Discovering Lookout Mountain Parkway – and more

With our urban meanderings out of the way for a while, we set our eyes on what Reader’s Digest called “One of America’s scenic drives,” the Lookout Mountain Scenic Parkway.  It’s 93 miles long and spans three states as it stretches from Gadsden, Alabama, through the northwest corner of Georgia to Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Lucky for us the the parkway begins right where we’re currently located, at Noccalula Falls Campground in Gadsden.

Lookout Mountain Parkway Map
Lookout Mountain Parkway

Because rain was forecast for later in the day, we set out early with map in hand, planning to drive as far as Desoto State Park in Mentone, Alabama.  After having lunch there we would wind through small towns, climbing several grades to see the lush and green scenery.  On the Parkway we expected to see waterfalls, canyons, unique towns and villages, state and national parks and preserves.  Although it was an overcast day, we were hoping to avoid the rain long enough to see and capture some beautiful waterfall pictures.

Lookout Mountain Parkway
Dekalb County Rd 1005
Lookout Mountain Parkway
Although rain clouds were hovering, like the cows we must continue on our mission!

Our first stop was at DeSoto State Park, where the water of DeSoto Falls plunges 120 feet into the river below.  The highest falls in the area, it was named for the spaniard Hernando DeSoto, who searched unsuccessfully for gold nearby.  Upon arriving and parking there, the first thing we saw was a lovely reservoir situated above the falls.

Desoto Falls

Desoto Falls
Desoto Falls

The state park featured miles of hiking trails, so we had to take some time to pick our favorite candidates.  The first one had several intersecting trails with the sound of water rushing through streams along much of its length.  It was also very fragrant with the smell of many wildflowers – the best-smelling trail we can remember!  Although not very strenuous, we felt like this was the first real hiking environment we’ve been in for many months, and we were glad we had brought lunch along so we could spend as much time as possible in its beauty.
Desoto Hiking Trail


By the time we got to Little River Canyon Preserve, the sky had already darkened and we felt some raindrops.  We forged on and discovered that Little River is a mountaintop river that plunges into a nature sanctuary.  It’s one of the nations’s longest rivers that forms and flows for most of its length on top of a mountain.  There is a boardwalk that leads to the Little River Falls lookout.

Little River Falls
Boardwalk to the Little River Fall lookout
Little River Falls
Little River Falls – actually it’s not so little!
Little River Falls
Rock formations at Little River Falls

It began raining lightly, so after quickly taking some pictures we decided to take another trail to nearby Martha’s Falls.  Bad idea, since we were wearing only light, non-waterproof jackets.  The trail was mostly flat until it got close to the river where it was very steep, and since it was pouring rain at this point we were trying to walk down a muddy path.  At the Falls, which were a bit of a disappointment anyway, Steve declared, “This is officially not fun anymore.”

Marthas Falls
Martha’s Falls – nice, but not worth walking through pouring fain for
Trail at Marthas Falls
Climbing up a muddy, slippery path in a downpour is “officially not fun”
Uh-oh, being lost is what’s really on our mind!

We had intended to follow the 11-mile scenic drive along Canyon Rim Drive to view more of the river and canyon scenery.  Alas, it did not work out, as we somehow missed a turn and didn’t realize our error until it was getting too late to backtrack.  Seeing the “Welcome to Georgia” sign was the first hint that we were lost.  But there was a silver lining after all – Steve saw a roadside jerky stand and we stopped there to get directions.  While talking, we tasted several of Tony’s excellent jerkies and ended up buying two bags.  I discovered that Steve just can’t be upset about being lost when he’s chewing on a good piece of jerky!

Must be really good, it says so right there!

“Tony the jerky guy” confirmed we were several miles off course, and that going back to complete the Canyon Rim Drive would have gotten us home pretty late. So, we started back on the more direct route and after a while Steve spotted a pickle store.  Well, the only thing he likes as much as a good piece of jerky is a good dill pickle, and we had never before seen a store dedicated to pickles.  We stopped to taste the array of spiced pickles and other products.  The owner/pickle maker told us the story of how the business began, and how she discovered that her products are very popular among southerners.  Forty dollars later (pickles, olives, tomato/mozzarella salad and roasted peanuts) we walked out with big smiles.  And that’s how our trip to the Lookout Mountain Parkway ended – we missed part of the scenic drive, but got enough yummy munchies to last a while in return.  Life is funny!

There were other hiking and biking trails to explore beyond our campground at Noccalula Falls.  One was the James D. Martin Wildlife Park and Walking Trail.  We found it located behind a large shopping mall and thought that was rather strange.  Then we learned that the land James D Martin Wildlife Parkbordering the H. Neely Henry Lake is too swampy for commercial use and was set aside as a flood plain and wildlife recreational area.  It turned out that we were pleasantly surprised by the two-mile long green trail that also provided a raised network of boardwalks.  It allowed us to walk out into a 300-acre lake which provided me with great bird-watching opportunities amongst the wildflowers, were in full bloom.

James D Martin Wildlife Park
Boardwalk on the Green Trail

We didn’t think we’d spend much time on this short trek, and since it was overcast when we started, we failed to bring our sunglasses and hats along.  We were sorry about that when the sun came blazing out halfway through our enjoyable walk.

