Hiking & Alabama's Waterfalls with Kids
Alabama has at least 25 waterfalls worth hiking out to and probably many more beyond that. We recently spent our 4 days and 3 nights Labor Day weekend camping in Northern Alabama on the hunt for some gorgeous waterfalls. We brought along our two kids; ages 3 and 1. We tent camped in Desoto State Park and in Noccalula Falls Park. Tent camping with toddlers is not for the faint of heart, but we were surprised with how well our two did. Our days were spent hiking and hunting waterfalls and our evenings were spent roasting marshmallows; a perfect trip in my opinion. We are going to share which waterfalls we visited and some tips for making the most of your Alabama adventure!
Desoto State Park:
We chose to camp at Desoto State Park because of it’s proximity to several waterfalls. This includes Desoto Falls, Little River Falls, Grace’s High Falls, Laurel Falls, Lost Falls, Indian Falls, and Lodge Falls. 4 of these are located within Desoto State Park and the other 3 are within a 15-20 minute drive. Our first morning we decided to hike the 3.4 mile Blue Trail loop within Desoto State Park. I highly recommend parking at the Boardwalk Trailhead and starting there. It’s proximity to both Lost Falls and Indian Falls is convenient. The Blue trail crosses paths with 2 waterfalls; Lost Falls & Laurel Falls and also with Azalea Cascades. HOWEVER, I must stress this; the waterfalls were BOTH dry due to a low amount of rain. We didn’t realize this until we walked across the location of Lost Falls, but there was no water at all. The hike is moderately strenuous, but our 3 year old hiked about a mile of it on her own. It was a nice family hike in my opinion. After we got back to the truck, we decided to check out nearby Indian Falls which is only .1 miles from the trailhead…but it was also dry. PRO TIP: The State Park recommends visiting in the spring or winter to see the falls in full force, so keep that in mind when scheduling your trip.
Desoto Falls is only about 6 miles from the Desoto State Park Country Store. When we arrived to the falls we were a bit confused on how to get down to the bottom of the falls. So, let me explain. You have two choices on how to get down to the beach. 1) You can walk down the stairs to public overlook, then cross the top of the waterfall just underneath the dam, climb the far wall and follow the trails away from the falls, then down to the beach. This is a very strenuous hike in all regards. There are very steep climbs. While we were able to do it with 2 kids on our backs, I can not recommend this hike to young families. Attempt at your own risk. 2) The other way is a bit more hidden. If you drive back out away from the park you will see cars parked along the left side of the road shortly after you exit. This is a trail head. It is unmarked and leads straight down to the falls. I can not describe this hike because we went the other way, but I have heard it is even more steep than the one we did. Please only do this hike if you feel comfortable and it is at your own risk. There are plenty of less risky ways to enjoy the falls with a nice beach and swimming area at the top of the falls and a designated viewing platform to the side. Do not miss this waterfall; it is truly gorgeous.
Little River Canyon (and Falls) — Fort Payne, Alabama:
Little River Canyon National Preserve has really gone above and beyond to make this waterfall and canyon enjoyable for everyone. There is a handicap and walking boardwalk to a viewing area to the see the falls. It is extremely easy to access and is directly off the main road. If you want to go further into the canyon (MUST DO THIS) then take Highway 176 which is a scenic 11 mile drive. There are several overlooks along the route to stop at with almost no physical exertion necessary. We highly recommend stopping at all of them, but if you’re short on time head straight to Wolf Creek Overlook and Canyon View Overlook. We spent a lot of time at these overlooks in disbelief that this was actually Alabama. It is gorgeous. Before you start your time at Little River Canyon, I suggest stopping in at the Little River Canyon Center to get your National Park Passport Stamped and to get more information on the area.
Noccalula Falls — Gadsden, Alabama:
After 2 nights of back country camping in Desoto State Park we headed 45 minutes south to Noccalula Falls Campground. This is definitely a front country camping experience with easy access to showers/toilets, they have a pool, playground, laundry, etc. The tent site we got was pretty large and I did like that our tent was pretty far back from where we set up our fire. The camp ground is located directly at the falls, so you can walk from your tent to the top of the falls very easily. We decided to set up camp and then head down to the bottom of the falls where we could swim. There are two ways to get to the bottom of Noccalula Falls. 1) Enter via Noccalula Park. There is a fee. $6 per adult, $4 for military & children 4-12 and kids 3 and under are free. We 100% recommend this route down to the falls. It is a well kept, gradual incline down. It is by far the safest and easiest way to get down to enjoy a swim and the views. 2) Enter via the Noccalula Campground. We made the near vertical decent to the falls this way and I can not recommend this for anyone bringing children in. It is steep with many places having vertical drops of 6-8 feet. The views at the bottom are amazing. There is a vast cave behind the falls that you can walk behind, really great/deep swimming area where you can relax or jump off the rocks into the water. The toddlers and I swam across from the beach to the falls and felt completely safe. When visiting Noccalula, definitely make time to go down and at least see the falls from the bottom.
On our journey we had the potential of seeing 8 amazing waterfalls. While we only ended up seeing 3 due to weeks of no rain, we were more than happy. I can not recommend this area enough to families because there is something for everyone. From camping to lodges, from restaurants to campfires, from waterfall overlooks to strenuous hikes there is truly something to meet everyone’s outdoor adventure side. If you’re looking for ways to reconnect with your family over a long weekend, consider Northern Alabama!
Have you ever visited the waterfalls in Northern Alabama?
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