Photo above: Grace Falls. Right: Little River Canyon in the fall from the overlook above. Photos courtesy National Park Service.
Little River Canyon National Preserve
In three distinct parts, Little River Canyon, amazes visitors now for mostly natural reasons and not its history. There's the backcountry area, the Scenic Drive, and Canyon Mouth Park. Prior to the forced relocation of the Cherokee and other native tribes in the Trail of Tears, it had a much different purpose. This was Indian and Indian heritage territory. In between those times, the river served many purposes, as did Fort Payne, Alabama. It's in those stories that the true tale of the river lies, at least from a historic standpoint. Today, you can marvel at its beauty, kayak down its major rapids (only for the most experienced), and picnic in its parks. Somewhere along the line, take a step back in time and think of the history of this land and who inhabited it first. It's only perspective after all.
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Little River Canyon Then
This was Creek territory at one time, heritage for generations and centuries prior to the influx of European settlement. And the change from Indian lands to white settlement came hard. In 1814, General Andrew Jackson led the United States Army in the Creek War, and with the assistance of the rival Cherokee, defeated the Red Stick Creeks. This led to the Treaty of Fort Jackson in August 1814 and the ceding of twenty-three million acres from the Creek to the United States. Alabama, from this territory, would be welcomed to the Union in 1819. Goodbye Creeks.
For the Cherokee who sided with General Jackson, soon to be President, it would be a hollow victory. By 1835, after the Choctaw (1831), Muscogee, Chickasaw, and Seminole were removed, the Cherokee signed over the rest of their land east of the Mississippi for five million dollars in the Treaty of Echota. For most of the Cherokee nation, it would soon be goodbye as well.
Wills Town Mission (present day Fort Payne) was established in 1823 to assist the Cherokee with education and Christianity and disagreed with removal plans that emerged within ten years. A transfer was about to begin. The mission was closed in 1838; Fort Payne was established as a log stockade to assist in the removal process. Over one thousand one hundred Cherokee and Muscogee men, women, and children were collected in the Little River area, marched over the Little River Bridge, and walked seven hundred and ninety-eight miles to Oklahoma.
Photo above: Map of the Trail of Tears from Fort Payne west, National Park Service. Below: Little River Falls. Courtesy National Park Service.
Little River Canyon Now
The park still contains that same canyon, five hundred feet deep from the overlooks to the river since it's been a National Preserve designated by Congress in 1992. That makes it a great place to rock climb and rappel, but only for the most experienced. It makes for a good place to raft, but be forewarned, the Little River is one of the wildest and cleanest rivers in the eastern United States. It is only for the most experienced level kayakers or canoers, Class 3+ to 4, with spring runoff Class 5.
For most of us, this Alabama park is great for fishing, hiking, and sightseeing. The eleven mile Scenic Drive provides spectacular overlooks and a couple waterfalls to marvel at. There's a new Visitor Center run in conjunction with Jacksonville State University, and for those that don't mind learning a little more history, take in the tales of the horrid Trail of Tears, plus the Boom Days that came after the removal in the towns around the area, including Fort Payne.
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Little River Canyon National Preserve
Things You Should Not Miss
1. Take the Alabama Highway 176 drive. This eleven mile winding jaunt above the canyon will take you from the Little River Falls Boardwalk, one hundred feet long, the nearest point to the Visitor Center, down to the Eberhart Point Overlook. Many interesting other vantage points along the way as well. Little River Falls has a forty-five foot waterfall to view. Eberhart Point has its own history, too. At one time it was called Canyonlands Park and had a chairlift.
2. Recreation is part of a visit to Little River Canyon, but should be done with caution. Only the most experienced should rappel, rock-climb, or raft in this area. There are hiking trails leading from the various overlooks, some mild and others taking the steep drop toward the river. Most of these are relatively short in duration. The Little River Falls Trail is only three quarters of a mile long. The Canyon Mouth Trial about one mile.
3. Visit the Canyon Visitor Center. This center has exhibits, ranger programs, and other amenities that will make your stay at Little River Canyon more enjoyable. There's also interpretation and more amenities in DeSoto State Park to the north. It's within the boundaries of the National Preserve, but run by the state of Alabama.
Photo above: Another fall scene of a falls on the Little River, 2014, Richard A. Weaver. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.