Some say it looks like Middle Earth, some say it’s a cross between a rainforest and a fairy tale, and some simply have no words at all to describe the natural wonder that is Dismals Canyon. Alabama’s last secret hiding place is one of those sights you have to see to believe.
This lush, mystical forest is home to two waterfalls, lots of curious rock formations and some wondrous glowing creatures called Dismalites. The tiny bioluminescent larvae emit what appears to be a blue-green light, and the sandstone gorge offers the perfect habitat for their survival.
Although the Dismalites are probably the greatest fascination here, it’s the natural landscape of the canyon itself that will leave you breathless.
Visitors to Dismals Canyon receive a trail map before heading out on the 1.5-mile self-guided hike through the National Natural Landmark, and they’ll be rewarded right away with a stunning view of Rainbow Falls.
Early settlers built a mill and water wheel at the top of the falls, but it was later destroyed by a flood. Look for one of the original millstones underneath the falls.
The other waterfall, Secret Falls, is so secret that you can’t even hear the water rushing from its underground spring until you’re right next to it. It forms a natural arboretum in the canyon, and is an especially wonderful and calming oasis.
This narrow passageway is called Fat Man’s Misery, and it used to be the only way you could get into the park. Can you imagine?
The map will guide you to the can’t miss highlights, but keep your eyes open because there are plenty of surprises too.
Geologists have come in number to study this distinctly un-Alabama part of Alabama, and think it’s like a little piece of North Carolina . In fact, the only other place in the world you can find Dismalites is in North Carolina. Very strange!
So about those Dismalites… the largest colony in Dismals Canyon is in and around Witches Cavern, so named because of the overgrowth of mushrooms and fungus that grows here, one of which is the highly poisonous mandrake – perfect for a witches’ brew. (The staff keeps it cut back, so you won’t see it though.)
Dismalites glow after twilight, so if you want to see the canyon walls completely aglow, you’ll need to take a nighttime tour. We happened to spot one random Dismalite glowing so brightly it was visible in the daytime, and our guide used a black light to point out a few more.
Please be aware that the trails are only suitable for the sure-footed as the path is quite slippery in areas, especially when crossing the stepping stones over stream beds. There is also a lot of maneuvering up, over and around limbs as well as squeezing through tight spaces.
Dismals Canyon is truly a magical, other-worldly place and I hope you have the chance to see it! For more information, visit the website and for help in planning a trip to the general area, visit NorthAlabama.org
Comments & Reviews
OJrobin rue says
Oh wow, what a gorgeous place. I love exploring nature and this sure sounds like a fun place for a hike!
Stacie @ Divine Lifestyle says
Dismals is such an amazing place. I’m surprised more people don’t know about it. I never even knew about it until a friend took us there.
Saidah Washington says
I have never heard of the Dismal’s. It looks like a soothing place to relax and enjoy nature.
valmg @ Mom Knows It All says
I’ve never heard of Dismals Canyon but it looks like a really interesting place to visit. The unexplained plants growing is intriguing! And Fat Mans Misery just makes me chuckle.
I would totally love to explore this place. I love getting lost in the woods and just taking in nature. If I ever get down that way I will definitely check this out.
Love the pictures and love places like this. I’ve been to Alabama a few times but I must put this on my bucket list of places to go.
This looks so pretty!! I love finding new places to hike this would be amazing for exploring!
OMG this place looks amazing and I love that Tulip poplar blossom.
Marcie W. says
Absolutely stunning! Dismals Canyon looks like a gorgeous place to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life and submerge yourself in nature. The idea of a night tour sounds especially exciting!
What a mystical place this must be to see in person. I would love to take it all in for myself.
Sarah Bailey says
Wow what an absolutely amazing looking place to explore, the look of that gum tree is incredible I really would have thought it had been burnt.
My son is preparing to take a pull-trailer around the US. Alabama is on his stop. Sending this link for him to mark on the map! It does look lovely!
What a great hike. My husband likes to take our kids hiking and its would be great to get down there and see this. Turtle rock was cute, love all the names.
Oh wow, that place is just filled with so many intriguing and stunning natural formations! I love the turtle rock, and that gum tree that grew with all the little holes in it! Such a neat place!
Amy Desrosiers says
These are truly some of the most gorgeous sites ever! I love the water, and trees- mega peaceful!
