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Little River Canyon National Preserve Guide — Canyon Mouth, Blue Hole, and More

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Amar Hussain
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Amar Hussain

Senior Content Contributor

Countries Visited: 63U.S. States Visited: 9

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications incl...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury

Editor-in-Chief

Countries Visited: 44U.S. States Visited: 28

With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the Executive Director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now Editor-in-Chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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Little River Canyon National Preserve is known for its towering waterfalls, breathtaking sandstone cliffs, stunning overlooks, and verdant foliage. This preserve is located near Fort Wayne in northeast Alabama. Each year, over 800,000 visitors come to explore. There’s something for visitors of every age, including hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, and scenic drives. 

How To Get to Little River Canyon National Preserve

Where Is Little River Canyon National Preserve?

Visitors can find Little River Canyon National Preserve right outside of Fort Wayne, Alabama. This national preserve stretches 15,288 acres of forest, cliffs, canyon rims, boulders, and waterfalls. Chatanooga, Tennessee, about 57 miles north of the preserve, is the closest major city to the preserve. 

Little River Canyon National Preserve Opening Hours and Seasons

The preserve is open from sunrise to sunset each day of the week. Some of the facilities inside the park have varying hours, so be sure to check to ensure they are open before your visit. The National Park Service website can help you determine the open times for the specific visit date. 

Nearest Airports to Little River Canyon National Preserve

Chatanooga Metropolitan Airport (CHA) is the closest airport to the preserve. This is about 70 miles from the preserve, which takes a little under an hour and 15 minutes to arrive.

Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, and Washington, D.C. are just some of this airport’s nonstop destinations. Airlines serviced here include American, Allegiant, Delta, and United.

Driving to Little River Canyon National Preserve

The best way to access Little River Canyon National Preserve is via Alabama Highway 35. This highway can be taken 10 miles to Fort Payne, where the preserve is located. The closest interstate to the preserve is I-59. 

Taking the Train or Bus to Little River Canyon National Preserve

There is no train or bus service to Little River Canyon National Preserve.

Getting Around Little River Canyon National Preserve

The best way to get around the preserve is by private vehicle. Due to the size of the preserve and the sights scattered about, driving to the different areas is the best option to make the most of your time. The preserve has interactive and printable maps on its website to help you plan your adventures and itinerary. 

What To See and Do in Little River Canyon National Preserve

This national preserve has no shortage of things to see and do. From rock climbing to kayaking and viewing wondrous waterfalls to scenic drives, there’s something for every visitor to enjoy here. Check out some of this national preserve’s most popular activities and sights.

Blue Hole

Blue Hole
Image Credit: Matt Switzer via NPS

Blue Hole is a great place to cool off during the summer months. This popular site features a family-friendly swimming hole in a calm area of the Little River. This swimming area is just a quarter mile from Little River Falls and is lovely for families with small children and new swimmers.

If you visit the preserve during the summer months, don’t miss the opportunity to experience the refreshing waters at Blue Hole. 

Canyon Mouth Park

Canyon Mouth Park is a fun place to visit at Little River Canyon National Preserve. It has many amenities for visitors of all ages. This park offers restrooms, a playground, picnic tables and grills, river access, a pavilion, and a gentle 1-mile hike along the river. The park has varying hours depending on the season, with a $15 fee per vehicle. This is a great place to relax, play, and picnic during your visit. 

Canoeing and Kayaking

There are many opportunities to kayak and canoe at Little River Canyon National Preserve. The best time to paddle the waters in this preserve is in the winter and spring when the rain nearly entirely feeds the Little River. Summer and fall tend to have shallow water. The Wildlife Management Area is a great place for floating and paddling.

Hot Tip:

Before setting out on your boat, check the river gauge to ensure you can safely enjoy the waterways.

Hiking

Hiking Little River Canyon National Preserve
Image Credit: Matt Switzer via NPS

Little River Canyon National Preserve has several hiking trails ranging in length and difficulty. Hiking through this preserve is an excellent way to experience the natural beauty and scenery of the park. Some of the trails include the Canyon Mouth Trail, Powell Trail, Bridge Trail, and Little Falls Trail.

These trails lead to historic buildings, stunning waterfalls, through the forests, and alongside the river. There’s a trail for every visitor to enjoy at this national preserve, so be sure to research the trail that leads to the sights and attractions that interest you. 

JSU Little River Canyon Center

The Jacksonville State University Little River Canyon Center is located at the front entrance of the preserve. This center acts as a visitor center for the preserve and is owned and operated by Jacksonville State University. This center features park staff and volunteers eager to help you with questions, a gift shop, and a film. This is a great place to kick off your adventures.

Rock Climbing

Rock climbing enthusiasts are in for a treat when visiting Little River Canyon National Preserve. The climbing routes in this Alabama preserve are some of the most difficult and sought-after routes in the Southern U.S. Many roadside pullouts along Little River Canyon Rim Parkway make the canyon easy to access. Rappelling and bouldering are also popular in the preserve. 

