DeSoto State Park perches on the ridge of Lookout Mountain in northeastern Alabama, eight miles northeast of Fort Payne, DeKalb County. The park is named after Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, who according to local legend passed through the area in 1541; most authorities, however, believe that the expedition passed well to the south. The park was voted one of America's top 10 state parks by readers of Camping Life magazine in 2006. In 2009, the park and lodge had 151,000 visitors, annual operating expenses of $1.8 million, and a staff of 37 people. The area now encompassed by DeSoto Park was originally within the homeland of the Cherokee until they were removed in the 1830s, and Union cavalry troops camped near the park's DeSoto Falls in 1863 on their march to the Battle of Chickamauga.
The park is located near Little River Canyon National Preserve, which was established to protect Little River and the surrounding canyon, known as "The Grand Canyon of the East." The west fork of Little River flows through DeSoto State Park, and a section of the canyon lies within the park boundaries. Most of the park's buildings date from the 1930s, when the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) undertook construction projects within the park that included a lodge and other visitor structures. Many of these structures are still standing. The stone used to construct the buildings was mined from a quarry on the park property; drill marks can still be seen on some stones along one of the hiking trails. The quarry itself can be reached from the White Trail at the end of the parking lot next to the store.The park's 3,502 acres of densely forested mountain terrain offer visitors mountain streams, unusual rock formations, thickets of rhododendrons and mountain laurel, glades of wildflowers, and a multitude of birds, mammals, and reptiles. The park actually consists of two non-contiguous sites. DeSoto Falls, the tallest waterfall in Alabama at 104 feet, is located on a separate parcel of land six miles north of the main part of the state park near Mentone; the site is easily accessible via a paved pathway. The falls are a well known landmark and are often featured on postcards and brochures for the area.
The park's amenities include 15 miles of hiking and biking trails, a campground with two comfort stations, a primitive camping area with showers, a picnic area, a playground, an interpretive nature center, tennis courts, and an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The park's main lodge was expanded in the late 1970s and the rooms and lobby were renovated in 1997; the lobby now features exposed beam ceilings, stone walls, and a massive stone fireplace. An adjoining restaurant provides full meal service. A 25-unit motel adjoins the lodge, and original rustic CCC-built log cabins are available for rental. Nearby are A-frame mountain chalets and log cabins that were constructed in 2006. A visitor center offers an information desk, coin-operated laundry, restrooms, country store, nature center, gift shop and camping store. In March 2013, a tornado damaged the restaurant and some cabins at the park. On April 19, 2013, DeSoto State Park staff and guests dedicated the Civilian Conservation Corps Museum, which is located in the Corps-built Contact Station at the park's original entrance; it features exhibits and interpretive areas related to the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps in developing Alabama's state parks, among many other activities.
Thomas V. Ress
Published April 20, 2010
Last updated May 1, 2013