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A day at Little River Canyon: Swimming safety and a surge in visitors

Ranger Matt Switzer tells us, "A lot of people don’t know that we’re up here. They’re surprised to come up here and realize there’s a national park in this area.”

FORT PAYNE, Ala. — Little River Canyon is one of North Alabama’s hidden gems.

WATCH: High stakes rescues in Alabama's Little River Canyon

Park ranger, Matt Switzer, tells our reporter, “Little River Canyon-- we are part of the National Park Service. We are a relatively new park. We’re about 28 years old now within the national park system. A lot of people don’t know that we’re up here. They’re surprised to come up here and realize there’s a national park in this area.”

We spent the day with Ranger Matt Switzer checking out all the best spots at Little River Canyon, like these rocks on top of the main falls. He tells our reporter, “This is where you end up with a lot of pools in the sandstone up here, so it becomes a popular hangout spot in the summertime to escape the heat.”

It’s okay to get into the water, just stay at least 50 feet from the waterfall. 

Matt says the canyon has seen a spike in visitors since the pandemic started. He explains, “Let’s compare 2019 to 2020. In 2019, the park received about 650,000 visitors for the entire year. Most of them come through the main falls. In 2020, we were up to 802,000. Starting in March, April, May-- traditionally times when people would be at work or in school-- people had nothing else to do… So, naturally it was a draw. People had nothing to do, ‘Let’s head out to the river!’

Summer 2021 looks promising. Matt tells us, “We’ve started to see our visitation go up a bit. A lot of the local colleges are starting to get out. Pretty soon high school elementary will be starting to get out. So, we’ll definitely b e seeing our visitation go up.” 

He took our crew to ‘Little Falls’. 

You can get there by following the signs and taking the walking trail. But, you should know, it’s a bit of a hike! 

One hundred twenty-seven rocky steps later, we made it to Little Falls-- one of the canyon’s most popular spots for swimming.

That’s where we met Laura, who says she couldn’t be happier to be back out at one of her favorite places.

Laura Flint tells our reporter, "We started coming here many years ago when our children were in camp. We kind of got lost in the business of life. COVID made us appreciate getting outdoors and appreciate the trees. We came in December because we knew it wouldn’t be crowded. And it just reinvigorates us.” 

Swimming Safety at Little River Canyon

If you're planning a trip to the park, there are some things you should know to stay safe-- especially if you want to get in the water! 

Little River Canyon was actually named one of Forbes' ‘Deadliest Parks in America’ back in 2020. 

The park had four swimmers deaths that year. 

So, it’s important to remember the river is a wild river and the currents can get very strong. 

Don’t get in if you’re not a strong swimmer, stay away from the waterfalls and always have someone with you if you plan to get in. 

Matt Switzer tells us some of the safer trails to take if you want to swim. He says, “Get up above the falls. There’s Blue Hole, Slant Rock, High Rock. The river is much more gentle above the falls. Then down at Canyon Mouth Park is another popular area where the river is not as swift, not as turbulent.”

Remember, jumping and diving into the river isn’t safe- you don't know what sort of rocks and things are under the surface. 

Click HERE to head to the park website for more safety tips! 

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