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Get Out(side) and Explore North Alabama's Natural Attractions

From its lakes to its rivers to its state parks and more, North Alabama is a treat for outdoor enthusiasts.

Whether you are adventurous or enjoy being in the outdoors, you’ll find plenty of places to explore.

Get out(side) and experience any of these nine natural attractions.

Less than an hour and a half from Birmingham is the Natural Bridge of Alabama in Winston County.

The nearly 70-foot-high, 148-foot-long sandstone rock bridge, nestled in a forest setting, is believed to have been formed by an underwater river over 200 million years ago. It is said to be the longest natural bridge east of the Rockies.

Interestingly, downhill from the bridge is an “Indian Stone Head.” Nature, a genuine artist, etched out what looks like a forehead, nose and mouth.

Natural Bridge offers hiking trails, picnic spots and more. It is also home to 27 varieties of ferns and hemlocks that date back to the Ice Age.

It doesn’t take long to be awed by the natural beauty of Dismals Canyon. Near Phil Campbell, the 85-acre National Natural Landmark features waterfalls, natural bridges, cliffs, boulders, caverns and grottoes. It has its share of lore and stories attached to them.

The 1.5 -mile loop trail begins at Rainbow Falls and offers plenty of side trails to explore. Just remember to return to the main loop. The map provided at the general store highlights spots not to miss.

Dismals Canyon is also home to “Dismalites,” tiny bioluminescent creatures similar to the glowworms found in Australia and New Zealand. A guided night tour allows you the opportunity to see them.

In Madison is Rainbow Mountain Natural Preserve, one of nine preserves managed by Land Trust of North Alabama.

Filled with various rock formations, including the “Balance Rock,” the area provides slightly over three miles of trails, suitable for both beginners and those looking for a challenge.

The preserve is home to various habitats, tree species and more. During winter, when the trees have shed their leaves, enjoy views of Madison.

Russell Cave National Monument is heralded as “an archaeological site with one of the most complete records of prehistoric cultures in the Southeast.”

In Bridgeport, it’s the oldest rock shelter regularly used for a home in the Eastern United States. Found artifacts have provided information into the daily lives of those who inhabited here dating back from 10,000 B.C. to 1650 A.D.

A part of the National Park Service, Russell Cave is known for its tranquil setting. Enjoy exploring the hiking and nature trails.

It’s also on the North Alabama Birding Trail, so you never know what you might spot above you.

The 250-acre Noccalula Falls Park in Gadsden includes a petting zoo/animal habitat, a pioneer village, botanical gardens, Black Creek Trails and more.

The highlight is the 90-foot waterfall that drops into the Black Creek Ravine. A gorge trail winds through its basin and past caves, an abandoned dam and other points of interest. The bronze statue near the waterfall is that of Princess Noccalula, who has her own story.

Located off Lookout Mountain Parkway, between Mentone and Fort Payne, and less than 10 miles from DeSoto State Park’s central area, is DeSoto Falls. Over 100 feet high, it’s considered as one of the tallest and most visited waterfalls in the state.

The 3,502-acre park is home to smaller waterfalls and other outdoor activities that include kayaking, fishing, hiking and biking.

Within the same area, you’ll find Little River Canyon Preserve. Added to the National Park System in 1992 by Congress, it’s known for its grand vistas, waterfalls, rare plants and animals. As a site on the North Alabama Birding Trail, Little River Canyon Preserve is a popular place to spot various birds.

The 11-mile scenic drive, which begins at the Little River Falls Boardwalk Overlook and ends at Eberhart Point Overlook, includes plenty of overlooks in between. Don’t miss getting a picture or two of Little River Falls, Mushroom Rock and more.

If you’re looking for more time outdoors, Little River Canyon offers hiking trails as well as kayaking, fishing and horseback opportunities.

High Falls Park, between Geraldine and Oak Grove, is a hidden gem in every sense of the phrase. The focal point is the 35-foot waterfall. Close to the base is a natural bridge with a large arch formed by water erosion. Hike along the trails, or enjoy a picnic under the pavilion. You can swim here, but pay attention to the rules.

File Cherokee Rock Village under “u” for “unique experience.” Home to enormous boulders of limestone and quartz, it’s believed to have been of ceremonial importance to Native Americans.

Now it’s a prime place for rock climbers, bird-watchers and hikers, to name a few. Cherokee Rock Village served as the backdrop for some scenes in the film “Failure to Launch,” starring Matthew McConaughey.

photos personal collection


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