Fall is almost here and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than visiting some of the best waterfalls and swimming holes near Birmingham. As a family of four, we are always chasing after an outdoor adventure, or should I say chasing waterfalls for the sake of this post? While we have traveled all over the country visiting multiple national parks, forests, and cascades along the way, we still consider Alabama the best kept secret for majestic waterfalls and refreshing swimming holes. Whether you’re looking to beat the lingering southern heat with a dip in nature’s pools or you’re just craving a spectacular view, this guide offers several options for all you waterfall lovers out there.
Peavine falls is a roughly 65-foot waterfall located inside of Oak Mountain State Park. After paying the park entrance fee, follow the signs to the South Trailhead. From there, you will see signs for Peavine Falls. This scenic half-mile route will take you all the way up the mountain, eventually reaching a gravel parking lot. From there, choose between two trails (the White Trail or the Blue Trail) that will lead you to the falls. The most popular and shortest trail is the White Trail, which connects to the Peavine Falls trail. This trail is a moderate 1.2-mile hike and is fairly flat until hikers start the descent into the basin where the waterfall is located. Be sure to wear good footwear since the descent is steep!
Once you reach the bottom of the falls, I highly recommend taking a dip! The last time we went, my oldest loved splashing around in the swimming hole formed from the waterfall. Overall, this hike is a bit more challenging than it looks, but it’s doable with kids if you’re up for a rocky descent to the falls.
Turkey Creek Falls
Located in Pinson, these falls can be found right inside of Turkey Creek Nature Preserve. Open Wednesday-Sunday, the preserve is free and very easily accessible to visitors. The waterfall itself can be accessed from various trails at the preserve but the easiest way to get to it is by driving up the falls from the main entrance. (Basically, this is a no hiking required waterfall which makes it a great place to visit for less experienced hikers, kids, and dogs.)
During the summer you’ll see visitors using the waterfall as a natural waterslide, but if you aren’t interested in getting wet, there are several places to sit and listen to the powerful rush of the current. During the fall, the Turkey Creek Nature Preserves offers a beautifully scenic fall foliage drive that you won’t want to miss.
Caney Creek Falls
Located in the William Bankhead National Forest southwest of Huntsville, Caney Creek Falls is an easy 1.7-mile round trip hike whose destination yields the most rewarding views. I like to consider it a hidden gem, because, unless you’re on the lookout for the roadside sign leading to the trailhead, you could easily miss it! To access the falls, take the Caney Creek Falls Trail, which will lead you to the upper part of Caney Creek Falls. One of the most appealing features of these falls is that you can actually walk behind them!
If you’re interested in catching a glimpse of even more beautiful scenery, continue hiking down the creek, which will lead you to lower Caney Creek Falls. The Caney Creek swimming hole below is so inviting, it’s almost impossible not to take a dip! Be sure to research parking options before visiting, as part of this trail is on private land.
Located on the east side of Bankhead National Forest, the moderate hike to Sougahoadgdee Falls is about 4.5 miles round trip and the perfect adventure for a family day in the woods.
This small trailhead is located in a fairly remote part of Bankhead National Forest, but if you follow your GPS it should take you straight there. From the parking lot there is only one trailhead and it is well marked so you won’t miss it! To get to the falls, follow the trail along the river. There are a few places where the trail splits off from the river and goes down a dirt road, but I recommend staying the course and following the river route the whole way there. The trail is mostly flat with a few fallen trees, creek crossings, and moderate terrain to navigate along the way, but overall it is a fairly easy hike.
One of the best parts about this hike is that it’s lined with greenery and beautiful hemlock trees the whole way which will make you feel like you’re in a different world! As you come closer to reaching the Sougahoadgdee Falls, you’ll stumble upon a smaller waterfall that is definitely worth exploring and is a great preview for the main attraction that is right around the corner. Once you reach Sougahoaddgee Falls, you’ll realize why even the most experienced hikers call this one of Alabama’s most beautiful waterfalls. They are about 30 feet tall and the trail is accessible year round.
