Dismals Canyon looks like something straight out of a fairytale. With moss-covered walls, cliffs, caverns, waterfalls, and rich a Native American history, it’s a place everyone should visit at least once.
That being said, there are some things you should know before going. If you aren’t prepared, your trip could take a sour turn, and who wants that?
Don’t worry. I’ll fill you in on the most important information and tell you about some of the coolest parts of the canyon. Hopefully, it’ll make planning your trip a little easier.
1. What to Bring
It’s always a good idea to bring at least the essentials when hiking – a map and/or compass, water, food, flashlight, first aid kit, knife, and sun protection. Dismal Canyon’s hiking trail is short and easy though, so you could probably get by with just a few of these items.
That being said, if you’re planning on taking the Dismalite Night Tour, you’re gonna need a flashlight, and preferably one with a red lense. (standard white lenses ruin night vision)
2. What to Wear
Although the hike through Dismal Canyon is relatively short and easy, it’s got rough spots that, if unequipped for, can make the hike a lot harder. The trail is often muddy and has many uneven spots. You’ll have to walk through puddles and sections of slippery rocks, which can be both unpleasant and unsafe without the proper attire.
Wear hiking shoes.
Another thing to consider is that the floor of the canyon is 14°F cooler than the top. This is a welcome change during summer, but during the rest of the year, it might get chilly. It’s best to wear comfortable clothing and bring a jacket, just in case.
3. Fees and Admission
There are two types of tours at Dismals Canyon. The first is a self-guided Day Tour, and the second is an employee guided Night Tour. Both are appealing in their own way – the Day Tour allows you to see and explore your environment, and the Night Tour allows you to see the Dismalites. (famous bioluminescent creatures that reside in the canyon)
Admission fees differ for both tours. They are:
4. Handicap Accessibility
The canyon is not handicap accessible because of stairs, and the uneven terrain of the trail itself. Keep this in mind if you or anyone you’re traveling with has impaired mobility.
5. Forest & Wildlife
Dismals Canyon is located in one of America’s last remaining old-growth forests. It’s home to over 350 unique species of plant life, including Bigleaf Magnolia, Sweetgum, Beech, and Hemlock. There’s not as much diversity in animal life, but you might see a fish, lizard, or snake if you’re lucky.
The star attraction of Dismals Canyon, Dismalites are a bioluminescent insect similar to the glowworm. They are unique to only a few places around the world and are very fragile. (so fragile that even the salt on your hand will kill them) Dismals Canyon provides the perfect environment for these little wonders, and at night, they light up the canyon.
They’re what draw the most visitors to the canyon and are a definite must-see. Make sure you go at the right time of the year though, as they aren’t visible all year round. The best time to visit is May through June.
Dismals Canyon has one of the longest and most stringent lists of rules I’ve ever seen out of ANY park, so it’s probably a good idea to review them before you visit.
Here’s the complete list of rules and regulations in place at Dismals Canyon: (which can also be found on their website)
Any photos or videos taken at the canyon become the sole property of Dismals Canyon.
All pets must be on a leash.
Pets are not allowed in the sandbox, pool, bathhouse, swimming area, store or cabins.
Drones are prohibited.
Alcoholic beverages are prohibited.
Glass containers are prohibited.
Firewood not bought from the canyon is prohibited. This is to protect the forest from invasive disease & insects. They offer bundles of wood for sale for $5 each.
Due to campfires not being extinguished properly, Dismals Canyon have been forced to implement a $50.00 refundable damage deposit for campsites.
No refunds on night tours, unless the tour is canceled by Dismals Canyon.
Dogs are not permitted on Night Tours.
Park in designated parking spaces only.
Hikers must stay on designated trails.
No metal detectors.
No rappelling anywhere on Dismals Canyon property.
No firearms, fireworks, BB guns, airguns, bows/arrows, explosives, or any type of projectile firing device.
No camping or fire starting, except in designated areas.
Fires in fire rings & grills only. Fires must be attended at all times, and must be completely extinguished after use.
If a No Fire Alert has been issued, anyone building a fire will be reported to the Forestry Service and immediately evicted from Dismals Canyon, with forfeiture of all fees.
Only dead wood on the ground may be collected for firewood. No cutting of trees.
Do not climb, walk or go near the dam.
Do not remove, destroy, or disturb any of the flora and fauna of the canyon.
Do not remove, destroy, or disturb bridges, handrails, fences, or erosion control walls.
Children under 16 must be attended by an adult at all times.
Swim at your own risk. No Lifeguard provided.
No hiking or swimming after sundown.
If you must relieve yourself in the woods, deposit waste in a hole at least 6 inches deep and cover it up.
Do not put trash in flower pots or flower beds.
Do not walk or play in flower pots or flower beds.
No off-road vehicles are allowed.
No wheelchairs, strollers or other wheeled equipment allowed on the canyon floor.
You can bring dogs on Day Tours, as long as they’re leashed. Dismals Canyon doesn’t specify whether other pet species are allowed, but considering how long their list of rules are, it might be better not to chance it.
There is only one restroom in the park, and it is near the entrance in the parking lot. There are no restrooms along the trail, so you’re only other option is to relieve yourself in the woods. If this makes you uncomfortable, make sure to use the restroom before you start hiking.
Parking at Dismals Canyon is a nightmare. The parking lot itself is very small, and the only other place to park (legally) is the shoulder of the road outside the park. If you want a stress free parking experience, get there early.
The hiking trail at Dismals Canyon is 1.5 miles of beautiful scenery, filled with mossy boulders, waterfalls, towering trees, and intriguing structures.
The trail is, for the most part, an easy hike. It’s well maintained, relatively level, and doable for most people. That being said, at times you’ll have to step over large boulders and sections of the trail are often wet, so slipping is a possibility. Remember to be careful with your footing, and this shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
The canyon offers swimming in a spring-fed hole, with a chilly constant temperature of 59°F. It’s definitely not as warm as most swimming pools, but its cold waters are very appealing during summer. It is small and murky though, so it might not be for everyone.
13. Rainbow Falls
Dismals Canyon is home to two waterfalls.
The larger one, Rainbow Falls, is located near the entrance of the canyon. It flows from Bear Creek, which falls fifteen feet to the bottom of the canyon. Over half a century ago, the falls were a source of power for a mill.
14. Secret Falls
The smaller of the two waterfalls, Secret Falls, flows from a subterranean mountain stream. The surrounding area is filled with diverse plant life. Within 100 feet of the falls, a whopping 27 different species of trees thrive.
15. Champion Tree
The canyon is home to one of the world’s oldest Eastern Hemlocks. Its name is Champion Tree, and it rises above the canyon floor at 138’ tall, with a crown of 50’. It’s over 360 years old, and is the largest of its species in Alabama, and perhaps the world.
You won’t regret visiting Dismals Canyon.
Its raw beauty is unparalleled, and it truly is a one-of-a-kind experience. Now that you know all the important information, I have no doubt you’ll have fun, memorable trip.
Hi, I'm Ash!
I’m a travel blogger who loves experiencing new things and deeply connecting with people. My missions are to help others around the world realize their travel dreams, and to spread the word about sustainable travel. Feel free to send me a message here.