Lookin’ At Leaves: A Guide to a Fall Scenic Drive at Little River Canyon

Lookin’ At Leaves
A Guide to a Fall Scenic Drive at Little River Canyon
By Emma Goggans

The fall season is perhaps the most magical time of year here in the northeast corner of Alabama. The already beautiful mountains reach an entirely new level of beauty when they shed their usual green appearance and embrace the warm autumn color tones.

There are so many different ways to appreciate and admire this gorgeous fall scenery. From picnicking at Desoto State Park to renting a cabin in Mentone with a stunning view. These are all great choices (and you should definitely try them), but personally my favorite way to enjoy this time of year is a scenic drive through Little River Canyon National Preserve to look at the changing leaves.

Now, if you are a Millenial or a Gen Z, like me, I know what you may be thinking: “Looking at leaves? That sounds dreadfully boring!” Yes, I’ll admit it does sound boring-but don’t knock it until you try it!

When I presented this idea to my friends last fall they responded with the same reaction: “This sounds boring, are you crazy?” Somehow, however, I convinced them to join me on my excursion. This experience not only changed their opinion on “looking at leaves,” but it gave them an entirely new perspective and appreciation for where we live. This is the story of our experience and a guide for you to take your own scenic drive at Little River Canyon this fall.

The Little River Canyon Rim Parkway is 11 miles long and has eight overlooks, four hiking trails, and one unique rock formation. The drive along the west rim of the canyon grants visitors the opportunity to take in the beauty of the canyon, and if they’re up for it, the challenge of hiking down into the canyon to the river below.

We began our drive at the first overlook, Little River Falls Overlook: which is a staple at the National Preserve. This overlook provides its visitors several different viewing points that all highlight the beauty of Little River Falls. We began by walking across the bridge that runs parallel with Highway 35. The bridge overlook gives visitors a direct view into the canyon, and it is perfect for looking at the fall colors. If you want a closer look at the Falls, there is a boardwalk trail that will take you to the area directly below the bridge. After our time at the Little River Falls Overlook, we hopped back in the car and began our scenic drive along Little River Canyon Rim Parkway!

The drive along the rim of the canyon can sometimes be just as breathtaking as the canyon overlooks. The tree branches create almost an archway over the road, and as the sunlight shines through the trees the leaves seem to glow. It is like a Fall Wonderland. Take the time to appreciate the nature around you, and don’t just be focused on reaching the next overlook. There is beauty in every little aspect of Little River Canyon, so enjoy it all!

The second overlook on the scenic drive is Lynn Overlook. The most unique thing about Lynn Overlook actually isn’t the overlook. Lynn Overlook has a long driveway through a sandstone rock glade. Lynn Overlook provides a large and spacious area for visitors to explore the park, as well as a wonderful view of the canyon and its colors.

Hawks Glide Overlook, the third overlook along the rim of the canyon, is known for providing a great view of the fall colors because the foliage is very thick in this area. Last season, while my friends and I were admiring the fall colors at this overlook, we got to witness something incredible: the flight of a red-tail hawk. The reason Hawks Glide is so special is because it provides its visitors a unique view of the raptor’s flight. The viewpoint from the overlook is above the bird. It was so surreal to be looking down on the hawk as it took flight. It is an experience well worth the stop.

Canyon View Overlook is a fan favorite. This overlook offers a fantastic view of the river that is carving through the canyon. The canyon river happens to be one of the largest mountain top rivers in America. This wide and spacious overlook is a wonderful place to take pictures. The view from this overlook is so vast, you can even see the next overlook on the rim of the canyon, Wolf’s Creek Overlook.

While on our scenic drive, I took my friends to my favorite overlook in the entire Canyon: Crow Point Overlook. This overlook tends to be a hidden gem at Little River Canyon. The view from Crow Point Overlook is not visible to the road like the other overlooks, thus leading many visitors to pass right by it. However, this overlook is a must see while visiting the preserve. There is a short 100 ft semi-steep sloped trail visitors must take to reach the viewing point, but it is worth every step. Crow Point Overlook shows where Bear Creek and Little River join together. The view is simply stunning. There is a peacefulness in this area unlike anywhere else in the entire preserve. As the sun sets over the intertwined canyon walls, the fall colors appear golden. This overlook is a great place to enjoy a picnic in the shade on the rocks as you enjoy the breathtaking view.

Little River Canyon National Preserve is Mother Nature’s gift to northeast Alabama. Its beauty abounds, especially in the fall season, and I for one am grateful it is right in my backyard! Don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy this magical time of year at this magical place. Plan your visit to Little River Canyon today, and be sure to go on a scenic drive for me!

Though we ended our drive at Crow Point Overlook, there is still so much to see at Little River Canyon! To continue the adventure, check out the list below of the many more treasures Little River Canyon National Preserve has to offer.

5 Ways to Continue the Adventure at Little River Canyon National Preserve: 

  1. Mushroom Rock

“Mushroom Rock is a rock formation found in the middle of Highway 176. The rock is shaped like a giant mushroom. It has also been known as Needle Eye Rock due to the slot in its base.”

  1. Grace’s High Falls

“Grace’s High falls is a 133 foot seasonal waterfall that cascades off the cliffs.”

  1. Eberhart Point Overlook + Hiking Trail

“Eberhart Point is the last improved overlook along the scenic drive. At the top of the overlook is a restroom, picnic tables, grills and a bulletin board with useful information. A concrete paved trail leads you to the overlook. The trail is moderate with a slight slope.The dirt trail leads you down to the bottom of the canyon.”

  1. Visit the JSU Little River Canyon Center

“For information on Little River Canyon National Preserve or to view a movie about the canyon center and National Preserve, visit the Little River Canyon Center, which is owned and operated by Jacksonville State University.”

  1. Hiking Trails

“Little River Canyon features over 26 miles of trail, from serene river-side hikes to steep, strenuous trails leading down the canyon to the river below. Jacksonville State University also offers the Path To Learning Trail, a gentle stroll through the woods behind the Canyon Center. Stop by the information desk at the Little River Canyon Center for suggestions for your hike, or consult the table below and choose your own adventure!”