Cherokee Rock Village is a 200-acre public park located in northeastern Alabama in Cherokee County, near the town of Leesburg. Also known as Sandrock, Little Rock City, and Sand Rock, Cherokee Rock Village sits atop a large outcropping on the southern end of Lookout Mountain, overlooking Weiss Lake. Its narrow slot canyons meander among high cliffs, natural arches, caves, and huge freestanding sandstone islands rising above a maze of passages and overhangs. Its most notable features are massive, house-sized sandstone boulders and stone formations up to 200 feet high that date back 300 million years to the Pennsylvanian Period. One outcropping closely resembles a cluster of homes, earning the site its "village" appellation. Scenes for the 2006 film Failure to Launch, starring Matthew McConaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker, were filmed at the park.
The area was home to Native Americans almost continuously from 8000 BC until 1838, when the resident Cherokee and Creek Indians were forcibly removed by the Indian Removal Act and the resulting Trail of Tears. The site was believed to be of religious and ceremonial importance to these Native American groups. In fact, the site lies along an old Indian trail that later became a route for white settlers. The trail also was used by both northern and southern troops during the Civil War and is now known as Lookout Mountain Trail.
Before the 1970s, the general public had no easy access to the site, but many rock climbers were drawn to the climbing opportunities afforded by the site's huge rock faces and boulders. Local officials came to recognize the tourist potential of the area, and in 1973, then-president of the Cherokee County Historical Society, Col. Robert N. Mann, was authorized by the Cherokee County Commission to negotiate with the landowner, the Georgia Kraft Company, to purchase the site. After much negotiation, in 1974, Georgia Kraft donated 20 acres of land that encompass the major sandstone formations, with the stipulations that the site was to be developed into a park and an access road had to be built for the public. Talks resumed with Georgia Kraft when the county sought to acquire additional acreage to protect as many of the natural sandstone formations as possible. The Nature Conservancy became involved in the negotiations in 1976 and in April 1977 purchased 200 acres from Georgia Kraft for $15,000. The Conservancy then transferred title to the land to Cherokee County. With the completion of an access road in the 1980s, the site quickly became very popular with hikers and campers and emerged as one of the Southeast's most popular rock climbing venues. The park is now owned by Cherokee County and administered by the Cherokee County Parks & Recreation Board. The area has been unofficially "adopted" by the Southeastern Climbers Coalition (SCC), and SCC volunteers have picked up litter and cleaned parking areas. Additionally, the SCC sponsors an annual competition that typically attracts more than 100 climbers.
The "village" dominates a high ridge, affording spectacular panoramic views of Weiss Lake in the valley below. On weekends, climbers from Alabama and neighboring Tennessee and Georgia dominate the vertical rock walls. The variety of climbing routes and rock faces provides challenges that accommodate climbers of every ability, from novice to the hard-core expert. Some routes have permanent anchors bolted to the rock. Some of the more popular sport climbing routes have been named by first ascenders and are well-known to climbers. These include Champagne Jam, Comfortably Numb, White Gold, Split Cracks, and Whammy.
Facilities are minimal, with the exception of a few hiking trails and a large number of primitive campsites as well as a limited
number of portable toilets and trash dumpsters. A small kiosk at the parking lot provides a map of the area with some of the
major climbing routes. There is no full time staff on site. Access is free, as is camping, and is first come, first served.
Plans are currently in the works for a major investment in expanding camping facilities and adding picnic areas, gazebos,
a playground, pavilions, and a general store. Parking areas will also be increased. Improvements are currently ongoing and
are funded by a bond issue provided through federal economic recovery funds.
Watford, Chris. The Dixie Cragger's Atlas: A Climber's Guide to Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia. Roswell, Ga.: Market Place Press, 1999.
Thomas V. Ress
Published July 12, 2011
Last updated February 15, 2012