Hike Alabama's Dismals Canyon and Visit Rattlesnake Saloon

A welcome from the Dismals Canyon entrance sign

Dismals Canyon — just a short drive from Birmingham

If you love to hike, one of the best hikes is in northwest Alabama. Dismals Canyon is privately owned and located in Phil Campbell, only about an hour and a half drive from Birmingham. The area was designated a “national nature landmark” in 1975.

It spreads 85 acres and is definitely one of the most amazing natural areas in our state. The hike also features two waterfalls along with hidden chambers and small caverns for those who also enjoy exploring caves.

As you enter Dismals canyon, you immediately notice the peaceful setting

Appreciate the gift of nature

As a young child, my dad and grandmother instilled a love and appreciation for the outdoors. Dismals is a location they would have loved; I wish they both had been able to visit. On a spring day several years ago, along with friends, we experienced a secluded forest area that was one of the most inviting we had ever seen. Once we descended down the stairway into the canyon, the serene landscape surrounded us and our hike began.

Many of the trails follow the creek through the canyon

A relaxing hike in northwest Alabama

The hike is one and a half miles through an enchanting wooded area with hollows and massive boulders scattered along the path. The trail offers amazing views of the forest, the clear creek, and towering rock walls. As you walk along the canyon floor, there’s an open path, several wooden walkways, and even stepping stones added for crossing the creek. With a gentle descent and level spots to rest, this hike would be considered moderate. However, there are options for more challenges during your hike.

Stepping stones added to the creek make crossing easy

Waterfalls along the hike are refreshing on a hot summer day

Entering the canyon, you can hear the rushing water over the creek bed creating Rainbow Falls that flows into a natural pool. The second waterfall is Secret Falls located further down the trail and is a natural arboretum.

Rainbow Falls encircled by huge stones

The swinging bridge is an added surprise

Vegetation surrounds the lower canyon, creating a coolness on the canyon floor. A small swinging bridge entices you to cross over to gaze into a stone hollow. We felt like kids on an expedition, exploring unknown hollows, crossing bridges, walking creek stones and climbing boulders.

The swinging bridge crosses the natural pool into a rock crevice
Monumental boulders teeming with bright green moss
Stone bluffs reaching for the sky

The canyon has a Native American history

The history of Dismals Canyon is fascinating. Several rock platforms with stone canopies are believed to have been used by early Native American tribes for shelter or community gatherings. Chickasaw and Cherokee tribes called this place home until the U.S. Troops forced them out to join the Trail of Tears in the late 1800s.

A view of one of the optional steep climbs
Hidden chambers and slots are numerous along the trail

Multiple species of trees and plant life scatter the canyon

As you hike the trail, you can admire more than 25 species of trees including hemlock, tulip poplar, sweetgum, magnolia, and beech. Botanists claim over 350 varieties of plants in the forest and canyon acres.

Lush flora is abundant throughout the canyon
Tree roots climbing the boulder wall

Rare dismalites are glow worms on the canyon wall

Dismals Canyon is intriguing for many reasons, but most unique are the dismalites, or glow worms, that make their home on the canyon walls. The insects are actually fly larvae. They are cousins to the rare glow worms found in Australia and New Zealand. These tiny creatures are only visible in the dark of night with their blue-green glow. The habitat at Dismals Canyon is perfect for their existence. May and June are the best times of the year to view the dismalites with a guided tour.

On canyon walls, dismalites can be seen only in complete darkness

Visit the Country Store for admission tickets and a cold soda

Purchase your admission tickets for a tour at the Country Store. Booking ahead is highly recommended for the mandatory guided night tours to view the dismalites. Bring a flashlight along, the night tours usually last 45 minutes in complete darkness. Pricing, directions and other details can be found on their website. Additional packages are available for groups. The park is closed from December through February.

The Country Store is a gift shop including a soda fountain and grill

Be sure to stop in for a chocolate milkshake and a loaded burger at the Soda Fountain & Grill after a fun day of hiking. Follow the walkway through a garden to an outside picnic area where you can enjoy your meal while looking over into the canyon.

Accommodations offered at Dismals Canyon

One of the rustic luxury cabins, “Bringing Down the Sun.”
(Photo courtesy of Dismals Canyon website)

Two cabins are available for rent year-round, except in February. The cabins can sleep up to eight people. There are several primitive campsites open seven days a week from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Weekend camping is available only from March through May 31 and from Labor Day through the end of October. Call ahead to book your reservation.

Area map courtesy of Dismals Canyon website

Complete your trip with a stop at the Rattlesnake Saloon

The Rattlesnake Saloon sign represents family projects dating back to 1916

One-of-a-kind bar and grill

Rattlesnake Saloon is about 45 minutes from Dismals Canyon, located in Tuscumbia. It’s a bar-and-grill restaurant built at the mouth of a rock mountain attracting people to visit. During construction, a rattlesnake den was found with a mother rattlesnake and twelve babies — which is how the saloon earned its name!

After the sun goes down on weekends, live performers entertain the large crowds. Lunch is also available for those looking for a more quiet setting. The menu offers burgers, sandwiches, and tenders along with appetizers and sides including crispy onion rings, and loaded fries.

The saloon is located under a massive rock boulder, sheltering indoor
and outdoor seating

Rattlesnake Saloon is open February through November, Thursdays through Saturdays 11 am – 10 pm. The saloon is closed the months of December and January. The saloon is also open on Sundays but only April through September, from 11 am – 3 pm.

Wooden rattlers coil the post as you enter the western saloon doors
A glimpse inside the Rattlesnake Saloon

If you start your day early, you can see both of these unique places in a day. So put on those comfortable jeans, tee-shirt, and hiking boots and drive the short distance for these amazing venues. They are both hidden treasures in our beloved state and another reason why we call it “Sweet Home Alabama.”

“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir

We recommend good hiking shoes and a walking stick from Amazon.

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