Dismals Canyon is a beautiful, lesser known location in north Alabama. It is a smaller, natural gorge and is a national natural landmark (note that it is not a national park – it is privately owned and national park passes won’t work here).
There are two hike/tour options at Dismals. The first is a daytime, “self-guided” 1.5 mile hike on a loop trail. The trail, while relatively short, has a varied landscape with lots of features to explore and rocks to climb on.
The second option for a Dismals Canyon visit is a guided night tour. The canyon is particularly notable for the bioluminescent creatures (or glow worms) called “Dismalites”. As you walk through the trail at dark, you can see the glow worms lit up, almost like constellations.
We did not do the night tour this time around, but are definitely planning to go back later in the year, because they are best seen at two times: Late April – May and September – October. You will want to make a reservation for this and those can only be made in person or on the phone one week in advance.
The Dismals Canyon Trail
The trail begins on a high note with a wooden staircase taking you down into the gorge while a waterfall cascades alongside. In the summer time people will swim in the natural pool created by the waterfall.
After that you’ll follow a mixture of boardwalks, dirt trails, and stepping stones throughout the canyon. There are interesting features on both the out and back part of the loop trail. The trail is flat and easy for kids to walk and climb on, with a lot of little jut-offs and side areas to explore.
The whole thing is just so cool. As you can see on the map, there are a lot of points of interest in Dismal’s Canyon. Here are our top 5.
Top 5 Favorite Spots in Dismals Canyon:
#5 The Witches Cavern
Almost at the end of the hike is a little entrance between some boulders. Look for these crazy roots by the opening! I loved this spot because all the boulders turned into a series of little rooms in a “cavern” – I was expecting just a little opening to walk behind the one boulder, but it turned into a longer trail. Lots of little nooks and crannies in here.
#4 Fat Man’s Misery
This one is a little hard to spot as you have to leave the main trail and head up the hill a bit. Additionally, it’s quite narrow and so if you don’t go far enough it’s easy to miss. But the narrow passage was really cool and the kids (and Matthew – he got to play the “fat man”) had a fun, and muddy, time squeezing through the tight space. It’s also located by a pretty, curving rock formation.
#3 The Rope Bridge
Not only is the bridge a great time in itself, it also provides a wonderful view of Rainbow Falls. This is the end of your journey and it is a great way to close the loop.
#2 Secret Falls
This waterfall can be seen from the main trail, but it is worth climbing up to it and exploring behind and around it. You get a nice overlooking view of the canyon as well as a close up of the waterfall. The easiest approach is from the south side of the falls, but it is possible to traverse and descend the north side, too.
#1 The Grotto
Walking between the towering boulders and cliffs was a great contrast to the open feeling of the start of the trail. There are several small passages to explore – such as a small trail heading up to the Pulpit. The rocks walls also have some great textures that aren’t found on the rest of the hike.
Practical Information for Dismals Canyon:
Dismals is located in Campbell, Alabama, which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It is less than three hours to reach it if you live within the triangle of Nashville, Birmingham, and Memphis, making it a pretty easy day trip.
When to Go
Dismals Canyon is open from March to November. Crowd levels are much lower during the week than on Saturday. Spring and fall are less busy, and summertime can draw 400-500 visitors on Saturdays.
How Long Does the Hike Take
We thoroughly explored and played in the canyon, and spent exactly two hours there.
The website says that the canyon is about 15 degrees cooler than the “regular” outside temperature. We found that the canyon was slightly cooler than outside temperature overall – with a few spots in caves or by the waterfall being even cooler – but would not say it was 15 degrees cooler, probably around 5 degrees. We came when it was 73 degrees outside and it definitely did not feel like 58 degrees. Do be aware – the canyon is rather humid.
There are signs asking for no picnics or food to be brought in, so be prepared for that.
There are bathrooms in the parking lot but no bathrooms, except for trees, on the trail.
This hike is probably not a good choice if you have mobility issues, as there are roots and rocks to climb and rock around, stepping stones to cross as river points, and a tall staircase at the beginning to go down.
Adults are $12, Kids are $8.75, and Seniors are $11