Little River Canyon National Preserve, Alabama

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Little River Canyon National Preserve is located in DeKalb County, Alabama, on Lookout Mountain, seven miles east of Fort Payne. The preserve is an easy daytrip from Birmingham, Ala., or Chattanooga, Tenn., via Interstate 59. Nearby DeSoto State Park provides camping facilities, as well as views of the majestic 100-foot drop of DeSoto Falls. Nearby Fort Payne provides food, lodging and entertainment. Little River is unique because it’s the only river that forms and flows for almost all of its length on top of a mountain. Over a weekend, photographers can take a slower pace, visiting all of the nine overlooks along the 11-mile (one-way) Canyon Rim Parkway in the better light of the early morning or late afternoon. Little River was designated a State Wild & Scenic River in 1969.

Alabama is relatively mild year-round, albeit with hot summers sometimes reaching into the low 100s. Humidity is generally high in the region, making summer muggy. Autumn and spring typically have better weather, ranging from 40° F in the early and late hours to 80° F during the peak of the day. There’s hardly ever any snow throughout the state, even during the modest cold of winter.

Photo Experience
Because most of the photo attractions are shrouded in the shadow of the canyon throughout the day, try to photograph during the twilight of early morning or evening when photographing wider landscapes; you can capture a wider range of tones in the image without the shadows blocking up or the highlights blowing out. Of course, you can get around this problem by photographing with split ND filters or high dynamic range imaging techniques, or by photographing on an overcast day. The main photo attraction of the preserve is Little River Falls, which, at 250 feet wide and 45 feet tall, is one of Alabama’s most scenic waterfalls. An adjacent parking area and paved trail make it easily accessible. When shooting from the boardwalk next to the falls, a wide-angle zoom in the range of 16-35mm (or equivalent) is useful. Other views of the falls are possible from the rim parkway overlooks, provided you’ve brought a long telephoto (300-500mm) to capture frame-filling crops of the waterfall. In order to photograph the many waterfalls and creeks, a polarizing filter and a set of ND filters, or a variable ND filter such as Singh-Ray’s Vari-ND or Vari-N-Duo, come in handy. The polarizing filter reduces the reflections of the water and wet rocks, and increases color saturation across the board. ND filters aid in capturing the impressionistic blurred motion of the water as it tumbles over the falls and among the rocks of the river. A tripod and cable release are a must if you want the velvety effect of blurred water as it passes over the falls and between the rocks of the canyon.

Best Times
Autumn provides some of the state’s best foliage viewing. Oak, hickory and elm trees are plentiful, often accompanied by short-needle pines. The high canyon walls and overlooks enable you to capture wide vistas full of color, plus tight crops of trees in full autumn glory. Spring is characterized by an abundance of green, accentuated by the white and lavender blooms of dogwood and redbud. Mountain laurel and rhododendron peak during May and June. During summer, kayakers challenge the canyon’s turquoise whitewater. If you encounter a kayaker paddling through the scene, dial up your ISO and try shooting the action as it unfolds.

Contact: Little River Canyon National Preserve,

Essential Gear

When traveling canyons or waterfalls, mobility is important, but so is being able to stabilize your lens. A monopod gives photographers the ability to support heavy lenses while weighing less and being much more simple to maneuver. What’s more, a monopod can even double as a walking stick.