Ready for a day trip? 3 reasons to visit stunning Little River Canyon and the JSU Canyon Center

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Little River Canyon. Photo via Taylor Babington for Bham Now

Waterfalls, sandstone cliffs, a beautiful river and amazing views—Little River Canyon has it all. And it’s less than two hours from Birmingham, y’all. I am thrilled to share more about one of my favorite places in Alabama. Here are just a few reasons why you should check out Little River Canyon ASAP.

1) The activities

Hiking, climbing, kayaking, biking, hunting, fishing, horseback riding…the list of activities you can do at Little River Canyon goes on and on. In my family, we focus on the climbing and hiking, but clearly there’s something for everyone.

If you’re up for a hike, may I suggest:

Baby loves a nice hike. Photo via Taylor Babington for Bham Now
  1. The Eberhart Trail if you’re up for a challenge. It’s only ¾ of a mile each way, but since it takes you from the top of the canyon all the way to the bottom, getting back up the trail is no joke.
  2. The Beaver Pond Trail is much more mellow and family-friendly. It’s mostly flat and it’s 1.5 miles round-trip.
  3. There’s also a great hike that you can start at the Little River Canyon Center. Link up to the Bridge Trail from the center, which takes you right over Little River Falls, and then head over to the Little Falls Trail (AKA Martha’s Falls) to get down to the river.
2/3 looking at the camera—I’ll take it. Photo via Taylor Babington for Bham Now

If climbing is your thing (it’s not my wheelhouse, so I asked my husband for some tips on this one):

  1. It starts at 5.10 and 5.13 (climbing grade), so it’s really not for beginners. Make sure you bring the right gear and know how to use it.
  2. Summer favorites are “the Concave” and “Jungle Gym”
  3. A good winter spot is Toomsuba
  4. More info is available on Mountain Project
That’s my husband up on the wall. I prefer to stay on the ground. Photo via Taylor Babington for Bham Now

If you’re a kayaker, helpful info can be found here.

Though we visited during the fall, the canyon is also a great spot for swimming. In the summer, you can pack your bathing suit and check out some of the swimming holes, including Martha’s Falls (AKA “Hippie Hole”).

2) The Little River Canyon Center

I’m not going to lie, when I first stepped in the Little River Canyon Center, I was amazed at how nice it is. It reminds me of some of the outdoor centers you can find out West. It’s full of educational material as well as a gift shop, outdoor amphitheater, natural history library, HD theater and more. The center is part of Jacksonville State University (JSU), and it’s been in operation for the last decade in partnership with the National Park Service.

My family was lucky enough to be at the center during Canyon Fest, an annual event at the center. Here are some highlights:

Local makers and outdoor folks:

Taylor Allison of Taylor Blake Blacksmith. Photo via Taylor Babington for Bham Now

I spoke with Taylor Allison, owner of Taylor Blake Blacksmith. She’s keeping the trade alive and had some cool wares to show for it. She reuses metal and creates household items and knives—pretty cool.

Robert Wilson. Photo via Taylor Babington for Bham Now

I also got to chat with Robert Wilson of Seven Pines Survival, which is a part of the JSU Field School. Canyon Center Field School trips provide quality, hands-on learning experiences and reach over 5,000 students each year. Robert teaches classes on botany, land navigation, survival, natural dyes and more. He had some animal pelts with him which were a big hit with the kiddos.

Birds of Prey:

This might have been my favorite part of Canyon Fest. We went to the Birds of Prey presentation at the center, where we got up close and personal with some beautiful birds, like the owl below. It was a hoot.

Hooty hoot. Photo via Taylor Babington for Bham Now

Canyon Fest isn’t the only event offered at The Canyon Center, either. Other events include:

  • The Canyon Christmas (December)
  • Jazz Dinner Tradition (February)
  • Earth Fest (April)
  • Bluegrass on the Rim (June)
  • Canyon Half Marathon (October)

Check out their calendar for the latest info.

Pete Conroy, director of the center, was instrumental in establishing Little River Canyon Preserve and making the Canyon Center what it is today. He testified before the U.S. House and Senate in 1992 to secure protections for this natural resource. It’s known by many, but on November 15, 2019, Governor Kay Ivey stopped by the Canyon Center for a tourism update and progress report on JSU’s development plans.

Governor Kay Ivey visits the Canyon Center. Photo via Little River Canyon Center

“More and more people from Fort Payne and around the world use the JSU Canyon Center like a stylish and educational base camp for their explorations.”

Pete Conroy, director, JSU Strategic Partnerships and Projects, Field Schools, Mountain Center & Canyon Center

3) The scenery

Little River Canyon views. Photo via Taylor Babington for Bham Now

You don’t even have to get out of your car to enjoy the scenery at Little River Canyon (though I would recommend doing so if you make the trip!). Check out this scenic drive, which includes several overlooks.

Plans for the Future

Little River Canyon attracts more than half a million visitors each year, generating a $15 million economic impact. To accommodate this high demand, the Canyon Center is expected to make some exciting additions, including:

  • Boutique Hotel
  • Tree House Village
  • Bunkhouse/Dormitory Facilities – Lakeside
  • Restaurant/Marketplace
  • Aerial Treetop Adventure System

I can’t wait to check these out!

How to Get There

Ready to check out the canyon for yourself? Start your journey at The Canyon Center, located at 4322 Little River Trail NE, Fort Payne, AL. It’s open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. every day! The drive is only about 1:40 from Birmingham on I-59.

Have you visited the canyon? What’s your favorite spot? Let us know @BhamNow.

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