Scenic Drive

Little River Canyon National Preserve has an 11-mile scenic drive along the Little River Canyon Rim Parkway, also known as Highway 176. There are 8 overlooks along the way showcasing stunning views of the waterfalls, forest foliage, towering rock walls, and the rushing river that carves its way through the canyon.

Some sights on the way include Mushroom Rock, Wolk Creek, and Graces High Falls. Pulling over to picnic is a beautiful way to enjoy a meal with a view. 

Waterfalls

Little River Falls
Image Credit: Matt Switzer via NPS

There are 3 named waterfalls and several others that are not named within the preserve’s boundaries.

The most popular waterfall, Little River Falls, stands 45 feet high and is an excellent example of the power of water. The waterfall is sourced from the Little River, which has carved its way through the sandstone bedrock and created the magnificent canyon that surrounds the waterfall.

The best times to view this fall in all its glory are in the spring and fall when the heavy rains bring the water crashing down. The other falls in the park include Little Falls and Graces High Falls.

Bottom Line:

The waterfalls are excellent places to reflect on the beauty of nature or capture stunning photos.

Wildlife Management Area

The Wildlife Management Area is located in the backcountry of the preserve. This area is covered in rolling hills and lush woodlands, and Little River runs through it. Lots of wildlife is found in this area, and it is a fantastic place for outdoor adventure.

There are 23 miles of roads winding through this preserve area, and they are open to 4-wheel drive vehicles, bicycles, horseback riding, and hiking. Kayaking and canoeing during the wet months are also favored activities in this area. 

Best Times To Visit Little River Canyon National Preserve

A trip to this preserve is wonderful, no matter what time of year you can visit. However, if there are specific events or activities you have your hopes set on participating in, there are better times than others to plan a visit.

Best Time To Visit Little River Canyon National Preserve for Ideal Weather

Planning a visit around the weather is a great idea, especially at a preserve where you will explore on foot. October is the best time to visit this preserve for ideal weather. Temperatures range from the low 50s to mid-70s, and there isn’t as much of a chance of rain as with other months. 

Best Time To Visit Little River Canyon National Preserve To Avoid the Crowds

Exploring Little River Canyon National Preserve is even more enjoyable without the added stress of crowds. If you want to visit the preserve without a crowd, the best time is in November. This is when tourism is at its lowest in Fort Payne, so it is also a great time to visit and save money simultaneously. 

Best Time To Visit Little River Canyon National Preserve for Fall Foliage

Fall Colors at Canyon Mouth Park
Image Credit: Matt Switzer via NPS

If you love the vibrant colors of fall, you will want to visit this preserve in late October. The trees are bursting with color, making the landscapes and views a stunning sight to behold. Be sure to pack your camera to capture the splendor of this national preserve during these gorgeous autumn months. 

Cheapest Time To Visit Little River Canyon National Preserve

Keeping your budget in mind while traveling is always wise. With some planning, it’s possible to go easy on your wallet. The cheapest time to visit this preserve is from mid- to late September. Planning a visit at this time of year is a great way to save hundreds of dollars, as accommodation and flight rates are typically much less than at other times throughout the year. 

Annual Events Near Little River Canyon National Preserve

There aren’t annual events within the preserve, but several take place within the town of Fort Payne. Art, music, holidays, and more events occur right outside the preserve. Check out some of the events that bring in many visitors each year. 

Boom Days Heritage Celebration

Each year in September, an event called the Fort Payne Boom Days Heritage Celebration takes place. This exciting event honors the rich cultural history of Fort Payne. Boom Days takes place at the Fort Payne Depot Museum and showcases historic clothing, a miniature railroad system, and artifacts from the past. Live music, with music from all genres, is another feature of this event. 

Christmas in the Park

Christmas in the Park takes place each year in downtown Fort Payne. This event is loved by visitors and locals alike. Travelers enjoy listening to Christmas caroling and viewing the lights throughout City Park and the downtown area. There’s a wonderful parade of remarkable floats and a marching band. Warm up by the bonfire with a cup of hot chocolate or coffee and enjoy the sights and sounds of the season.

Where To Stay in Little River Canyon National Preserve

Lodging is typically the first order of business when planning a vacation. Take a look at some of the options for where to stay near Little River Canyon National Preserve. 

Inside the Park

There are no lodging or camping options within the boundaries of Little River Canyon National Preserve. 

Towns Near Little River Canyon National Preserve

The preserve is near many towns and offers several options for those who want to stay near the park. Whether you seek a bustling city with much to do or a quiet nature retreat, you can find the perfect home away from home within a short drive from the preserve.

Fort Payne, Alabama

Depot Museum Fort Payne
Image Credit: Carol M. Highsmith via Wikimedia Commons (license)

Fort Payne is one of the closest cities to Little River Canyon National Preserve. It takes about 15 minutes to get here from the preserve, and you’ll find plenty of options for lodging, dining, and recreation. 

A wide variety of lodging options are available in this quaint town. From bed and breakfasts to budget-friendly motels, luxury hotels, and cabins, there’s something for every traveler. When hunger strikes, you are in luck — steakhouses, locally-owned diners, and authentic cultural restaurants are just some options you’ll find here. 

