might be roadside, the park does an outstanding job at making the waterfalls easily accessible. I’ve never seen a park with so many pullouts right near smaller, unnamed falls. Laurel Falls is one of the named falls. It may not always be the most exciting falls, but after the intense rainfall this weekend (2″+ in certain places in a short period of time), Laurel Falls was really spectacular.

The hike to the falls is consistently uphill, but not so steep that it makes one regret the hike! The hike is about 1.3 miles one-way. With the rain falling, it was an almost mystical journey. The green in the just-emerging leaves was really intense.

There are two separate drops of the falls, separated by 10 feet or so, but distinct enough that you can’t capture both falls in the same photo. The upper portion of the falls is very easily viewed from the bridge just over the creek. The lower portion can be seen just before the bridge, but is better viewed by taking a somewhat obvious path before you reach the bridge. The path is steeper, but not too difficult to hike.

Directions:

  1. The Sugarlands Visitors Center is located at the intersection of US-441 and Little River Road (which might now be named Fighting Creek Gap Road). Turn onto Little River Road and drive to the signed parking area for Laurel Falls.
  2. From the parking area, follow the trail to the falls.

Accessibility: 5/10 (moderate)
Height: 55′
Length of Hike: 2.6 miles round-trip

The lower portion of Laurel Falls (in April 2013)

The upper portion of Laurel Falls

Where in the World is Laurel Falls?

Laurel Falls, Alabama

Laurel Falls in December 2009

DeSoto State Park is most widely known for DeSoto Falls, which is an impressive waterfall in northeast Alabama. In a different area of the park, there are a number of other waterfalls that are smaller, but very enjoyable nonetheless. One of those is Laurel Falls.

The hike to Laurel Falls is very enjoyable. You first start down a boardwalk that leads to the Azalea Cascades. After passing the cascades, you begin your journey to Laurel Falls. It is not a difficult trail, but I do remember it being slightly confusing. Follow the red/orange diamonds to prevent yourself from getting lost.

After about 1/2 a mile, you’ll come to a rock on the ground that is pained with the name Laurel Falls. Take the short trail to the falls, and you’ll be impressed. The falls along this creek do seem to be highly dependent on the amount of rainfall. When I visited in December, the weather was amazingly comfortable, and the falls were flowing. I’m not sure that I would want to do this in the depths of summer!

Directions:

  1. From I-59, head toward DeSoto State Park. There are multiple ways to get there, and the way I took did not pass through Fort Payne. Other directions go through Fort Payne.
  2. Follow the signs to DeSoto State Park, as they’re pretty clearly placed along major intersections.
  3. You’re heading toward DeKalb County Road 89. You’ll drive for a ways on this road until you enter the state park.
  4. From the direction I entered, I saw the gift shop first. I kept heading down County Road 89, and if I had kept going, I would have gone to Fort Payne.
  5. Locate the parking are for the Azalea Cascades Boardwalk and park here.
  6. Head down the boardwalk past the Azalea Cascades.
  7. To your right, there should be a trail heading uphill that is has red/orange (blue trail may also get you there) diamonds posted on the trees. Follow this trail.
  8. Pass the sign for the campground, continuing on the red/orange trail.
  9. After a ways (1/2 of a mile?), you’ll pass a rock on the ground painted with the name Laurel Falls. Follow the short detour to the falls. If you keep hiking along this trail, you’ll also end up at Lost Falls.

Accessibility: 8/10 (easy/moderate, in December, there were a number of large trees blocking parts of the trail)
Height: 8′
Length of Hike: 1 mile round-trip

Where in the World is Laurel Falls?

Lost Falls, Alabama

Lost Falls in late December 2009

Lost Falls isn’t truly “lost”. Obviously somebody has found it. As you’re hiking to the falls, though, you may feel that you could get lost finding it. Not that the hike is all that difficult, but the trail meanders. You’ll walk through mini-cascades (you won’t get wet). You’ll pass by a number of points that will make you THINK you’re near a waterfall, but you’re probably not…at least not a significant waterfall.

The trail leading to the falls is marked with red/orange markers. (You may also be able to find these falls on the blue trail.) This definitely does help, but you’ll need to pay attention. It’s so easy to get caught up in the beautiful forest around you, only to find out that you’re not where you thought you were. The two falls along the trail, Laurel Falls and Lost Falls, are both marked with painted rocks…an interesting little touch. At least there’s something indicating you’re on the right path. I’ve been to some waterfalls where I’ve gotten much more lost.

Directions:

  1. From I-59, head toward DeSoto State Park. There are multiple ways to get there, and the way I took did not pass through Fort Payne. Other directions go through Fort Payne.
  2. Follow the signs to DeSoto State Park, as they’re pretty clearly placed along major intersections.
  3. You’re heading toward DeKalb County Road 89. You’ll drive for a ways on this road until you enter the state park.
  4. From the direction I entered, I saw the gift shop first. I kept heading down County Road 89, and if I had kept going, I would have gone to Fort Payne.
  5. Locate the parking are for the Azalea Cascades Boardwalk and park here.
  6. Head down the boardwalk past the Azalea Cascades.
  7. To your right, there should be a trail heading uphill that is has red/orange diamonds posted on the trees. Follow this trail. (As mentioned, you may be able to follow the blue trail as well, and there is a Lost Falls Trail Head on the opposite side of this blue trail.)
  8. Pass the sign for the campground, continuing on the red/orange trail.
  9. After a ways (1/2 of a mile?), you’ll pass a rock on the ground painted with the name Laurel Falls. Keep going.
  10. After another 1/2 mile (?), you’ll end up at another rock for Lost Falls. Take that side-trail, which is rather short, down to the falls.

Accessibility: 8/10 (in December, there were a number of large trees blocking parts of the trail)
Height: 10′
Length of Hike: ~2.5 miles round-trip from Azalea Boardwalk

Where in the World is Lost Falls?