What a beautiful place to explore! I love hiking and waterfalls. I’d love to visit and explore!
Christy Maurer says
That is such a magical canyon! I’m always amazed at all of the beautiful places in the world I’ve never even heard of!
Nellie Blazina says
Your photos are incredible! Makes me feel as though I’m there with you. My family and I would love to go explore those beautiful sites.
Roger Willis says
Wow Dismals Canyon looks like a fun time! I like that visitors are given a trail map, so that they won’t get lost! A great place that I’ve never even heard of!
Katie Kinsley says
The forest looks just lovely. I love being able to escape to nature and get away from everything in the serenity of it all.
Heather Johnson says
How had I not heard of Dismals Canyon before? I totally want to take my kiddos here to explore all the natural features!
This looks just magical! WHat a relaxing place to visit!
This was such a neat place. The Dismalites were really cool and like nothing else I have ever seen before.
Neely Moldovan says
We almost went there when we went for a friends wedding but ended up not having time. This looks so pretty!
I find it so refreshing to spend time out in nature. I never knew that this existed! Love your photo too.
I never knew it existed until I went. So weird because ive lived close to here all my life.
Love the Mountain Laurel…so pretty. The water erosion on the rocks also made a beautiful pattern.
Chelley @ A is For Adelaide says
This looks like an absolutely gorgeous hike! I am putting this on my bucket list!
Veronica Solomon says
This is beautiful and slightly spooky all at the same time. Love nature
Maurene Cab says
This looks refreshing and calming. Being close to nature makes me less stressed. I’d love to visit this place.
Autumn R Reo says
I have to admit, I hate the name! It’s such a beautiful place and the name doesn’t help!
Such a magnificent place. I love it.
Shelley R Zurek says
I just adore this place. I am going to pin it to so I don’t miss traveling here.
Vanessa : BriteandBubbly says
What an amazing place to see and visit. It really does look magical! I would love to see it in person one day!
Dawn Lopez says
Your pictures take my breath away! I think Dismals Canyon has incredible trails to hike and many sights to visit along the way. I love the waterfalls!
Janella Panchamsingh says
I love anyplace that has a waterfall your pictures are so captivating
Amy @ Marvelous Mommy says
Dismals Canyon looks like a great place to visit with my family! I would like to have a guide to point all the neat things out!
I love this blog post, your photos are stunning. What a beautiful and peaceful place. I bet it would even more so in- person.
Joyce Brewer says
This is absolutely breathtaking. I’ve got to show this to my husband and see if he’d like to visit.
Wow this place looks amazing! Looks like you had an incredible trip!
Wow, good thing there are still forest like this that exists. I love the waterfalls and the greenery. I hope this will always be preserved.
Rose Cottrill says
I think the Mountain Laurel just find the canyon the best place to live that’s why it’s there. What a beautiful place to explore.
It’s so beautiful it doesn’t even look real! Maybe like a set designer carefully placed each fallen tree and waterfall.
I have been to Alabama numerous time but never been to Dismal Canyon! It looks amazing!!
Shannon Gurnee says
That looks like such a great hike to go on. I love the pictures you shared! I would love to visit there someday!
Wendy Polisi says
This is such a beautiful spot. I have always loved Alabama for its hidden gold mines of nature.
Jaime Nicole says
Wow, what a great place to just hike and explore! Your pictures are just beautiful – I didn’t know there were these kinds of forests in Alabama!
Mary Edwards says
You go to the coolest places. HOw do you find this stuff? I never would have thought to find an awesome waterfall in the Alabama forest! SO COOL
AnnMarie John says
There’s a lot to take in when you tour this area! It’s awesome and the place is breathtaking too. I think it’s worth going to especially if you’re a huge fan of nature! It makes you appreciate things more.
Good pics. It really looks mystical to me. Honestly it’s a bit scary for me but I can go in group hiking.
This is one place I would love to explore! It is really mind boggling how something (dismalites) got into Alabama. Even the trees that are not native to Alabama are found in this forest. I have to read more about this. You really got me interested!
Your pictures of Dismals Canyon are fantastic. I am from North Carolina and have spent a lot of time hiking in the Pisgah National forest here. Before I got to the part where you said how geologists think the Dismals are a little piece of North Carolina, I was thinking this looks just like NC. Very cool place. Thanks so much for sharing it on Share Your Style.