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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.
Distance: 7.7 miles
Time: 2 days
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.
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.
Hickories and red and silver maples hit their primes by mid-October, but color lingers into mid-November.
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.)
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.
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
- State: AL
- City: Birmingham, AL
- Distance: 7.7
- Contact: bit.do/DeSotoSP
- Land Type: State Park