Also located in Bankhead National Forest, Kinlock Falls is a very accessible cascade that would be an easy add-on to your trip to visit Caney Creek Falls (mentioned above). Visitors don’t actually have to hike here at all, as the falls are a mere 0.2 miles from the parking lot. Going north on Kinlock Road, the falls are located just before you cross the bridge over Hubbard Creek.
While there won’t technically be any hiking to see the falls, the scramble down to the bottom where the swimming hole is can be a bit technical for small children, but it is still very doable for the whole family. On a hot day you can see visitors actually sliding down the cascades into the pool below! Kinlock falls is the perfect place to visit if you aren’t into the whole hiking experience but are still craving some beautiful views.
Mize Mills Falls
It’s no surprise that Sipsey Wilderness, or William Bankhead National Forest, is home to so many of Alabama’s most beautiful waterfalls. Mize Mills Falls is one of these beauties. This 20-foot waterfall is a powerful cascade that can be heard from the road, making it an easy trek for all ages to view from the top. The fastest and probably safest way to access the falls is to park at the Sipsey Wilderness Recreational Area which does have a small fee.
After unloading, walk across the one-lane bridge and the trial head will be to your right. Follow this trail for about a mile and you will find two waterfalls! Turkey Foot Falls and Mize Mills Falls are just a short distance from each other. If you’re feeling adventurous and don’t just want to see the falls from the top, you can take the trail down a steep scramble to the bottom.
Located in Cheaha State Park within Talladega National Forest, Cheaha Falls is a 20-foot waterfall with a large pool at the base making it a perfect place for wading and swimming. To get there, visitors can follow signs to Lake Chinnabee and park in the small lot just to the left. From there you’ll start on the Chinnabee Silent Trail along Cheaha Creek. The trail itself is eight miles long, but the hike to the falls is only 2.1 miles round trip and has a fairly easy level of difficulty. Just 0.5 miles from the trailhead you will reach Devil’s Den Falls.
After taking a dip in the Devil’s Den swimming hole, continue on the trail until you reach Cheaha Falls. This three-tiered waterfall is the perfect spot for swimming when the temps are high and makes for the most beautiful view when the leaves start to change in the fall.
Devil’s Den Falls
These falls hold a special place in my heart, as the hike here was one of the first dates my husband and I went on. I have always loved the outdoors, but I never used to consider myself an adventurous or avid hiker. Thankfully, my now-husband picked up on that 11 years ago and scored major brownie points when he planned out our relaxing day at Devil’s Den. The hike to the falls is a short 0.5 miles from the Lake Chinnabee recreation and picnic area, making it the perfect little adventure that yields beautiful views.
This is a great spot to spend the whole day just admiring the falls and/or swimming in the swimming hole below. While the falls themself are on the smaller side, the water flows into one of Alabama’s most popular swimming holes. Devil’s Den is still one of our favorite places to visit even years later and, now, with two kids in tow.
Located in Gadsden, this 90-foot cascade is inside of Noccalula Falls Park. The story goes that these falls were named after the Indian princess Noccalula who jumped to her death in the name of love. If you’re not up for a hike, these falls are definitely for you, as you can see Noccalula Falls from the top of the gorge. Visitors can walk around the gorge for different viewpoints of the beautiful falls, and if you’re worried about having children around the huge drop off, don’t be! The whole area is fenced off, making it safe for family members of all ages. There is a fee to get inside of the actual park, but there is public access to the falls that visitors can take advantage of without having to pay the entrance fee.
Swimming at the bottom of the falls is not advised. Yet, rumor has it that if you’re up for a short hike inside of the park, you can follow the 1.7 mile Black Creek Trail to the Gorge Trail which will eventually lead to a beautiful spot tucked away at the bottom of and behind the falls. Be sure to wear supportive shoes, since this area can be very slippery to navigate due to the mist of the cascading water.