The town has a variety of options for entertainment and recreation. There are museums, city and state parks, and antique shops galore. 

Bottom Line:

If you are looking for a place to settle during your Little River Canyon National Preserve visit, you can’t beat a stay in Fort Payne. Its proximity and many amenities make it the ideal place to set up a home base during your trip.

Summerville, Georgia

Summerville is about 26 miles from Little River Canyon National Preserve. A visit to this town will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time to an era centered around the railroad system. Accommodations abound, and cabins, resorts, campgrounds, and hotels are just some lodging options. 

There are several restaurants in Summerville. Most of the options are family-run diners, barbecue joints, and cafes. Whatever you crave, you can rest assured there’s a great spot for you in this town. 

Summerville offers galleries, historic sites, museums, and state parks. Take in one of the area’s biggest draws, the Historic Summerville Train Depot and Turntable. This town has one of the few operating turntables in the U.S., so you don’t miss the chance to explore here during your stay.

With abundant accommodations, restaurants, and activities, Summerville is a great option for setting up close to Little River Canyon National Preserve.

Where To Eat in Little River Canyon National Preserve

There aren’t any restaurants within the boundaries of Little River Canyon National Preserve. Should hunger strike during your visit, you aren’t too far from many excellent restaurants. Check out some of the top-rated restaurants near the preserve to see if you’d like to grab a bite there during your stay.

Barone’s Pizza and Arcade

Barone’s Pizza and Arcade is a family restaurant in Fort Payne, about 10 minutes from Little River Canyon National Preserve. This is a great place to unwind, refuel, and have lots of fun. 

Unique pizzas like the Hotwing, Greek, Mac and Cheese, and Cheeseburger are some of the favorite pies on the menu. Other menu items include cheese bread, pasta dishes, fresh salads, and sweet dessert pizzas like the Chocolate Bavarian and Caramel Apple Cheesecake varieties. 

For a great time and even better food, dine at Barone’s during your Little River Canyon National Preserve visit. Your tastebuds and tummy will thank you. 

Osaka Sushi and Steakhouse

Osaka Sushi and Steakhouse is an amazing Japanese restaurant just 10 miles from the preserve in Fort Payne. This restaurant serves lunch, dinner, and late-night drinks daily. 

Visitors are in for a treat at this restaurant. Dinner is cooked at your table with a talented chef entertaining you simultaneously. Sushi rolls like the Kamikaze roll, King Crab Crunch roll, and the Firecracker roll are some popular ones on the menu. The hibachi dinner includes fried rice, fresh soup with a homemade ginger dressing, mixed vegetables, and meat of your choice. Many diners choose the filet mignon, shrimp, scallops, or salmon. 

If you are up for a phenomenal meal and a show, add Osaka Sushi and Steakhouse to your itinerary when visiting Little River.

Little River Canyon National Preserve Facts

Little River Canyon National Preserve Swimming
Image Credit: Matt Switzer via NPS

1. A New National Preserve Established

Little River Canyon National Preserve was established on October 21, 1992.

2. One-Of-A-Kind River

Little River is unique as it is the only river that begins and flows nearly its entire length on the top of a mountain. This river forms and flows from Lookout Mountain. 

3. Deepest Canyon

Little River Canyon is the deepest canyon in the entire state of Alabama. It is also one of the deepest canyon systems east of the Mississippi River.

4. An Abundance of Animals

A wide variety of animals makes Little River Canyon National Preserve their home. There are 147 types of birds, 40 kinds of fish, 35 mammals, 28 types of reptiles, and 28 species of amphibians. 

5. A Lengthy Canyon

The Little River Canyon is over 12 miles long and is bordered by the Lookout Mountain Ridge and the Sand Mountain Ridge. 

Final Thoughts

There’s something for everyone at Little River Canyon National Preserve. Whether you enjoy capturing stunning photographs of nature, kayaking down a river, rock climbing steep canyons, or driving to scenic overlooks for mesmerizing views, every visitor can find several activities to speak to their soul. Book your trip to Little River Canyon National Preserve and discover what brings in so many visitors each year. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to enter Little River Canyon National Preserve?

A daily pass costs $15 per vehicle. Those who want to visit multiple days may prefer the $35 annual pass, valid for 13 months.

What is the weather like at Little River Canyon National Preserve?

The weather varies throughout the year at this national preserve. Winter temperatures have an average in the 50s, and summer temperatures are in the upper 80s with high humidity. Snow occurs at the park but doesn’t stick around for long.

Is Wi-Fi available at Little River Canyon National Preserve?

There is free Wi-Fi available at the visitor center.

How long does it take to explore Little River Canyon National Preserve?

Spending a minimum of a full day at Little River Canyon National Preserve is recommended. This will allow plenty of time to explore the visitor center, take in the views at the overlooks and waterfalls, hike a trail, enjoy the scenic drive, and paddle a bit in the river.

Amar Hussain's image

About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.

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