Little River Canyon – No Place for a Bear

January 6, 2010

Little River Canyon

With the new season of Man vs. Wild starting tonight, most of you have probably already seen Bear Grylls’ adventure in Little River Canyon, Alabama. If not, it re-airs again tonight at 11:00 p.m. on the Discovery Channel, check it out for some good laughs.

Now if you have been to Little River Canyon before, you already know how absurd Bear’s treatment of the area was. If you are an outdoor adventure, you hopefully already know that Bear is much more entertainment and much less survival advice. If not, it’s true, and God forbid, if you wind up in a life-endangering situation, don’t do what Bear does.

In the Little River Canyon episode, Bear, among other things, goes from trying to avoid “freezing” temperatures to riding a make-shift inner tube in them. Beyond this, he goes spelunking (cave exploring) in unknown territories, and worries about alligators in a bog in the mountains of Northern Alabama.

Now I must admit, at times I find Bear very entertaining. Just for the record, though, if lost in the woods, NEVER explore deep caverns, and climb down into narrow cavern holes. These things not only can cause one to get stuck or get attacked by rabid bats, it causes you to become invisible to anyone looking for you, a sure fire way to prevent rescue. Also, if lost in the mountains of Northern Alabama, one thing that I can assure you that you don’t have to worry about is the existence of alligators. Snapping turtles yes, alligators no. Now if at lower elevations and near Weiss Lake, then you may worry, several alligators which have appeared in that area as the result of some old Alligator pet releases. Alligators though, are not likely to live in the mountains of Alabama. Finally, temperatures are rarely if ever sub-zero.

As for the isolated dangerous of Little River, Bear greatly exaggerates these. As one of my local friends stated to me, “you can drop me off anywhere in Little River Canyon and I’ll be at a McDonald’s by sun up. In fact, running parallel to the entire northern side of the canyon is a road.


Little River Canyon

The undramatized Little River Canyon National Preserve is a stretch of canyon sitting atop Lookout Mountain in Northeastern Alabama. The first access point from the North, and the closest to my home base in North Georgia is found on Highway 35 between Fort Payne and Gaylesville . The first piece of beautiful scenery is the Little River Falls Overlook. Sitting well below the Highway 35 bridge Little River Falls drops around 40 feet. At this point, trails take visitors to the top of the falls to explore the cliff the falls drop from, and even play in the water upstream.

Little River

A second narrow trail winds down the mountainside to the river below. On any given summer day, 100’s of people may be found swimming and picnicking around these falls. Hardly the dangerous place Bear might have you believe. The falls are a nice view, and can provide for some fun swimming. Years ago this was also the sight for some intense and dangerous cliff jumping. After several deaths in the early part of 2001-2002 cliff jumping is now strictly prohibited in this area by local park rangers. Rock climbing, hiking, kayaking however, are all allowed.

Just over the bridge on Highway 35, the road to the left begins the 11 mile Little River Scenic Drive with some great overlooks.

Little River

For those that fear they may have missed out on some cliff jumping fun, there is another area just south of the Little River Falls Overlook where the locals go for a dip.


In this gravel parking area, there is a short, steep hike down to a flat rock table.

Little River Little River

At the bottom, the swimming action lies to the right. To the left the river continues into wilderness. This can make for some fun boulder jumping, and a great way to get away from the sun bathing crowd.

As for the cliff jumping I promised, Little River cuts through the rock at the far side of the trail, and just past it marks the best location to climb down and check out the water’s depth. Above the falls, it drops approximately 8-10 feet into a large, somewhat deep pool. Here, jumping is much safer, but be sure to climb down FIRST and check the depth before jumping. Northern Alabama can experience seasonal droughts that dramatically lower the water level from week to week. Also, be aware, some spots are safe for jumping, while several feet left or right of them may have a rock jutting beneath the water, so check THE SPOT you plan to jump to.

Little River Canyon

Little River Canyon

One may also notice the more adventurous rope swinging jumpers on the near side of the trail swinging from a 30 foot cliff. I cannot suggest this jump safely. Below the cliff is a shallow rock table that requires swinging significantly off the rock. If one slips off the rope, or the rope breaks from the tree, there is a strong likelihood of death. I fear for these jumpers on every jump, not just for their life, but for the loss of a swimming hole that I truly enjoy.

Past the crowded area, one can find some serious rock climbers enjoying some bouldering over the water. Pass these guys, and it is solitude again.

Little River Canyon Little River Canyon

If you are ever in the area, check out Little River Canyon, it’s a lot more fun and safe than Bear Grylls would have you believe. The wild trails are there, but they are surrounded by some well visited, and at times crowded, areas. In fact, the National Parks states that any area in the Preserve can be hiked on during daylight hours. Camping is only allowed North of the Highway 35 bridge.

Nearby Trails:

DeSoto State Park

DeSoto Falls



From Rome:

1. Take Hwy. 20 into Alabama.

2. Turn Right onto Alabama 9 (4.9 miles from state line).

3. Little River Overlook is 14 miles on the left.

4. The swimming hole is around 13.5 miles. Look for a gravel turnoff before reaching the falls.


2 Responses to Little River Canyon – No Place for a Bear

  1. stephanie on July 2, 2012 at 1:31 am

    I know this is an old posting but it is Weiss Lake not Lake Weiss and there are no gators there either. That was an Internet hoax. It is located in North Al also right next to an entrance to Little River Canyon in Leesburg. It is not the area he went to but it is a big park.

    • JP on July 2, 2012 at 5:49 am

      Thank you for the correction regarding Weiss Lake. Regarding the alligators, however, I need to provide more information. There was, in fact, an internet hoax involving a photo of a very large alligator supposedly caught out of Weiss. This photo was fake, and alligators in Weiss Lake do not reach that size. However, I know personally of smaller alligators caught out of this lake and in the Coosa River in the 1990’s. Additionally, here is a link to a Cherokee Herald article discussing both the hoax and the actual existence of alligators in Weiss, and here’s the relevant quote from the article regarding their actual existence:

      “Wildlife officers occasionally receive reports of alligators in the lake, but he said the winters are too cold here for them to get very big.

      “People sometimes bring baby alligators back from trips to Florida or Louisiana and turn them loose in the lake.”

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