To expand our horizons and visit some spectacular waterfalls, Dan and I took a day trip to the Alabama side of Lookout Mountain. We drove 2 ½ hours northwest to the tiny town of Mentone, Alabama (population 368) – the gateway to DeSoto State Park and the Little River Canyon National Preserve.
After lunch we stopped at the Mentone Arts and Visitor Center next to the Wildflower Café to get information on hiking, waterfalls, shopping and local art. While we were there, the center was hosting an art show featuring local artists.
Welcome Center staff encouraged us to check out a local art installation recently completed in town. The Mentone Educational Resources Foundation (MERF) was given a $20,000 grant by the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama for winning a “Big Idea” competition. Their idea was a Picket Fence Project. Over 400 pickets were painted and placed in a fence surrounding a walking path. Residents of all ages have designed and painted a picket, putting together a huge art installation for the community. We walked the short walking path and enjoyed seeing the creative artwork.
In the early afternoon we left Mentone to visit DeSoto Falls. We stopped briefly at Miracle Pottery in Valley Head. The store is renowned for its genuine Cherokee clay pottery, and the store owner, Valinda Miracle, is a direct descendent of Cherokee ancestors forced to leave their homes during the infamous “Trail of Tears.” You can find pottery, paintings and gifts for everyone at this amazing store.
DeSoto Falls and DeSoto State Park
The drive to DeSoto Falls, especially on County Road 89 (CR 89), was stunning – the scenery vibrant with autumn color. If you want to stay over-night, vacation rentals in all price ranges are available along CR 89. DeSoto Falls is about seven miles from the entrance to DeSoto State Park, and you have to watch carefully for the sign to turn off. Here you will find a picnic area, rest rooms and a spectacular view of the falls.
Named for the Spanish explorer, Hernando de Soto, the 104-foot-drop falls are located on the west fork of the Little River. It’s a short walk to a viewing area to get a great glimpse of the upper falls. To see the lower portion of the falls, we walked down a steep set of stairs for a view well-worth the effort. Looking back at the stairs, we discovered they are covered in a beautiful mosaic design.
After viewing DeSoto Falls, we drove on to the main entrance of DeSoto State Park. Our first stop was the Country Store/Visitor Center for trail maps to the various waterfalls. There are several waterfalls within a short walk or on a 2-3 mile moderate hike. We hiked a portion of the orange-blazed loop hike to Laurel and Lost Falls. For the adventurous, you can try ziplining through the trees with Screaming Eagle Aerial Adventures. For more information, go to desotozipline.com.
Little River Canyon National Reserve
Continuing through the park on CR 89, we visited the Little River Canyon National Preserve near Fort Payne, encompassing over 15,000 acres of pristine scenery. The Canyon Rim Drive (Alabama State Road 176) offers scenic views and turnouts for great photo opportunities. Little River Canyon Falls, with its 45-foot drop, is the crowning jewel of the preserve and a “must see!” There is a large, free parking area, rest rooms and picnic tables. A scenic boardwalk trail leads to the viewing area for the falls. We noticed many intrepid visitors walking around atop the falls who got pretty close to the edge, even though signs warn visitors to stay at least 50 feet back from the slippery rocks. Another steep trail off the boardwalk leads to Little Falls (also called Martha’s Falls).
After a wonderful afternoon of hiking and viewing the waterfalls, Dan and I retraced our drive back to Mentone and stopped briefly on the way into town at the St. Joseph’s on the Mountain Church Sacred Garden. The church has created a lovely garden next to the sanctuary, filled with native oakleaf hydrangeas, benches for reflection and a labyrinth. Used since ancient times for walking meditation, labyrinths are different from a maze and allow visitors to walk a circular path to the center and back again while meditating, praying or just experiencing God’s presence and the beauty of nature. Many visitors left small stone tokens in the center.
Our last stop before heading home was Moonlake Trading Company in Mentone. This eclectic shop and garden center has funky décor and unique home and gardening gifts. We made it back home by early evening, driving a total of 325 miles. For more information about waterfalls in the area, go to alapark.com/parks/desoto-state-park/waterfalls.