Tucked away in the northeast corner of Alabama near the Georgia border, Little River Canyon is an isolated oasis carved into a mountain. During the spring runoff, a handful of daredevil kayakers descend the canyon’s steep walls into a cauldron of class V whitewater. The wild serpent that rages within the gorge is occasionally tamed, easing into calm stretches of stream riffles and calm pools that lure seekers of solitude.
Above the canyon rim, hardwood trees nestle atop bluffs in the forested uplands of the Appalachian Plateau. Little River Falls blasts water onto the rocks like a steam furnace, creating a hovering vapor cloud of mist. Rock climbers, hikers, and nature photographers will find mountain nirvana in the heart of Dixie.
For the best experience at Little River, try these picks:
Hike the Canyon
The Little River Canyon is sometimes called the Grand Canyon of the East — a hike along the rim reveals drops of 500 to 600 feet from the bluffs to the canyon floor. In the forested uplands, you’ll encounter a mixed forest of oak-hickory, heath, and pine. Above Little River Falls, the running water forms a series of sandy-bottomed pools as it travels through wooded hills. At Eberhardt Point, a three-quarter-mile trail leads down into the canyon.
Kayak World-Class Whitewater
The Little River has been slicing through sandstone for thousands of years, creating a canyon with depths of 600 feet. Alabama river rats prefer to keep this gorge a secret, but the whitewater that sluices down the gullet of Lookout Mountain cannot be denied — it is world-class. The Suicide , aka the Avalanche , is a six-mile stretch of class III and IV whitewater characterized by ghastly drops, pinning hydraulics, undercuts, and keepers. Calmer waters can be found along the six-mile Chairlift — this section of the river is smooth and placid with occasional Class II and III rapids thrown in for a little salt and pepper. The Chairlift does pose one Class IV — the Bottleneck — which can be portaged if necessary.
Rock Climb an Ocean Floor
The sandstone bluffs and canyon walls along the Little River are thousands of feet thick and were laid down over 200 million years ago as part of the Potsville Formation. Softer rocks such as limestone and shale erode easier than sandstone, leaving behind a vast web of joints and cracks —essential hand and footholds for the rock climber.
Take a Drive on Canyon Rim Parkway
The drive from the top of Lookout Mountain snakes its way down for 23 miles and ends at Canyon Mouth Park. Overlooks such as Mushroom Rock, Lizard Wall and Crow’s Point compel you to stop, behold, ponder, and wonder. The Little River is the only river in North America that runs its full course on a mountain — the river forms at the top of the mountain and terminates at its base 24 miles later.