James D Martin Wildlife Park

Great Blue Heron
Sentries of the swamp
Great Egrets and Great Herons are nesting here through June

Biking the Chief Ladiga Trail was also on our must-do list here.  This trail is Alabama’s first extended rails-to-trails project.  It covers 33 miles through the countryside of Calhoun and Cleburne counties in northeastern Alabama, and ends at the Georgia state border. Although we were off to an early start, it quickly got hot and humid so we clocked only 16 miles on this ride.  The rails-to-trails paths are usually paved and offer a maximum of 2-3 degrees of slope at any point, because that’s all the train locomotives could handle at the time.  Although not physically challenging, these trails have proven to be a very enjoyable way to leisurely bike on tree-covered paths with lots of bridges and birds singing to us along the way.  They often go through several small towns so you can get a real feel for the area, and sometimes even stop for lunch along the way.  Not a bad way to spend a half day!

Chief Ladiga Trail
Farmland along the Chief Ladiga Trail

Our one-week stay at Noccalula Falls Campground in Gadsden, Alabama was active and outdoorsy, as we enjoyed mostly sunny weather.

And that’s how we spent our last few days in Alabama, now onward to Tennessee!




  1. Thanks for this post. I had never heard of the Lookout Mountain Parkway before but I am adding it to our must do list. Love your wildflower photos!

    Another must see in Chattanooga is the Tennessee Aquarium. Safe travels!

  2. Oh my gosh…what an awesome header photo. How long did it take you to get that perfect picture?

    What is it about a waterfalls? I could just sit there and watch the water all day. It is like watching the waves on the ocean…mesmerizing.

    Steve looks like a little boy that just walked out of a candy store….lol

  3. Well, even without a waterproof jacket in the rain, and without a hat and sunglasses in the sun, I’m sure glad that you always had your camera with you! Great pictures! We, too, LOVE the Rails to Trails bike paths for all the reasons you list. They are so scenic (at least the ones we have done). Love love love your header picture.

    • Linda, that’s what exactly Steve says, I can forget everything else but never my camera. The Rails to Trails are usually the first thing we look for when an area. Thanks, I am proud of my header picture, patience rewarded me that time.

  4. Rain? What’s that? I don’t really remember! We were near there on Signal Mountain in heavy fog and overheated the brakes on the way down into Chattanooga! Bit scary and missed all the scenery! Like your sentries of the swamp! 🙂

  5. It looks like you had a great stay at Noccalula Falls and a wonderful variety of outdoor adventures — A store of homemade pickles would make me happy, too. Yummy! Love your new banner photo of the mockingbird feeding the baby.

  6. What a wonderful day you two had! You certainly didn’t let the rain put a damper on your fun. Lookout Mountain Parkway sure had lots to offer. We have done Lookout Mountain while on a motorcycle.

    Glad there were other trails and adventures for you. I LOVE that header…amazing! Great shot! The massive amount of nest together are so cool. I can’t over how long that turtle’s legs are!

    • Thank you Pam, even Steve agreed that I am bound to get a great photo with all the snapping I had been doing. A hiker told us it was a logger head turtle and it kept walking towards the swamp and ignored us. We almost missed that Heronry if we had not drive around the Mall. Who would thought those Herons/Egrets would be nesting close to the Mall!

  7. Your header photo of the bird feeding the chick is incredible! I also love the turtle walking shot! What a gorgeous spot you found with so much to do, wonderful!

  8. We love waterfalls, so this post was a real treat. Isn’t it great to finally find some trails to hike worthy of calling hikes? We will be keeping this on our list of must-go places when we are back to this part of the country. I love all your photography MonaLiza but your header photo is simply fabulous! 🙂

    • Yes, LuAnn we are getting giddy now with more hikes in the horizon. It is so funny, the first time we had a real hike both of us were sore the following day considering that we have been walking for miles and miles in the last few days…flat land walking does not really cut it.
      Thank you LuAnn, I am proud of my header photo, and I d say it is the best I have done so far. I stood there for five minutes and snapping away and I got the best out of 10!

  9. Love the header of the chick being fed by mama bird. Parts of that hike remind me of a hike we did in Canada … waterfalls, rain … the whole bit.

  10. What beautiful pictures! Don’t you just love green? I love the header photo MonaLiza…
    Also the nesting motel! Way cool!
    Safe travels…

  11. Really beautiful pictures of the falls. Sorry you got drenched but way to rescue the day with all those surprise treasures. I’m not sure why but I can’t get your blog to stay on my blog roll. Giving me fits……….I’m afraid I’ll miss something. 🙂

  12. Wow! Still lots to be smiling about even after hiking in the rain. I love locally made jerky. A lot lot lot better than what they sell in supermarkets. I’ve experienced hiking in rain before, but we were already coming back so it wasn’t much. Awesome waterfall!!! It looks to me, as good as Niagara Falls. And I also love those cool looking rocks.

    • Sometimes are hiking in the rain is deliberate. Its one of those things when one dares and one take on it. Luckily we always have a spare dry clothes in the car. There are lots of waterfalls where we are now, along Waterfall highway in North Carolina.

  13. Glad you discovered the James Martin Wildlife Sanctuary. What a cool location–right next to a shopping mall! Hope you’ll enjoy some of the other great birding locations throughout Alabama, too. There are 270 official Birding Trail sites around Alabama that are open to the public and offer great birding:

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