I was out for a drive in the countryside of Alabama one Saturday evening when I stumbled upon the Little River Canyon National Preserve. Always eager to visit a National Park Service site, and I can never pass up a good scenic drive, I followed the signs leading out of Gadsden heading north. But all the stunning scenic overlooks and exciting trails did not prepare me for coming around a curve and spotting the Mushroom Rock right in the middle of the road!
The Little River Canyon National Preserve is a linear park along Highways 176 and 275 in northeastern Alabama. The national preserve is unique and exciting to the area because of the hiking trails, waterfalls, overlooks on the canyon rims and bluffs, boulders, and sandstone cliffs. Visitors to the preserve enjoy the scenic drive and overlooks, hiking, climbing, and swimming.
I was just out for a drive for the day. I started in Chattanooga that morning but it was an unbearably hot and humid summer day (the temperature that day was 94 degrees with 88% humidity). I hopped on I-59 and took my trip into Alabama, eventually stopping in Gadsden for the most amazing pan fried catfish and coleslaw I’ve ever eaten.
But on my return I decided to take the scenic route. I had noticed a sign in Gadsden pointing toward the preserve. I did a quick search on my tablet, downloaded the PDF map, and suddenly I had a destination for my day. Forty-five minutes later I was entering the preserve and whisked away from homes and businesses into the dense forest along the western rim of the canyon.
The Scenic Drive is an 11-mile section of Highway 176 along the western rim of the canyon. This drive is anchored by Eberhard Point Overlook on the south and Little River Falls on the north. Several beautiful scenic overlooks, picnic areas, and hiking trails provides lots of opportunity to get outside and explore the preserve.
Near the northern end of Scenic Drive the road briefly splits around the iconic Mushroom Rock. As the story goes the interesting rock formation was saved by a stubborn highway construction crew who refused to blast the rock to make way for the initial road. Eventually conceding to their refusal the higher ups agreed to split the road on either side and save Mushroom Rock for people to enjoy.
There is a small parking area so people can get out, snap a photo or two, or just enjoy the view. A nearby collection of massive boulders formed like a small maze is supposed to be a great place for beginning climbers to practice.
It was a good end to the drive through the country. A few minutes later Highway 176 came to an end at Highway 35. It was late on a Sunday afternoon so the nearby visitor center was closed. If I had planned this drive ahead of time I would have known about the parking area and hiking trail leading down to Little River Falls, but this was a spontaneous trip. A very pleasant spontaneous trip.
But now I need to plan a proper return to Little River Canyon National Preserve and fully explore everything it has to offer. I hear photographers love the scenic overlooks in the mornings, and the waterfall is a splendor when frozen over in the winter. I would like to see this for myself.