It’s always nice when I stumble upon something I wasn’t expecting on a trip. It’s even nicer when it happens, after I have made a seemingly random decision to turn off my planned route. That’s how I found Little River Canyon National Preserve: a 12-mile long, 600-foot deep chasm protected by the National Park Service. Best of all, there’s a curvy, narrow road that follows the rim of the canyon, providing access to more than a half dozen scenic overlooks.
It all starts in dramatic fashion. Little River Falls is at the top of the canyon. The 45-foot waterfall is just below Route 35. From the parking lot, it’s easy to walk out onto the rocky cliffs above the waterfall. But use some common sense: there are no guard rails to protect you, and the wet rocks can be slippery.
That rocky outcropping near the top of the falls is a popular place for people to pose for pictures. I had to wait a few minutes to take this picture, at the first opportunity when no one was standing there.
That’s Alabama Route 35 in the background, as it crosses Little River. And of course, since this is the South, there will be plenty of rednecks playing in the murky waters.
Little River Falls marks the beginning of the scenic drive along the rim of Little River Canyon. From the parking area, backtrack over the bridge, then turn left on Alabama Route 176.
On the scenic highway, Mushroom Rock is one of the first interesting photo opportunities. The outcropping stands in the middle of the road.
There are several overlooks along the side of the road, and most of them provide similar views. I think this one is Hawk’s Glide, but it might have been Canyon View or Wolf Creek.
The road departs briefly from Little River Canyon, to drive up a small side canyon. There’s a small turnout where you can view Grace’s High Falls from the opposite side of Bear Creek Canyon.
Eberhart Point is the next overlook. A short path takes you below the rim, where there’s a nice view of the rocky cliffs across the gorge, near the point where Bear Creek merges with Little River.
After Eberhart Point, Route 176 turns away from the canyon, headed to Dogtown. Instead, follow county roads 148 and 275, which continue to run along the canyon rim. This section of the scenic highway is even narrower and more challenging than the state-maintained portion. Numerous signs warn drivers to take the steep grades and curves seriously. To me, those warnings are about as foreboding as a parental guidance warning on TV to a 12 year old — it only increases your desire to watch it, or in this case, drive it.
The narrow mountain road drops down to the bottom of the canyon, just before it ends. There’s a park here, administered by the National Park Service — so if you have a Parks Pass, you can get in for free. The park has picnicking and rest-room facilities, and access to the river, but nothing I needed, so I moved on.
Since I had ventured off my planned route, I didn’t know exactly where I was at this point. When the scenic road ended, I took a guess, and made a left turn onto Route 273. Eventually, I ended up on US 411, which took me to Interstate 59 at Gadsden, Alabama. Even though it was early in the afternoon, I was done hiking and exploring for the day. I needed to get to Birmingham, to meet a friend for dinner.
Birmingham was a bit out of the way for me. Truth be told, it would have made more sense for me to head directly south from Little River Canyon, and perhaps spend the night somewhere near Talladega, Alabama. But, I was looking forward to meeting a friend for dinner, so I detoured into the city for the night.
The extra driving time, plus dinner, left me with no time to explore Birmingham, or take any pictures. So, you’ll have to be happy with this time-lapse dash-cam video of the drive into Birmingham on Interstate 59, to my motel on Interstate 65 at Oxmoor Boulevard, then out of Birmingham eastbound on Interstate 20.
So what did I miss in Birmingham? I think I would have enjoyed taking some pictures in downtown. From what little I saw, I got the impression that the city has a slightly rough, run-down look in places — which can make for great photos. A friend had also recommended I check out Alabama’s largest state park, Oak Mountain, near Pelham, Alabama, just south of Birmingham. Oak Mountain has a large wildlife rehabilitation center, and an elevated trail that lets you walk through the treetops.