Guide to Visiting Alabama’s Beautiful Dismals Canyon

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Tucked into Northwest Alabama, you’ll find maybe the most beautiful place in all of Alabama — Dismals Canyon. This nature preserve was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1975, and is full of geological treasures and one of Alabama’s most unique creatures: glow worms!

This is a truly a special place to visit, and maybe one of my favorite hikes I’ve taken in North Alabama. It’s definitely something to make time for if you live in North Alabama or if you’ll be traveling nearby.

Where is Dismals Canyon?

Dismals Canyon is located near Phil Campbell in Northwest Alabama. It’s really not near much else aside from small Alabama towns, which does make it a bit of a commitment to get to.

From both Huntsville and Birmingham, it’s about a 1.5 hour drive. It’s also a little over a one hour drive from Tupelo, Mississippi.

What Makes Dismals Canyon So Special?

Alabama is one of the most biologically diverse states in the country, and Dismals Canyon really shows that off. The canyon includes exotic flora, rare trees, and mosses and ferns that almost make this feel like you are walking through a rainforest.

And that’s not to mention the huge rock facades and the waterfalls.

Plus, Dismals Canyon is one of the few places in North America where you can see glow worms at night, which really does make this a one-of-a-kind experience.

North Alabama's Cathedral Caverns

For more North Alabama fun, check out Cathedral Caverns!

Is Dismals Canyon Free?

No! Dismals Canyon does have an entrance fee. You can purchase a day tour, a night tour, or a combo ticket. Day tickets for adults are $12, night tours are $10, and a combo ticket is $18. Be sure to check the Dismals Canyon site before you go for any price changes though.

Also, note that if you want to take a night tour you will need to call the week ahead to make a reservation.

Hiking Dismals Canyon

During the day, you can hike a 1.5 mile loop trail on the canyon floor. This beautiful hike features waterfalls, steep canyon walls, rock formations, and streams.

You’ll also find historic areas where Paleoamericans and Chickasaw and Cherokee American Indians once used the rock bluffs as shelter. This area also sadly played a part in the Trail of Tears; Chickasaw were held in the canyon for two weeks before being forced onto the Trail of Tears.

On your hike, you’ll see many points of interest including the Kitchen (once used by American Indians), Temple Cave (once home to Paleoamericans), and, my favorite, Witches Cavern, which is a bit of a maze of boulders and rocks.

The trail is not difficult, but it is not exactly easy either. There are some steep stairs (especially to get down to the canyon floor), some rocks you may need to climb over, and some places where your feet might get wet. So be prepared!

Seeing the Dismalites — Glow Worms in Alabama!

One of the things that makes Dismals Canyon so unique is the Dismalites! These cousins to the Australia and New Zealand glow worms are actually fly larvae that make their home on the walls of the canyon. At night you can take a guided tour to see the Dismalites, which look like stars sparkling on the canyon walls!

If you want to take a tour to see the glow worms, here’s what you need to know:

  • Dismalites tours only take place on Saturdays, usually a couple times during the evening.
  • You have to make reservations ahead of time. Call on the Sunday before the Saturday you want to take your tour to make your reservation. You will need to pay ahead of time. (You also may find you have a to call several times before you get through.)
  • The best time to see the Dismalites is in late Spring and early Fall.
  • Bring a flashlight with a red light to preserve your night vision.
  • There is a waiting area where you can sit and wait for your night tour to begin if you get there early or if you are waiting after hiking during the day.
  • It’s really important not to touch the canyon walls! This disturbs the Dismalites’ habitat. In fact, you can see on some of the lower walls where they have been touched a lot and they don’t have nearly as many glow worms.

Dismals Canyon Camping

You can also camp near Dismals Canyon! They have five primitive campsites set up near the canyon. All of them have access to a bath house. Camping is offered 7 days a week during the summer and on the weekends during the rest of the year. There is a 2 night minimum stay, and you will have to hike a short distance to get to your campsite.

If primitive camping is a little too outdoorsy for you, they also have two cabins available to rent.

Tips for Your Visit to Dismals Canyon

Here are a few tips to make your visit to Dismals Canyon a success:

  • If you want to take a night tour, you will HAVE to book your tickets ahead of time due to high demand!
  • Wear the appropriate shoes. There may be areas where your feet will get wet!
  • Bring a flashlight, water, and make sure you hike with a map in hand. Not all the trail markings are easy to see.
  • If you are doing the night tour, make sure you have a flashlight with a red light.

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