Where? Hytop, Alabama (trailhead) Address: Al Hwy 79 Estillfork, Al 35745. It’s at the very tip top of Alabama and it’s marked on every phone map I can find. You can also start from the Tennessee Trailhead, but be aware that it’s a longer route. Here is the link for directions to the Tennessee trail head. ViewRanger Route
Trail Length? It’s about 7 miles round trip. It’s a little under 7 miles when you start from the Alabama side and turn back around and head to your car after you see the falls, but if you keep going and walk to the Tennessee side, it’s allegedly a little over 7 miles. I don’t know because I haven’t done it, but let me know and I’ll add it and give you credit.
How hard are we talkin’? If you are in good shape and you do cardio several times a week and lift weights, you’ll be fine, but coming out of the gorge and up the mountain is challenging no matter who you are. It’s steep and some people complain that their knees hurt the next day. If you are not in good shape, I would not discourage you from doing it, but allow yourself an entire day from sun up to sun down to ensure you don’t get stuck in the dark. It took my friend and I about 5 hours, and we got lost a little too. That gave us plenty of time to explore and take pictures. We started very early morning, just after the sunrise and we went right after Christmas. There are several stream crossings, most with small log bridges, although there is a point when you are almost to the falls where you will have to walk across a stream.
Can you swim there? Yes! It doesn’t look like fun to swim there because only a small portion is even deep enough, but technically you can so to each his own.
Any other details? YES! LOTS! Start early!! We had some friends that attempted this and they began around 1:00pm and they didn’t get back to their car until well after dark. There is also a cave along the way that many people find cool and like to explore. It’s very small and tight, from what I can tell from pictures. There is a camping spot about 2.5 miles in from the Alabama side. It’s a pretty spot and it looks like it would be perfect! There is also a very old graveyard there with the tombstones of some of the people who settled this area after the Indians were pushed out. It’s a tough hike, but well worth it! The property is huge, but if you decide to wander off the trail during hunting season, be aware that it backs up to hunting property. We heard several gun shots in the distance, keeping my feet from wandering very far from the marked path. There is a bench on the trail that comes in handy on the the way back to your car!
Leave no trace: For the love of Pete, please, please, please I am begging you to take your trash with you! We hiked this trail in <20 degree weather-I swear my feet were frozen the whole time, and when we got to the amphitheater, waterfall finale of this beautiful hike, there was A DIRTY DIAPER! I’m used to seeing this in the easy-to-get-to street-side places (still wrong), but to hike all that way in the freezing cold and see that was disappointing. One would think that if you were committed to taking a small child this far, you would be a huge fan of nature and conservation and would take care to take your dirty diapers with you. Please pick up trash if you see any. 🙂 There is no one to maintain these trails, so that leaves us to be good stewards of the land.