Hiking with Hailey: Little River Canyon National Preserve

Hiking with Hailey: Little River Canyon National Preserve

FORT PAYNE, Ala. (WSFA) - If waterfalls are your jam, head north to Fort Panye, Alabama and check out Little River Canyon National Preserve.

“Little River Canyon is more or less a newer park in the National Park Service. it’s about 27 years old - maybe 28 now," said park guide Kaleb Kleiss-Hoeft. "It is all canyon with some backcountry wilderness area, but what everyone comes here to see first and foremost is the waterfall.”

Viewers travel from across the country to see the cascading waterfalls, which are the main attraction for the park.
Viewers travel from across the country to see the cascading waterfalls, which are the main attraction for the park. (Source: WSFA 12 News)

Although the park is considered new, Little River Canyon already has quite the reputation, drawing in crowds from all over the country. Visitors like Fran Perry are drawn to the park’s flowing falls.

“Every time I video tape anything [on my phone], I just listen to the falls. I love listening to the rushing water. As soon as I start to hear that, I get very excited," he said.

Whether it’s swimming in the summer, or enjoying the changing leaves in the fall, visitors are always greeted with the unexpected.

“When people think of northern Alabama, they don’t think of high mountains or canyons that are 600-something feet deep; they don’t think of 45-foot waterfalls that are wide across the whole expanse of the canyon," said Kleiss-Hoeft. "So relatively speaking, this is just a rare phenomenon for this area of the United States. This is the deepest canyon east of the Mississippi.”

Carved out by the Little River, Little River Canyon is one of the deepest canyon systems east of the Mississippi River and the deepest in the state of Alabama.
Carved out by the Little River, Little River Canyon is one of the deepest canyon systems east of the Mississippi River and the deepest in the state of Alabama. (Source: WSFA 12 News)

With the main attraction being the falls, folks have created new and sometimes challenging ways to access the water, such as rock climbing down the steep trailside. But, traveling along the rugged trail, there’s plenty of jaw-dropping scenery to keep you inspired.

Small creeks and grottos are formed when the water recedes during the summer months, but Kleiss-Hoeft says sometimes the water can fill all the way to the top of the canyon!

It may be the sweeping views of the waterfalls that get most of the park’s attention; however, Kaleb says it’s the rich history of the park that keeps people coming back.

“We had a mill right on top of where that one flow to the right is, that got washed over the falls during a heavy flood, so we have a little bit of human history and a little bit of natural history colliding together. And that’s why we as the National Park Service are here to protect both of these.”

An old watermill that was destroyed during a flood many years back can be found at the base of the falls. The submerged mill serves as the bridge between human and environmental history.
An old watermill that was destroyed during a flood many years back can be found at the base of the falls. The submerged mill serves as the bridge between human and environmental history. (Source: WSFA 12 News)

“All you have to do is look around. Who doesn’t want to be in nature? Who doesn’t want to see these falls?" said Perry. "I love going out on the hiking trails. Like I say, it’s peaceful.”

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