The 3-in-1 (Desoto Falls, Little River Falls, Grace’s High Falls)
What’s better than a day trip to see one waterfall? How about a trip to see THREE all in one day!? Visitors to these North Alabama attractions can easily access Desoto Falls, Little River Falls, and Grace’s High falls year round, making it the perfect trip for adventurers of all ages.
Little River Falls
If you’re coming from Birmingham, head east on I-59 and you’ll reach Little River Canyon National Preserve close to Fort Payne. Little River Falls are located close to the Little River Canyon Visitor Center. This 45-foot waterfall is actually what forms Little River Canyon. Once you reach the parking lot, visitors only have to walk down a few steps to get a spectacular view. At the base of the steps, there is a boardwalk you can follow to get an even closer view. If you’d like to keep going, there is a ¾ mile trail that leads off of the boardwalk, which leads to yet another waterfall known as Martha’s Falls/Hippy Hole, or some call it Little Falls.
Grace’s High Falls
Also Located inside of Little River Canyon National Preserve, Grace’s High Falls is 133 feet tall and officially the tallest waterfall in the state of Alabama! To see the falls, visitors can stop at an overlook on Canyon Rim Drive. While the overlook is located across from the falls and a good distance away from them, stopping here would be a great option for families with kids or pets.
For a more adventurous route to the falls, take the Eberhart Trail into Little River Canyon and walk up Little River to Bear Creek. After reaching Bear Creek, you can wade across a wide area (which can sometimes be knee-deep depending on water levels) and continue walking up Bear Creek as far as you can until you have to walk back over. From there, Grace High Falls is just around the bend.
Located in Desoto State Park near Fort Payne, Desoto Falls is one of the tallest and most visited waterfalls in the state. It cascades just over 107 feet into a pool below. Once you pull into the parking area, don’t mistake the A.A Miller Dam for the falls. Keep walking further down the path and eventually you’ll come to the more torrential Desoto Falls. If the falls are all you want to see, you can stop here and take in the view. If you’re up for a hike, continue downward on the 1.9-mile round trip trail. This route is considered moderate as it can get pretty rocky along the way. However, it is still very doable with hikers of all ages.
Walls of Jericho
Located in Jackson County, the Walls of Jericho is home to vast forest lands within the Southern Cumberland Mountains. This forest stretches over 21,453 acres and is split between Tennessee and Alabama. Some actually like to call it “The Grand Canyon of the South.” To witness the waterfall in all her glory, visitors must embark on a strenuous 8.1-mile round trip hike starting at the Walls of Jericho Trailhead. It should be noted that this trail is difficult to navigate and is not well suited for inexperienced hikers. Before reaching the final destination, hikers will cross two creeks, Hurricane Creek and Turkey Creek, and will follow Turkey Creek all the way to the falls.
While the hike in and out can be challenging, you will be rewarded with the most beautiful waterfall surrounded by limestone walls. This makes the treacherous trek well worth your time and achy joints.
Located in Scottsboro, Stephens Gap is a magical cave that just so happens to have an equally as magical 143-foot waterfall inside. Getting to the cave entrance can be challenging to navigate, so it is very important to plan your trip well before visiting. For starters, Stephens Gap sits on private property with only one small sign indicating that you have arrived. Visitors will look for a small gate which will lead to a gravel parking lot. Another important detail is that you must have a permit before visiting the cave, which can easily be attained online by visiting here. (It should be noted that only 25 permits are given each day with a minimum group size of two.)
The trail to Stephens Gap starts from the parking lot and is an easy 1.4 miles roundtrip. After reaching the large entrance to the cave, visitors will have to scramble down a few boulders to see the waterfall. I recommend also checking out the top of the cave to see the repelling entrance. When we visited, there were several people repelling from the top, which was so neat to see! It should be noted that Stephens Gap can be very muddy and slippery so please use caution when entering the cave. Once inside, you will be hit with the most beautiful light beams accompanied by the sounds of the waterfall and echoes of the cave.