DeSoto Falls is a magnificent 100-foot waterfall on the outskirts of the charming town of Mentone, Alabama. Formed where the West Fork of the Little River plunges off a Lookout Mountain cliff, the waterfall is one of the most beautiful in the South.
The waterfall is one of the tallest and most visited in Alabama, Named for Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto, it is part of DeSoto State Park and is just off the Lookout Mountain Parkway.
A paved pathway leads a few hundred yards from the parking lot down to the railed overlooks. The upper falls are accessible to visitors of all abilities, but the lower or main waterfall requires a walk down concrete steps to an overlook.
DeSoto Falls have been a landmark for thousands of years. Native Americans frequented the waterfall area long before the arrival of the first European explorers. Native Americans of the Woodland era (1000 B.C. to A.D. 900) even made use of the caves that can be seen high in the rocky bluffs that surround the falls.
One old Alabama legend holds that Hernando de Soto was not the first European explorer to reach the area. Several small caves in the bluffs are called the “Welsh Caves” due to a legend that the Welsh explorer Prince Madoc reached this area in around 1170 A.D. Folklore holds that stone walls found in the caves were part of a fort built by Madoc and his men as they made their way inland through the mountains of Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee.
It is a fun legend but most archaeologists and historians do not give it much credit. Researchers from Jacksonville State University spent time examining the “Welsh fort” and concluded that it was likely built by Native Americans of the Woodland era. No Welsh artifacts of any kind were found in the caves.
Another legend holds that Spanish artifacts from the 1540 expedition of Hernando de Soto were found near the falls. Most authorities believe the expedition passed well to the south, but it is definitely possible that men from either DeSoto’s party or the 1559 expedition of Tristan de Luna explored the area.
The waterfall was a special place to the Cherokee Indians who once inhabited this part of Alabama. The famed Cherokee scholar Sequoyah lived at nearby Wills Town in 1818-1823. It was there that he developed the Cherokee Alphabet.
Union cavalry troops camped on the West Fork of the Little River just above DeSoto Falls in 1863 as Gen. William S. Rosecrans advanced on Chattanooga. The XX Corps crossed Lookout Mountain at Mentone during the campaign, which culminated at the Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia. The area is rich in stories of Civil War activity, many of them detailing raids by irregular forces.
The waterfall is now one of the primary features of DeSoto State Park. This beautiful recreation era was established through the hard work of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the Great Depression. The main area of the park is a few miles south of DeSoto Falls and offers cabins and chalets, a motel, restaurant, store, picnic areas, hiking trails, campgrounds and more.
The water that flows over the falls forms one of the primary tributaries of the Little River. The stream is unique in that it is one of the few rivers in the nation that flow almost entirely on the top of a mountain.
The Little River has carved amazing canyons into the surface of Lookout Mountain. One of these begins at DeSoto Falls and winds its
way through the state park. Little River Canyon National Preserve, a national park area a few miles south of DeSoto State Park, is sometimes called the “Grand Canyon of the East.”
More than 11 miles long, the canyon reaches depths of nearly 700 feet. The water from DeSoto Falls later flows over Little River Falls and the remarkable whitewater rapids of the Little River Canyon.
DeSoto Falls are open daily during daylight hours. The area includes a beautiful mountain lake, picnic area, interpretive signs and other facilities in addition to the waterfalls.
The falls are at the end of DeSoto Falls Road in Mentone, Alabama. To reach them from Lookout Mountain Parkway, turn south on Highway 613 and follow it to DeSoto Falls Road. See the map at the bottom of this page for directions.
A number of smaller waterfalls can be seen at the nearby main area of DeSoto State Park. These notably include Indian Falls and Azalea Cascade.
See more of DeSoto Falls and DeSoto State Park in this video: