Alabama, with its rolling hills and myriad of rivers and streams veining across it, has a little secret: It’s littered with stunning waterfalls. Hundreds of these stunning water shows dot the landscape primarily in the north and central region of the state.
Known more for its tech industry and connection with NASA and rockets, the city of Huntsville has a unique geological history that has blessed the area with many of these waterfalls.
Thousands of years ago, the region was covered by a shallow ocean. Eventually, the water receded as the land was forced upward leaving behind ancient shell banks and coral reefs that died and dried out, and a bedrock of soft sandstone and limestone.
As the centuries rolled on, the elements have carved out huge crags, cliffs, caves, and sinkholes. The process is called karst geology.
The area’s many creeks and streams continue the process to this day, giving us some incredible waterfalls to visit. Here are six beautiful waterfalls in Huntsville that you should visit.
1. Lodge And McKay Hollow Falls
One of my favorite state parks in Alabama is Monte Sano in Huntsville. The park was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and features camping, a planetarium, and 22 miles of hiking and biking trails. One of those trails, the North Plateau Loop, holds a secret just off the trail: two waterfalls — Lodge and McKay Hollow Falls.
Both waterfalls are 40 feet tall. Lodge falls is a tiered cascade that drops down a few stony ledges while McKay Hollow Falls is a short plunge waterfall with a long cascade.
The blue-blazed North Plateau Loop is a very easy walking trail that begins at the park’s Hiker’s Trailhead on Nolen Avenue SE (labeled “Main Trailhead Parking” on Google Maps). The walk to the farthest waterfall is a half mile (a total 1-mile out-and-back hike). Getting to the falls is a little more difficult.
As you head south from the trailhead, in 0.10 miles, you will come to a spring — Blue Spring — near the lodge. Step off the trail on the downhill side, follow the spring, and in a few yards, you will come to Lodge Falls.
Back on the trail, continue another half mile and arrive at a picnic pavilion and the McKay Hollow Trail. This is a difficult, steep, and rocky trail. The good news is that you only have to hike down a few yards to get a good view of the falls. When ready, simply retrace your steps back to the trailhead.
2. Alum Hollow
Huntsville is blessed to have many fascinating and beautiful greenspaces gracing the area. These spaces are designed to preserve and protect some endangered environments while providing visitors a chance to escape the noise and hurry of the city and experience nature.
Several of these greenspaces were created in part through the efforts of the non-profit Land Trust of North Alabama. One of their preserves, the Green Mountain Preserve, offers visitors a chance to visit another one of the area’s many waterfalls — Alum Hollow.
Alum Hollow is a 30-foot tiered waterfall that splashes down its rocky face to a deep pool. The meandering hike to the falls is an easy 2.3-mile out-and-back that is perfect for hikers of all ages and families as it winds its way over a ridge for views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
The thick forest provides an excellent canopy to cool things off in the hotter months, but the best time to take this hike is in the fall when the winged elm burst with color.
There is no admission fee to hike the trails of Green Mountain, but there is a donation box at the trailhead. Please consider dropping in a few dollars to help them continue their mission and keep all of their trails open for public use.
3. Bethel Spring
Another Land Trust of North Alabama preserve is Bethel Spring. The preserve is named after the wide blue-green spring that courses through the property. The spring alone is worth the visit where benches allow you to sit alongside its banks and lose yourself in solitude.
The main attraction of the preserve, however, is the waterfall aptly named Bethel Spring. This 75-foot segmented waterfall churns white down its craggy rock face along several different channels creating a dazzling water show before disappearing into a 334-foot deep cave called Paul’s Cave.
To get to the waterfall, you will use four trails — the Bethel Spring Loop, Carpenter, Falling Sink, and Mill Trails — to form a 2-mile double loop. The hike is moderately difficult if you walk it in a counterclockwise direction. Going clockwise makes it a difficult hike due to the rocky terrain as you approach the waterfall.
