Little River Canyon National Preserve

Alabama

INDULGE IN: Kayaking, climbing, hiking, mountain biking, hang gliding

WHY HERE? Witness the mighty Little River, which rages down the side of 2,126-foot Lookout Mountain near Fort Payne, Alabama, and sluices through 14,000 acres of oak, hickory, and pine forests. Snag one of the three secluded primitive riverside campsites at Slant Rock, Billy's Ford, or Hartline Ford, base camps that place you in the heart of the preserve's network of hiking and biking trails and double as launchpads for some of the South's most adrenaline-charged whitewater runs. Intermediate kayakers can practice on a series of Class III rapids on the river's Chairlift section; advanced, the challenging hydraulics in the six-mile Suicide rapids, which, following heavy rains, can turn into a boil of Class III-VI froth. Afternoons, the 700-foot-high sandstone bluffs offer welcome shade and dozens of sport climbs: Warm up bouldering on Needle Eye/Mushroom Rock near mile-marker 23.5 on Alabama 176 before tackling Lizard Wall, a dry waterfall four miles south. And on the canyon rim, work up a sweat on the numerous hiking trails and fat-tire roads that wind across the rolling hills, and then drop down to the river on the Eberhardt Point Trail for a dip.

BONUS: For a day trip out of the preserve, head 30 miles to the Lookout Mountain Flight Park and Training Center (800-688-5637; www.hanglide.com), one of the country's best hang gliding schools.

ACCESS: 115 miles northwest of Atlanta. Slant Rock, Billy's Ford, and Hartline Ford, located off State Highway 35 in the preserve's Wildlife Management Area (open May to August) are all free and first-come, first-served.

RESOURCES: Little River Canyon National Preserve, 256-845-9605

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