DeSoto State Park, Ft Payne

Directions:  To get to DeSoto State park take Interstate 59 either north out of Birmingham or south out of Chattanooga (TN), and take the Ft. Payne/Highway 35 exit (about 90 miles north of Birmingham and 50 miles south of Chattanooga). Head east on Hwy. 35 through downtown Ft. Payne and up Lookout Mountain. At the top of the mountain, Hwy. 35 comes to a major intersection. At this intersection, turn left onto County Road 117. Stay on 117 all the way into the park (about 5 miles).

Trail Information:  DeSoto State Park is a beautiful, rarely visited parcel of protected land in the lower Appalachian region of extreme northeast Alabama. The Park is a long narrow strip that follows the west fork of Little River until it eventually converges with the east fork and forms Little River proper. The park's trails run along the edge of the river as well as along the network of rock bluffs that enclose it (sometimes rising to a height of 100 or more feet above). Other trails cut back away from the river and follow various small stream beds that feed into it randomly. These trails lead to some interesting landmarks -- a primitive picnic area that offers a great view west off Lookout Mountain and into Will's Valley below, the rock quarry where most of the park structures' building materials were obtained, etc. The best thing to do when you get to the park is to obtain a trail map at either the country store or the park lodge (both owned and operated by the park service) and set out on your own. The tangled network of trails are clearly marked and well maintained (especially during spring summer and fall). the trials are rugged and the running can be tough at times, owing primarily to lots of exposed roots and loose rocks. However, only one stretch of trail (that following right next to Little River) is virtually impossible to run due to adverse terrain. One further warning: the trails are very slick in wet weather and as some of the bluffs above the river are both high and shear you have to be very careful.

Miscellaneous Information:  There is water/restrooms available at the lodge, the country store, and the picnic area, as well as plenty of parking. There is a fifty cent fee to park in and use the picnic area, otherwise parking and hiking/running are free. In addition to the trails in the park proper, there is also the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) Trail -- actually an old one lane, dirt and gravel roadway -- that leads from the park south all the way to the entrance to Little River Canyon National Perserve. The road runs for about 5 miles (it eventually intersects Hwy. 35) along a corridor of state land and was developed (but never paved) by the CCC back in the 1930's when the park was first being put together. It is a neat trail to run/hike/bike, and includes two beautiful and massive rock bridge frames built by the CCC (note: the bridges were never completed and only their rock frames exist -- thus you have to ford by foot the two streams they cross). Also for those who prefer to run on pavement, there is a 4.3 mile loop of paved road that you can run through the park. Start at the country store parking lot, run north on County Road 117. After .3 miles you will come to a deadend, turn left at the deadend and after another .9 miles you will come to another deadend. turn left onto this road. you will go uphill and follow the western brow of lookout mountain (the scenery here can be wonderful, depending on the time of year). you will stay on this road for about 1.5 miles until you reach a place where another paved road deadends into it from the left. You will also see framing this road coming in on your left the original park entrance built out of rock by the CCC back in the 30's. Turn left, go through the old park entrance, and follow this road all the way back to the country store. It's about 1.5 miles -- the first half very uphill, the last half equally downhill. A final note -- in terms of scenery, the best times of year to visit DeSoto are in early November, when the leaf colors rival any other forest in the southeast, and in late April, when the rhododendron and mountain laurel are in bloom. 

charlie scott