Dismals Canyon

ABOUT the CANYON

It is on the canyon floor where we find the undisturbed special terrain known as Dismals Canyon. It contains a rich diversity of native plant life, including a stand of old-growth virgin timber composed chiefly of Hemlock, Tulip Poplar, Sweetgum, Bigleaf Magnolia, and Beech.

Rainbow Falls by Adam Elliott

Rainbow Falls by Adam Elliott

Through the heart of the canyon flows "Dismals Branch", a winding stream that enters the canyon with a roar through "Rainbow Falls".

A 1.5 mile hiking trail on the canyon floor follows the stream through sky-reaching boulders, past thundering waterfalls, into a secret world of mossy-green and pearl gray filled with ferns and giant trees. Its waterfalls, natural bridges, cliffs and boulders give this place a mysterious ambiance.

Witches Cavern by Rob Fincher

Witches Cavern
by Rob Fincher

Explore the strange and beautiful labyrinth of caverns and grottos formed by massive house-size boulders broken off the towering bluffs and strewn about by ancient earthquakes.

Grotto by Bob Weaver

Grotto by Bob Weaver

Among the shadows of this primeval sunken forest, you'll see the mysterious sanctuaries used for shelter by Paleo, Cherokee, and Chickasaw inhabitants.


Daryl Forester

photo by Daryl Forester

Daryl Forester

photo by Daryl Forester

Daryl Forester

photo by Daryl Forester

Daryl Forester

photo by Ronnie Harris


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Geological History

photo (panorama) by Ron Harris

photo (360 degree panorama) by Ronnie Harris - view interactive version

Dismals Canyon was designated a "National Natural Landmark" because of it's uncommon wild rugged character - largely the result of its geological history.

photo by Andra Smith

photo by Andra Smith

Once a primeval swamp, this area was lifted upward during the geological events of the late Paleozoic era (roughly 300 million years ago). Over time, the force of draining waters helped to carve a canyon and gorge system punctuated throughout by dozens of sandstone-sheltered grottos, two waterfalls, six natural bridges, and giant moss covered boulders strewn about by ancient earthquakes.

photo by Chris Jenkins

photo by Chris Jenkins

Huge blocks of sandstone have broken away from the gorge walls and lie in haphazard fashion on the floor, producing many natural bridges and damp rock-face microhabitats.

This natural wonder contains one of the oldest primeval forests east of the Mississippi River untouched by ax or fire that is open to the public.


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Biological Diversity

photo (panorama) by Shannon Williams

photo (panorama) by Shannon Williams

Alabama ranks as the fourth most biologically diverse state in the nation. As a shimmering example, Dismals Canyon contains a rich diversity of native plant life, including a stand of old-growth virgin timber composed chiefly of Hemlock, Tulip Poplar, Sweetgum, Bigleaf Magnolia, and Beech.

More than 350 different species of Exotic Flora have been identified by botanists exploring the canyon.

photo by Ron Harris

photo by Ronnie Harris

The roots of trees clutch giant boulders instead of growing under ground. A clump of Trailing Arbutus grows out of solid rock instead of from leaf mold. Microhabitats of Moss and ferns cover boulders like thick blankets. And giant Canadian Hemlocks rise into the air.

twin Canadian Hemlocks by Jimmy Wayne

Twin Canadian Hemlocks
by Jimmy Wayne

Until an ice storm destroyed one of them, twin Canadian Hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) towered up from the canyon floor. One of them remains and looks sturdy and healthy for its 360 years. It is 138’ tall, 8’9" around and has a crown spread of 50’. It is the largest of its species in Alabama and thought to be one of the largest anywhere in the world.

These Hemlocks are in an isolated spot hundreds of miles distant from their normal range of growth. It is believed the twins are sole remnants of arboreal flora pushed south during the age of glaciers.

Secret Falls by Ron Harris

Secret Falls by Ronnie Harris

The area around "Secret Falls" is a natural arboretum. Within 100 feet grow 27 species of native trees. In fact, the official state tree of 30 states can be found on the canyon floor.

"Witches Cavern" - just below "Rainbow Falls" - is a strange and beautiful labyrinth of moss and fern covered boulders where the largest colony of Dismalites resides.

Visitors to the canyon are always amazed to find such uniquely wild beauty in Alabama.


Hellbender

photo by Sean Graham

Rare Hellbender

In 2006 a Hellbender (giant Salamander) was found at Dismals Canyon. It is currently the most recently encountered hellbender in Alabama, and one of only three specimens that have been found in the state in the past twenty years. It's about 2 feet in length.

The organization Alabama Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (www.alaparc.org) has initiated a conservation effort (Alabama Hellbender Initiative) to assess the status of hellbenders in Alabama.


