Where? Hippie Hole is part of Little River Canyon National Preserve in North Alabama (Cherokee Co and Dekalb Co). This Preserve is not far from Desoto State Park. The coordinates for the parking area are 34.3920, -85.6188.
Trail length? 1 mile round trip (out and back)
How hard are we talkin’? This trail is short, but the last 150 feet or so down to the water is very steep. There are rock stairs, but once again, they are steep, so be prepared for that. I saw a woman with a walking cane have to turn around and go back because there was no way she was making it down the stairs. The stairs and rocks are slippery and uneven causing people to fall often. Once you get down to the canyon, the rocks are slippery in many places. Despite being in the scorching Alabama sun all day, there are places on the rocks that never dry out, courtesy of the underground springs that keep a consistent flow.
Can I swim there? It is definitely a swimming hole!
Best time to go? If you can go during the week, that’s best. The weekends stay pretty packed. Get here early. Is 8am too early? No, it’s not. The parking lot, will be monitored by rangers and once it’s full, you’ll have to find another place to park (they won’t let you park on the roadside). Then you’ll be walking 1/4-1/2 mile to get to the trailhead. If you don’t have small kids and a bunch of gear, that’s probably no big deal. Go when the water is low and there hasn’t been much rain. There will still be enough water to swim, but the flow won’t be as strong.
Tips and details: This is a really cool place to swim and my kids love it, but it’s really not a good place for young children or those who can’t swim well. That’s my humble opinion having taken a 3 year old. People drown here every year. The water is moving faster than you think and the current is very hard to swim against when the water is high. If there is a good chance of rain in the forecast, consider going another time. We have been when it’s raining and we thought we would wait it out. Being in a canyon, water quickly rushes down the hill and fills the river and before you know it, the water becomes impassible and very dangerous. We watched as rangers pulled stranded people across using a rope. They had crossed the river to jump off of the rocks, and when the rain came, they got stuck. I asked one of the rangers how often this happens and she said “all the time”. They frequently close the swimming hole when the water level is high.
It’s a very sunny area with almost zero shade, so don’t forget your sunscreen! People bring their radios and play whatever kind of music they want and it’s not always kid friendly so make sure to bring a louder radio to drown out the crap. Kidding..mostly. Both times we went this past summer, there were a lot of smokers, so if smoke bothers you or your children, that’s something to consider. The slippery rocks are hard to walk across and people slip all day long. While I’m sure most people end up with only a mild bruise, we watched a lady fall off of one of the slippery ledges and she broke her leg. Paramedics eventually came to get her on a stretcher attached to a wench. I’m sorry this sounds negative, but I don’t think people who visit this place understand the dangers.
No alcohol or glass containers allowed and rangers will check coolers at the trailhead on the weekends and peak season. I highly recommend life jackets for children. There are no restrooms, but there is a port-a-potty at the paved parking area 1/4 mile up the road. Bring your lunch because there is no place close by to get food.
On a much happier note, if you are an adrenaline junkie, there are some awesome cliffs just waiting for you to jump off of them. My kids loved jumping off the cliffs and the lower falls. Additionally, there is a trail that connects hippie hole to Martha Falls. If you walk this trail, there is a small cave you can explore, so look for it! It’s pretty cool.
Leave no trace: Please take your trash with you! Cigarette butts are trash too.