The hike averages 90 minutes to complete. That doesn’t include time to linger at the falls, which you will undoubtedly do.
The trails are well marked with white diamond markers that have the name of the trail you are on emblazoned on them. They also have metallic green medallions with yellow arrows that point to the direction of turns.
4. Fagan Springs
A short and moderately difficult 1.4-mile out-and-back hike at the Land Trust of North Alabama’s Monte Sano Nature Preserve (the largest urban land preserve in the country) is rewarded with a visit to the seasonal Fagan Springs waterfall.
While the actual waterfall itself is short in size coming in at 15 feet tall, Fagan Springs is still an incredible block-type cascade to see.
The spring takes a long, frothy journey down a rock-filled channel, churning white as it makes its way downhill to its final drop — the falls where it tumbles down a fascinating rocky bed that will keep you mesmerized.
The short out-and-back hike begins at the south side of the parking lot Bankhead Parkway NE. To get to the falls, use the Alms House Trail from the trailhead connecting to the Fagan Springs Trail and the waterfall.
With only a few exceptions, the trails are well blazed with metallic diamond markers.
5. Lost Sink Falls
The Huntsville area is pockmarked with deep sinkholes, the result of karst geology. Two of those offer some of the most striking waterfall views in the area. The first is called Lost Sink Falls.
This hidden gem is located only 15 miles southeast of Huntsville on the Nature Conservancy’s Keel Mountain Preserve, a 310-acre parcel of land that was established to protect the endangered Morefield’s leather flower. A moderate 2.2-mile out-and-back hike along a dirt path strewn with rock slabs and boulders lead you up the side of the mountain and this incredible waterfall.
While the flow isn’t the most rushing waterfall in the state, it is still impressive as the 100-foot-tall cascade drops down its rock wall into an almost circular 100-foot-deep sinkhole. It’s quite impressive to say the least, especially in spring when the rain is plentiful, the water is flowing strong, and the greens of the season frame the falls.
The hike to the falls and back to your car takes just over 2 hours. The trail is marked with green plastic diamond markers bearing yellow arrows pointing the direction of travel and the Nature Conservancy logo.
The view of the falls plunging into the deep sinkhole is breathtaking but remember to use extreme caution around the rim. It is a precipitous drop to the bottom. Keep children and dogs away from the edge.
6. Neversink Pit
The second karst geological waterfall is called Neversink Pit, a sinkhole with a vertical drop of 162-feet and a stunning ribbon waterfall flowing into the abyss. Once again, the view is incredible in spring and early summer with dark greenery and blooming mountain laurel framing the scene.
Neversink is owned and managed by the Southeastern Cave Conservancy, Inc. (SCCI). The conservancy protects sensitive cave habitats and wildlife across the region and opens the property up to the public for managed recreational activities, like hiking to the falls.
To hike to the falls, you must have what SCCI calls a “surface permit,” which means no climbing down into the cave. You can obtain the permit free of charge by visiting their permit website. Keep in mind that you are restricted to the number of people who can access the falls with the permit. This helps ensure the land and cave are preserved and not overrun with people.
While the permit is free, please consider donating to SCCI while you are on their website to help them continue their mission.
You will receive your permit almost immediately after registering. Print two copies, one for you to carry, the other to place on the dashboard of your car.
The hike to Neversink Pit is a short 1-mile out-and-back, but the half mile trek up to the falls is difficult and on a rather steep, rocky slope. And again, it is a sharp drop off to the bottom of the sinkhole. Please keep your distance from the edge and keep children and pets away for safety.
Remember that waterfalls in the South are generally seasonal meaning that they may be non-existent in the hot summer months. But even in summer, sudden pop-up thunderstorms can bring the falls to life in a moment’s notice.
Use extreme caution around waterfalls especially with children and pets. The footing is slippery and many times the drop is precipitous.
Always bring plenty of water with you on any hike. While the waterfalls look refreshing, don’t chance drinking from them and getting sick.
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