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Human History

Dance Hall by Ronnie Harris

Dance Hall by Ronnie Harris

Located in northwest Alabama, near the town of Phil Campbell, Dismals Canyon was originally occupied nearly 10,000 years ago by native tribes.

From artifacts found scattered among bluff shelters, grottos, and other sanctuaries, we've learned that many cultures of Stone-Age man were at Dismals Canyon.

Temple Cave by Ronnie Harris

Temple Cave
by Ronnie Harris

"Temple Cave" - a bluff shelter on the canyon floor - was home to a tribe of Paleoamericans about 10,000 years ago. This shelter has never been excavated but samples of Paleo spear points have been found in different areas of the Canyon. Paleoamericans were the first man known to inhabit this part of North America.

It has also been home to Chickasaw and Cherokee.

In 1838 U.S. Troops rounded up the Chickasaw - forcing them from their ancestral lands - and held them under guard in this Canyon for two weeks before herding them like cattle to Muscle Shoals where they embarked on the Trail of Tears.

Old Mill Grinding Wheel

old mill stone

Besides a lazy little pool at the top of "Rainbow Falls", early settlers built a water mill, cotton gin, and sawmill. The mill and water wheel were destroyed by a flood sometime in the 1950s, but one of the mill stones is still below Rainbow Falls - where it landed after the flood.

On Sunday afternoons church congregations would escort their new converts to the chilly waters for old-time open-air baptizing.

The early settlers who first named this hidden canyon a century ago were largely of Scotch-lrish descent. Some believe they brought the name from that beautiful and rugged spot in Scotland called "Dismals".


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Canyon Floor Points of Interest

These are just a few of the points of interest along the trail. View Trail Map.


Dismalites

Dismalites

Past twilight the canyon lights up with tiny creatures we call Dismalites. Guided night tours are available throughout most of the year. More info. . .


swim

Swim

Swim in a natural pool carved out of solid rock by the rushing waters of Dismals Creek.


Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls

These falls were the source of power for a great mill and water wheel that was destroyed by a flood sometime in the 1950s.


Grotto

Grotto

Years ago a massive earthquake tumbled these house-size boulders together to form natural bridges and a cool green grotto.


Pulpit Rock

Pulpit Rock

During the massive earthquake the rocks were sheared off the 60' canyon walls and shoved out just enough to make a winding natural rock stairway. At the top is Pulpit Rock from which you have a panoramic view of part of the canyon.


Kitchen

Kitchen

This covered area was used for cooking and tribal rituals by Chickasaw Indians.


Temple Cave

Temple Cave

About 10,000 years ago this bluff shelter was home to a tribe of Paleo Indians - first man known to inhabit this part of the U.S. This shelter has never been excavated but samples of Paleo pottery & arrow points have been found in different areas of the Canyon. Fires were built in front of the small flat rock at the back to reflect heat out into the cave. The large rock in front was used for grinding corn.


Champion Tree

Champion Tree

This Eastern/Canadian Hemlock is the first Champion Tree in Franklin County. There were two Champion Trees until an ice storm destroyed one of them. The tree is 138’ tall, 8’9” around and has a crown spread of 50’. It is the largest of its species in Alabama and thought to be the largest anywhere in the world.


Weeping Bluff

Weeping Bluff

Looking up at the bluff, you can see the face of an Indian Maiden. The water that seeps from this bluff is said to be tears shed by the Canyon for the loss of its only true friends-the Chickasaw Indians. But it's really just water trickling through from the land above.


Secret Falls

Secret Falls

The water creating these falls flows from an underground mountain stream that opens onto the earth's surface about 3/4 of a mile upstream. The area around "Secret Falls" is a natural arboretum. Within 100 feet grow 27 species of native trees.


Dance Hall

Dance Hall

This well camouflaged area-protected from the sun and the elements-was used by the Chickasaw Indians for shelter. It is the only place where the rock has been worn smooth by centuries of human use.


Fat Man's Misery

Fat Man's Misery

This narrow opening (16” wide) between the two big boulders was the original entrance to the Canyon floor.


Witches Cavern

Witches Cavern

A strange and beautiful labyrinth of moss and fern covered boulders where the largest colony of Dismalites resides.


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Canyon Rules & Policies

Violation of any rule will result in immediate Eviction and Forfeiture of all fees/deposits!

Dismals Canyon is not responsible for accidents/injury/loss of money/valuables!



205-993-4559


Dismalite tour

Photo by Brandon Taylor


Dismalite tour

Photo by Brandon Taylor


Dismalite tour

Photo by Ronnie Harris


Dismalite tour

Photo by Ronnie Harris


Dismalite tour

Champion Tree
Photo by Grant Michael Dopson


Dismalite tour

Champion Tree
Photo by Ronnie Harris




website design by Ronnie Harris
Nature can live without man, but man cannot live without nature.