Birmingham, AL: DeSoto State Park

Get the best of summer (waterfalls, swimming, beaching) with the best of fall (mild temps and colorful foliage) on this overnight through DeSoto State Park. BY VICTORIA STOPP
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Get the best of summer (waterfalls, swimming, beaching) with the best of fall (mild temps and colorful foliage) on this overnight through DeSoto State Park. BY VICTORIA STOPP

Stretching out across a sun-soaked boulder, I consider going for another dip in Laurel Creek. A 6-foot waterfall spills over a limestone ledge into the pool, tempting me. I’m midway through a 7.7-mile loop and the summery scene is perfect—except the deep gold hickories and reddish maples give away my secret: It’s late October. But with 70°F days, year-round falls, empty trails and shelters, and this scene, it’s clear that it’s prime time in the south right now. That settles it: One more soak.

Trip stats
Distance: 7.7 miles
Time: 2 days

Turn-by-turn
From the DeSoto Picnic Area

(1) Follow the orange-blazed Laurel Falls Trail south to the park road at mile 2.
(2) Join the Family Bike Loop Trail and continue .4 mile north to a junction.
(3) Head west on the Never-Never Land Trail, wrapping counterclockwise to a fork at mile 3.9.
(4) Turn south onto the unnamed path and walk .6 mile to the Never-Never Land Shelter (continue .2 mile to reach a stream).
(5) Retrace your steps to the junction.
(6) Head less than .1 mile east to another junction.
(7) Rejoin the Laurel Falls Trail and take it 2 miles back to the trailhead and picnic area. Or, for new scenery, take it .4 mile and link up with the Lost Falls Trail south of Laurel Creek; take this path another 1.2 miles before merging with Laurel Falls Trail for the final .5 mile to the trailhead.

Campsite
Never-Never Land Shelter (mile 4.5)

Kick back in the swankiest shelter in the area: three walls, wood floor, and metal roof. Get water at a seasonal stream .2 mile south (usually flowing through winter, but call ahead to check). Note: Backcountry camping only allowed in the park’s two shelters (see info on the other, below); reservation required ($17; one party allowed). At least you won’t have to share.

Foliage
Hickories and red and silver maples hit their primes by mid-October, but color lingers into mid-November.

Quarry
For a primo foliage view, visit the 1930s CCC quarry. From the fork at mile 2.4, head a mile east. Stadium seating-like ledges surround the football field-size quarry; pick a spot and peer across the basin to the fall color. The park’s other shelter is here, too. (It doesn’t have walls, so bring a tent if rain threatens.)

Waterfalls
Cascades litter this route; don’t miss 6-footers Laurel Falls and Lost Falls on the Lost Falls Trail on the back end of the trip.

DO IT
Trailhead 34.501053, -85.618494; 13 miles west of Cloudland, GA, on DeSoto Pkwy. Season Year-round; summer for best swimming (but it’s humid) and fall for foliage Permits None Custom mapbit.do/BPmapDeSoto ($15) Contactbit.do/DeSotoSPTrip databackpacker.com/DeSoto

Trail Facts

  • State: AL
  • City: Birmingham, AL
  • Distance: 7.7
  • Contact: bit.do/DeSotoSP
  • Land Type: State Park