Little River Canyon National Preserve - Fort Payne, Alabama
|Little River Canyon
The "Grand Canyon of the East" is 12 miles long
and as much as 600 feet deep. Named for the Little
River, it is carved into the top of Lookout Mountain.
Little River Canyon in Winter
The canyon is beautiful all year,
but the lack of foliage during the
winter months allows spectacular
views of its rock walls.
Little River Falls
The canyon was carved by the
power of water over thousands of
years. It this view the Little River
thunders over Little River Falls.
LITTLE RIVER CANYON NATIONAL PRESERVE
Fort Payne, Alabama
Grand Canyon of the East
|Copyright 2014 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
Last Updated: September 2, 2014
Great Waterfalls in the South
Whitewater in Alabama
The Little River is Alabama's
premier whitewater stream. Its
rapids and falls range from Class
III to Class V.
This massive rock formation
stands in the middle of Canyon
Rim Drive, the primary tour road at
Little River Canyon.
The Little River Canyon National Preserve
protects 14,000 acres of beautiful and
rugged mountain country atop Lookout
Mountain near Fort Payne, Alabama.
Sometimes called the "Grand Canyon of the
East," the spectacular canyon was carved
over thousands of years by Little River. One
of the longest rivers in America that flows
almost entirely on the top of a mountain, Little
River begins at 1,900 feet above sea level
and drops over 1,200 feet before it finally
merges with the waters of Weiss Lake.
Along its course, the river has carved a
canyon that is twelve miles long and reaches
depths of over 600 feet. The result is some of
the most stunning scenery to be found in the
The canyon is located in one of the most
beautiful and historic areas of the South.
Near the traditional boundary between the
Cherokee and Muscogee (Creek) nations,
the Little River area was the hunting ground
of American Indians for thousands of years.
It is thought by some scholars that the army
of Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto
passed somewhere near Little River Canyon
in 1540. Theories change over the years, but
archaeological research by Jacksonville
State University is providing some answers.
Scientists from the university uncovered a
major 16th century site near Centre and just
across man-made Weiss Lake from the
mouth of Little River Canyon. It may have
been Coosa, an important American Indian
The canyon area was explored again in 1559
by the Spanish expedition of Tristan de Luna.
He hoped to find food supplies for the colony
he had planted on the Gulf Coast, but the
area's towns and fields had been devastated
by De Soto's passage 19 years earlier.
Other explorers followed and American
settlers moved into the region after it became
part of the United States. Population growth
was slow, however, and Little River Canyon
was still a rugged and largely wilderness
area by the time of the War Between the
States (or Civil War).
The Union army of General William Teumseh
Sherman reached the Little River in 1864
while pursuing Confederates under General
John Bell Hood following the fall of Atlanta.
When Hood could not be brought to battle,
Sherman turned back to Georgia to begin his
March to the Sea. Hood moved west and then
north to begin his Franklin and Nashville
The rugged country was a hiding place for
organized bands of deserters and Unionists
during the war. These often emerged from
their hideouts to raid local communities and
The Edna Hill community was established at
Little River Falls after the War Between the
States. The rushing water of the river
provided power for a mill that became the
focal point of a small village. From the late
19th through the early 20th centuries, Edna
Hill boasted a store, church and homes.
The community faded away with the passage
of time, but interpretive panels at Little River
Falls allow visitors to learn more about Edna
Hill. These include photographs of the
original settlement and information on its
history and residents.
The beautiful waterfall is a stunning part of
Little River Canyon National Preserve today. It
an be reached by way of an accessible path
from a parking lot on Alabama Highway 35.
Visitors of all abilities can visit the overlook
and the more adventurous can follow a short
path down to the waterfall itself. Little River
Falls can also be seen from an overlook on
Canyon Rim Drive.
Through all the years, Little River Canyon
remained a place of rugged and spectacular
beauty. The establishment of DeSoto State
Park was the first step in its preservation, but
an outcry grew in the late 20th century for the
canyon to be given higher prominence.
Members of the superstar country band
Alabama joined with other local residents to
lead a drive to make the canyon a national
preserve. It became part of the national park
system in 1992.
The best way to easily explore the preserve is
via Canyon Rim Drive, a paved road that
leads from Alabama Highway 35 near Fort
Payne south to the canyon mouth at Weiss
Lake. It provides visitors with access to a
number of overlooks, picnic spots, trailheads
and stunning natural vistas.
During the winter months, when rains and
fewer leaves give the river its full current,
Little River Canyon is known for some of the
finest whitewater in the South. Different
sections range from Class III to Class V,
making the Little River Alabama's premier
The river is dangerous, however, and only
experienced paddlers should float it when it
is flowing at full force. Trips can be arranged
through area outdoor outlets.
Please click here for great information on
challenging the whitewater of the Little River.
DeSoto State Park is located within the
designated limits of the Little River Canyon
National Preserve. Amenities there include a
hotel/lodge, cabins, restaurant, store, picnic
areas, campgrounds and more. It is an ideal
base for exploring Little River Canyon.
Hotels, restaurants and other amenities are
also available in nearby Fort Payne. The
mountain top community of Mentone is
known for its unique shops, inns and dining
spots and is also just a short drive from the
Plan to take anywhere from a few hours to a
few days to explore Little River Canyon
National Preserve. The entire area is rich in
history, scenery and things to do making it a
great spot for family vacations.
The visitor center and main entrance is at
4322 Little River Trail NE, Fort Payne,
Alabama. If this address does not show on
your GPS, try 472 Alabama Highway 35, Fort
Click here a printable map of the park.
The park is free to visit with the exception of
Canyon Mouth Picnic Area near Cedar Bluff,
which requires a $3 admission fee. There is
no camping with hookups in the preserve,
but modern campgrounds are available at
nearby DeSoto State Park. Only primitive
campsites are available in the preserve itself.
Please click here to visit the official National
Park Service website for more information.
Grace's High Falls
Believed to be the tallest waterfall
in Alabama, this seasonal fall
tumbles off the rim of Little River
Little River Falls
This photo of Little River Falls was
taken from an overlook on Canyon
Rim Drive. The paved tour road
gives visitors access to many
points of interest in the preserve.