Editor's note: This post is part of the Eighth Day Escape adventure series and contest by Parks Explorer. Throughout this year, Parks Explorer will share trip ideas, staff stories, activity suggestions, and much more from each Alabama State Park. These monthly posts will be personal accounts of traveling Park Naturalist Emily Vanderford, where she details her park adventures and experiences in the unique natural areas across the state. While reading about park adventures is not nearly as meaningful as experiencing them first-hand, Parks Explorer wants you to know just how many opportunities there are for you to enjoy Alabama the beautiful.

The Eighth Day Escape Contest began January 8, 2016 and will conclude January 8, 2017. Monthly winners will be randomly selected each month and the grand prize winner will be drawn January 8, 2017. Click here for contest entry forms and more information. Be sure to enjoy previous monthly adventures also: January, February, March

I have never particularly enjoyed interstate driving. I’ve always been much more of a backroads kind of girl, but my mid-March journey to Fort Payne on Interstate 59 may have changed my mind. There were thousands of redbud trees bursting with color along the side of the road. It was absolutely breathtaking, and worth adding to your bucket list for next year. Redbuds aren’t the only thing making for incredible views across the state this time of year, though. It seems like everywhere I look there are bright blooms erupting into spring landscapes. That’s one of the many reasons I was excited my March escape was to DeSoto State Park. Nestled on Lookout Mountain, the park and adjacent public lands are full of opportunities to experience Alabama scenery at its finest.

Let me preface the details of this month’s DeSoto adventure by admitting that there is no way I can possibly relay all of the cool experiences in this one post. I could recap my adventure detail for detail but that still wouldn’t do them justice. I’ll stick to the highlights and hope you trust me when I say DeSoto State Park is worth visiting!

When I got to the park on Tuesday, March 22, I caught up with the park naturalist Brittney Hughes. She is one of the many folks at DeSoto that make it a great place to visit. Brittney is a botanist who is always anxious to explore, so she was more than willing to take me on a Little River Canyon adventure. In all of my previous visits to DeSoto, I had never made time to take the Scenic Rim Drive and experience the views from Little River Canyon overlooks. If I had to choose a favorite, I would probably have to pick the Lynn Overlook. The sandstone rock glade at the site is too cool to miss, and that specific area alone is home to eight rare plant species! Brittney was quick to point out one of her favorite glade plants, the Sundew. Glades are ecosystems with exposed bedrock, thin soils, and limited nutrients. Plants that grow here do most of their growing in the spring so that they can survive dry conditions in summer. I always learn so much when I am around Brittney. She challenges me as a naturalist, and I love that.

The following morning I enjoyed a quick hike by Little River to start off the day. I stayed in Cabin 2, one of the log cabins in the park, so there was easy access to the Cabin Trail. Indian Falls was flowing, and made for a good place to enjoy a little quiet time before the day got busy. From there, I headed to the Mountain Inn Restaurant for my favorite meal of the day. Enjoying a cup of coffee and a good biscuit in a state park has to be one of the best ways to spend time after a spring hike. Before I knew it, 9:30 had rolled around and it was time to meet some folks at the park office for a trip out to Chicken Rock to enjoy a rappelling adventure with One World Adventure Company

As stated on their website, "One World Adventure is a community based 501 (c) 3 Outdoor Education program, connecting participants to the outdoors through adventure programs and Eco-tourism." Executive director Bill Shugart was our guide for the day and it was a pleasure to hear him talk about the many ways they were investing in their community and teaching folks about the natural world! One World Adventure partners with DeSoto State Park to provide exciting excursions for park visitors. If you are like me, you may not have all the required equipment and experience to rock climb or rappel, but you jump at the chance to enjoy outdoor adventures. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to rappel with the guidance of a trusted instructor. Alabama State Parks Marketing Specialist Kevin Jones joined Brittney and me for the rappelling adventure. A DeSoto State Park volunteer, Julie, also made the hike out to Chicken Rock so she could document the happenings of the day with her camera. Bill talked to all of us about the safety equipment and walked us through the steps for rappelling down the 80’ cliff. It had been years since I last rappelled, and it certainly wasn’t in a gorgeous natural setting like Chicken Rock. I loved every minute of my DeSoto rappelling experience, and am very thankful One World Adventure makes opportunities like this available to folks like me (and you)!

After making the short drive back from Chicken Rock, we visited the Civilian Conservation Corps Museum at the park. One of my favorite things about the museum is its location – the museum is next to the stone pillars of the original park entrance and is housed in the original “Contact Station.” It is filled to the brim with CCC tools, photos, and other memorabilia that makes me stop and ponder just how much hard work went into building our parks into what they are today. The CCC Museum at DeSoto not only teaches park visitors about the Depression-era program that developed the park, but also honors the legacy of the hard-working men of the CCC.

I could go on and on about the rest of the afternoon -- about the fun hike Brittney led where she taught us medicinal uses of plants along the trail, or what the view was like at DeSoto Falls, or even about the carnivorous plants on display in the newly renovated nature center. There are so many things to experience and so many places to explore at DeSoto State Park – I learn or see something new every time I visit. I only hope you will be inspired to plan a trip in the near future. I am certain you will enjoy this gem in the Alabama State Park system.

Suggestions for your next trip to DeSoto State Park:

Enter to WIN a DeSoto State Park Prize Pack!

Have you visited an Alabama State Park in the last 60 days? Submit a photo from your trip along with a contest entry form and you could win. This month's prize pack includes:

  • Stay one night in lodging of your choice at DeSoto, receive second night free
  • Free hiking stick and DeSoto State Park medallion
  • Apparel and more


JANUARY WINNER (entries received 1/8 - 2/7): Cathy Struntz
FEBRUARY WINNER (entries received 2/8 - 3/7): Chelsea Gathers
MARCH WINNER (entries received 3/8 - 4/7): Cathy Goss
APRIL WINNER (entries received 4/8 - 5/7): 
MAY WINNER (entries received 5/8 - 6/7): 
JUNE WINNER (entries received 6/8 - 7/7): 
JULY WINNER (entries received 7/8 - 8/7): 
AUGUST WINNER (entries received 8/8 - 9/7): 
SEPTEMBER WINNER (entries received 9/8 - 10/7): 
OCTOBER WINNER (entries received 10/8 - 11/7): 
NOVEMBER WINNER (entries received 11/8 - 12/7): 
DECEMBER WINNER (entries received 12/8/16 - 1/7/17): 

GRAND PRIZE WINNER (all entries received 1/8/16 - 1/7/17):



Friday, April 8, 2016