Taking the Road Less Traveled by Foot and by Horse to DeSoto Falls
Taking the Road Less Traveled By Foot and By Horse
Three Ways of Viewing DeSoto Falls
By Patty Tucker
Photos by Patty Tucker
DeSoto Falls, located on Alabama’s Lookout Mountain in Mentone and within the boundaries of DeSoto State Park, is a phenomenon of nature year-round but above all, during the Autumn season. Typically, visitors to the waterfall destination drive up to the parking lot, take in the view of the Little River that feeds the waterfall and then follow the sidewalk and steps leading down to a rock outcropping overlooking the falls. But let’s consider a couple of other options for a more thrilling way to experience the waterfall, from top to bottom.
One option is taking a hike, from a recently marked trailhead located to the right before you reach the DeSoto Falls main parking lot. The trails are well marked as the Overlook Trail, River Trail and the Bluff Trail with shades of white, pink and blue paint stripes to keep you on your path. They vary and are considered moderate to strenuous due to the mountainous rocky terrain. If you feel that the River Trail, the more strenuous of the hikes due to the rough and rocky environment, is too much for you, the Overlook Trail, a more moderate hike, still provides you with stimulating and majestic views of the 107-ft. waterfall.
The trails have you starting off across from but on level ground with the Little River where it flows over the A.A. Miller Dam that is holding back the force of the water. As soon as you take off hiking, you are presented with the decision of staying on high ground and taking the Overlook Trail to the left or veer right and begin your descent for the River Trail to the basin of the waterfall.
The Overlook Trail takes you to a rock cliff platform with a generous view of all the tiers of DeSoto Falls including the Little River, the Miller Dam and the limestone rocks, carved and worn down through the centuries by the force of the mighty Little River, shaping the gorge and layers that form the majestic waterfall. On a calm day, the river produces a glassy appearance, mirroring the colorful images along the banks of the river such as boathouses, kayaks and canoes, and the deep hues of fall foliage making for a breathtaking image in and of itself. As you follow this .45 miles one way trail, you are held on high ground with lofty vistas of skyward trees and gargantuan boulders rising out of the ground like dinosaurs of long ago.
The River Trail, a .70 miles one way, is an invigorating hike that has you walking with the tall trees and boulders that now appear larger than life as you stand beside and between them. Nature reveals itself even more as the river carves its own path through the forested terrain, over a rocky riverbed, leaving pools of emerald green water during drier seasons to hurdling rapids during wet seasons. The worn path shows gnarled hardened roots, bent and scraggly trees and native shrubs, rocks that have been pushed out of the ground by new growth and saplings and now uniquely conjoined with nature, as you wind your way down to and alongside the river. This path also passes by the Icebox Cave Trail for an added adventure. Trail’s end leaves you gaping in awe of Mother Nature as you stand at the base of the waterfall, breathing in and feeling the force of the river whether the water rages over the above rock ledge or trickles into the pool of water at your feet.
Many visitors to DeSoto Falls, often look across the expanse of the waterfall to the rock ledge jutting out of the woods beckoning a view of the cascade from across the gorge. Shady Grove Horse Ranch Trail Rides provides visitors with that opportunity. Shady Grove offers people, ages 5 and up, rides on gentle horses to the waterfall with the 1 ½ hour canter providing added features of its own.
Mount a horse and meander over the glades and through the forest, past a Civil War cemetery of the Crow family dating from 1860-1865, the Jones family cemetery, the Jack Jones air strip, into the peaceful shelter of the woodland before dismounting and tethering your horse to a tree. A few steps from your steed have you emerging from the forest onto that very pulpit of which you longed to stand to view the waterfall. This vantage point is not for the faint of heart. The ledge is brief and stands above the falls making the drop some 130-feet to the boulder filled basin below. But my, how lovely and spellbinding is the view! Panoramic vistas span the gorge to the left carved over eons by the force of nature and blanketed in rich foliage while panning your vision to the right to take in the majestic view of the waterfall, the reason for this destination.
Jamie Holman, manager of Shady Grove Horse Ranch, says they offer rides 7 days a week year-round with 4 outings a day, providing visitors various times to take to the trails on horseback. The property is also available for parties, retreats, weddings, and other gatherings. They have one cabin with a group lodge rate for small to large venues and a 2-person rate. The cabin, while rustic, is fully equipped with all the amenities of home, with the exception of wifi. The property boasts miles of hiking trails that includes 2 covered bridges, a stream, vistas, and a peaceful country setting to melt your cares away.
Retreat to nature and enjoy over 30 miles of trails in DeSoto State Park and acre upon acre of horse trails at Shady Grove where one can’t help but ponder of the voyagers that came before and their reaction when stumbling upon this natural wonder. Tales of Welsh and Native American Indians living among these hills, Hernando DeSoto and his explorers venturing across Lookout Mountain, Civil War soldiers finding respite from their weary travels to bask in this element, A.A. Miller who dammed up the river to create hydroelectric power, and generations of tourists who picnicked, galloped, trotted, and frolicked in this playground of nature we enjoy today. If these waterfalls could talk, what a story they would tell!
No matter which trail, hiking or on horseback, you decide to venture out into the wild, you might hear refrains of Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken, tumbling around in your head. “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” No doubt the route you choose will make all the difference in your day yet might leave you wondering about the other paths. What if I had turned to the right? What if I had walked straight ahead? What if I had hiked? What if I had traversed the woods on horseback? What if, what if? Therein lies your challenge to get out and explore some more and marvel at this stirring creation, taking the path that leads to your destination of peace, tranquility and beauty making it difficult to leave and return at journey’s beginning.