The sturdy ridge of Lookout Mountain angles for about 80 miles across parts of three states: Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee. Nowhere more than 10 miles wide, the mountain seems a world unto itself, featuring a diverse display of plant life. Oaks and maples intermingle with poplars and dogwoods, while bouquets of sunflowers, lobelias, and black-eyed Susans spangle the fields. The parkway itself, marked by green signs, cobbles together a dozen rural byways to fashion a 120-mile-long paradise that includes cascades, canyons, and even caverns.
1. Noccalula Falls Park
Alabama’s natural beauty shares the stage with Indian lore at this 250-acre park to the north of Gadsden. Once called Black Creek Falls, the 90-foot waterfall here now bears the name of the Cherokee princess Noccalula, who is said to have hurled herself to a watery death rather than marry a man she did not love. A bronze statue of the lovelorn maiden, poised to leap into the thundering cascade, looks out endlessly on the falls. Nearby, a stairway descends into Black Creek Gorge, a snaking chasm carved into the rocks just downstream from the falls. A 1 1/2-mile trail shadows the waterway as it races between towering sandstone bluffs. Another pathway, the Lookout Mountain Hiking Trail, which one day will lead all the way to Chattanooga, also can be sampled at Noccalula Falls Park.
2. Little River Canyon
The green signs along Tabor Road, Rte. 89, the first leg of the Lookout Mountain Parkway, will guide you north to State Rte. 68, where the parkway becomes Rte. 176 with Leesburg on the left and Collonsville to the right. Farther along, at a community called Dogtown, the drive makes a brief, beautiful detour from the parkway itself, taking Rte. 176A northeast along the western rim of Little River Canyon.
The roadway parallels the steep-walled rift, one of the deepest to be found east of the Mississippi River. Turnouts are sprinkled along the route; stand at the canyon’s edge, if you dare, and listen for the distant music of the Little River, rushing along some 700 feet below. You can even follow one of several trails that lead down the sandstone cliffs to the cloistered canyon floor and reward yourself with a refreshing summertime dip in one of the Little River’s sheltered swimming holes. After you enjoy this side trip, return to the parkway by following Rte. 35 westward to Rte. 89.