13883 CR-89, Fort Payne, Alabama
This elaborate complex of recreational and lodging facilities is the nucleus of a 3,000-acre park that stretches for 10 miles along the Little River, the only river in the country to flow its entire course on a mountaintop. The park is named for the Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto, who in 1540 was the first European to explore the region. Situated on the wooded, undulating terrain of Lookout Mountain, the resort has cabins and camping areas as well as a lodge and an Olympic-size pool.
The area is magnificently scenic. Miles of hiking trails lead to mountain streams, miniature cliffs, mossy glens, and waterfalls. Among the most striking features to be encountered along the paths are huge picturesquely weathered boulders. The park is also noted for its flowering shrubs, and expanses of rhododendron and mountain laurel can be seen at their peak bloom from mid- to late May. A profusion of wild azaleas festoons the Azalea Cascade Trail with delicate clusters of bloom.
Other parts of DeSoto State Park also offer outstanding attractions. At DeSoto Falls, a few miles north of the resort, the Little River takes a 100-foot plunge into a large green lake before continuing its descent through a wide, leafy gorge. At Little River Canyon, the deepest canyon east of the Mississippi, the river makes another spectacular plummet. But the main attraction is the 16-mile-long canyon itself, which, with a depth of some 700 feet, is the deepest chasm east of the Rockies. A two-lane drive hugging the western edge of the rim provides good views. Legend holds that de Soto searched for gold in the caves along its cliffs.