‘Bama is more than just cotton fields and Gulf coastal waterways. The state’s portion of Lookout Mountain—which stretches into three states including Georgia and Tennessee—is a hidden treasure of stunning scenery. Alabama’s northeast corner features the tail end of the Cumberland Plateau, and the centerpiece of the underappreciated area is the vast 14,000-acre Little River Canyon National Preserve. The Little is one of the longest mountaintop rivers in the country, running entirely on the backbone of Lookout as it cuts a gorgeous canyon with upland forests and high sandstone cliffs. The region’s unique topography provides a bounty of outdoor action, including world-class climbing, whitewater paddling, and even an under-the-radar ski slope. “We feel really undiscovered and isolated,” says local outfitter Bill Adams. “It’s hard to believe we’re still so off the beaten track.”
Located on the eastern edge of Lookout Mountain, Sand Rock is a local climbing mecca that features a wide variety of crags from the sport routes on Sun Wall to endless bouldering niches. The high sandstone cliffs of the Jamestown Climbing Preserve near Fort Payne are also a top trad destination.
Little River Canyon has some of the most epic, underutilized whitewater in the Southeast. Boaters divide the free-flowing mountain river into four sections, ranging from the playful waves of section two to the hardcore Class V stint dubbed Suicide, which is below 35-foot Little River Falls and has chewed up plenty of plastic in its whirlwind of undercuts and hydraulics.
Most people don’t realize there’s skiing in Alabama, but Cloudmont Ski Resort in Mentone gives many a Southerner a quick downhill fix in the winter months. The numbers are dinky—two trails, two lifts, 10 acres, and 150 feet of vertical drop. But during the week you can have the hill practically to yourself for a lift ticket that’s nice and cheap.
Local hikers recommend the DeSoto Scout Trail at Camp Comer for a rugged 16-mile ramble on the west fork of the Little.
Cyclists love exploring the winding roads on the canyon rim. The Desoto-Mentone Ridge Run is a 32-mile loop that travels from Ft. Payne to Mentone with a stint in DeSoto State Park.