Desoto State Park is one of the most popular campgrounds in North Alabama. While we have each spent time camping here, it is a 2+ hour drive which makes it difficult to squeeze in everything we want in a standard weekend trip. There are a few distinct areas in and around Desoto State Park that are worth a visit, including Little River Canyon National Preserve, the little town of Mentone, the Desoto Falls Day Use Area, and the main part of Desoto State Park that includes a lodge, campground, cabins, playground, pool, hiking trails, and nature center. For this blog, I am focusing on the newly renovated Desoto Falls Picnic Area.
Located about 6 miles north of Desoto State Park Lodge, the Desoto Falls Picnic Area is located on the West Fork of the Little River just off the Lookout Mountain Parkway. There is a $4.00 admission fee and limited parking. We observed rangers checking for parking receipts, so definitely pay the fee. I always feel good about paying these minimal fees because I know they go toward maintaining the natural areas I love. From the parking area, several fun activities are just steps away.
Take the Mosaic Steps to view Desoto Falls. As if the falls aren’t beautiful enough, there are some really fun mosaic tile steps that lead the way down to the overlook. This is accessible and safe, even for young children, but be aware there were a couple of areas at the edge of the fence that I was sure to keep a tight grip on toddler hands.
Visit the Sandy Beach Area. We weren’t prepared to kayak or swim the day we visited, but the kids still thoroughly enjoyed playing in the fresh white sand. We visited just weeks after the area reopened from renovations, so the sand was so clean and fresh! We spent a long while enjoying this area with beautiful views of the river.
Hike to the Base of the Falls. You will pass this trailhead on the right as you follow the road to the picnic area. I believe it is free parking, but does fill up quickly. It is a short, but steep hike down to the base of the falls. We saw people swimming and hanging out down there, but we didn’t do the hike with 5 small kids in tow. I think the best photographs of the falls would be taken from this area.
Rent Kayaks and paddle around the area above the dam. The water is very still up here which makes for a safe place to paddle around. This is something I would like to do on a future visit when we are more prepared.
Have a Picnic! This is the picnic area, afterall. If you are planning a day trip, as I suggested, plan to eat your lunch here. There are a couple of lunch spots in Mentone, but overall Desoto is pretty far removed from stores and restaurants, so I suggest packing your lunch and having a picnic while you’re here.