First Autumn Hike of the Season: Little River Canyon, AL

For the first weekend of autumn, I decided to take a hike at the Little River Canyon National Preserve in Alabama.  It’s a little-known spot carved naturally into the state’s northeastern mountains.  Some believe its waterway, Little River, is the longest to flow over the top of a mountain.

Unfortunately, this hike was not without its difficulties.  The park’s map is poorly drafted, especially since it excludes roads.  Also, there are several streets in and near the preserve that are excessively steep and winding, sometimes simultaneously.  On one, my car was reaching 3 RPMs at 20 mph.  I didn’t even attempt another because it was actually steeper than the first. if you plan to visit, definitely start at the preserve’s northern section.

With autumn in its infancy, it still feels like summer outside.  As I get ready to hike, temperatures are comfortably in the low 90s, the sky is clear and humidity is high.  My GPS led me to the recreational area at the canyon’s mouth, the only park segment that requires paid parking.  Here, there are many picnic tables and grills.  There are also several spots that provide easy access to the river.  It’s was flowing nicely here, which I would later realize is a rare feature for today’s visit. If hiking is your goal, this probably isn’t the best place to start for reasons that will soon be explained.

The hiking trail begins at a partially closed gate.  The universal hiking man symbol marks its beginning.  It starts off partially paved, but quickly gives way to dirt.  The river is visible through the trees to my right, and subtrails occasionally branch out from the main one to offer access to swimming holes.  The trail is varied. Sometimes, it’s a simple dirt path. Other times, it becomes a rugged combination of ditches and rigid rocks.  The foliage is still thick and green, though hints of the looming autumn colors occasionally appear.

The start of the Johnnie's Creek Trail, the first trail of my autumn hikeEventually, the trail leads to the end of Johnnie’s Creek as it (normally) flows into Little River. Unfortunately, the creek is dry when today.  This is common for hikes in early autumn, but still kind of annoying.  Black rocks jut from the ground where water would normally flow, obviously making it easy to traverse the creek bed.  I can’t help but wonder what the rapids must look like when the creek is running.

A dry creek bed in Little River Canyon National Preserve

There wasn’t much else to see here, so I decided to head back.  The map revealed several more points of interest at the north end of the preserve, so I decided to drive up there.  Before making it back to my car, however, another group of hikers warned me of some copperhead snakes on the trail just ahead.

We approached the spot cautiously.  One was to our right, and a much larger one slithering on the rocks below to our left.  The one closer to the trail moved slowly and hesitantly, clearly cautious of our presence.  After the larger snake disappeared below the rocks, we decided to walk along the edge of the ravine and hope that neither would attack. Thankfully, they did not.


A copperhead snake greets me during my first autumn hike of the season.


After returning to my car, I attempted to follow the map to the north end of the park. Unfortunately, it shows one road where there are actually two, so I took a wrong turn up a hill that was both excessively steep and twisted.  My car was pushing 3rpms at 20mph, and for a few moments, I was honestly concerned that it wouldn’t make the incline.

Fortunately, this small side track wasn’t a complete waste.  The steep road dead ends at a highway, where I took a right. A little further down, there was a rough parking area next to another point of interest: a (supposed) waterfall.  Unfortunately, the creek was also running dry here, though a pool of water remained.  There are some unique rock formations here, and I couldn’t help but imagine what the waterfall would look like on such a beautiful fall day.

Rope Swing at Little River Canyon

A rope swing. How I wished I had brought a bathing suit…


After quickly exploring the features here, I head back to my car, get ready to travel further north – and run into a road even steeper than the last. Considering this one was actually even steeper, I knew my car wouldn’t make it. So, my only other option was to drive DOWN the previous hill and take a longer detour to the north side. Side note – if you visit this place, make sure your GPS is set to the visitor’s center.

Upon arriving at the north end of the park, I found that the roads were much easier to navigate.  I also noticed that the area was much better marked.  There are several points of interest relatively close together.  I stop by the visitor’s center for a few supplies and recommendations for my next hike.

The park ranger here recommended the Little River Falls trail.  This is arguably the most popular and also connects with the Martha’s Falls trail. It runs along the canyon’s rim as a boardwalk, then leads down to a pond of water and waterfall – which, of course, was dry.  Still, there were people swimming in the pond below.  As expected, Martha’s Falls was also dry.  However, there were some unique rock formations along the way that were definitely worth a visit.

The pool below Little River Falls which is running dry for my autumn hike

Some rock formations not far from Martha's Falls

Unfortunately, I had to cut my trip short due to the earlier woes of steep, winding hills.  The trails closed at dark, and it was already late in the afternoon.  I was also hoping to take an autumn hike in Desoto State Park while here, but that wouldn’t be possible either.  However, despite the persistently warm weather, I was still able to see some vestiges of fall color throughout the preserve and in the nearby mountains.  I also know where to go now if I ever have a chance to revisit.

Small hints of autumn color found during my hike

Emerging fall colors across a mountaintop




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