Visiting the natural wonder known as Arch Rock, situated within High Falls Park should be on everyones itinerary during any trip through northeast Alabama. This meandering natural bridge spans 25 feet across the base of another hidden gem in the area, High Falls. This DeKalb County Park has been a popular gathering place since the late 1800’s, when a covered bridge spanning the falls bore the fastest route into neighboring Marshall County. Today the falls and arch welcome visitors to swim along the roaring rapids and even dive off the arch into the lower banks of Town Creek, in this beloved local hangout.
Google Maps | High Falls Park, Alabama
High Falls Park is located in the community of Grove Oak, just south of Lake Guntersville State Park and Bucks Pocket State Park. Although its a bit out of the way, tucked into the beautiful rolling hills of Alabama horse country, this hidden gem swells with visitors during the hot summer months. With several covered pavilions, restrooms, vending machines, and a playground to entertain children, families make an entire day out of visiting this county park. Arriving in the late afternoon, we found the large parking lot packed to the brim, but managed to snag one of the last remaining spots.
Making our way past the small visitors center, we took the winding road down the forested roadway to the pedestrian bridge spanning Town Creek. Just to the right of the bridge are a few small trails that lead down to the creek bed of the Upper Falls. This is where you’ll find most people hanging out. The shallow waters of this large area make the perfect wading pool for families to enjoy a cold dip. Taking my socks and shoes off, I navigated this shallow sea in the direction of the rapids. Groups of people lined the entire 300 foot length of High Falls, carefully scouting out paths down to the lower falls, from which they could jump off into the creek. At 35 feet high, its a long way down.
Its really hard to make out which areas were the deepest, so most jumpers took a wait and see approach. Wherever someone dared jump, others would wait and see if they made it out alright, and jump in the same area. This was probably not the best approach to cliff diving, but one most divers seemed comfortable with. Directly in front of the falls is one of the most magnificent arches I’ve seen anywhere, Arch Rock. Alabama has over twenty documented arches, but this is the only one with a waterfall streaming through the heart of it. At 35 feet tall and spanning 25 feet across, this arch is a popular spot for people to climb across and use as a diving board.
The arch is located on a wall of rock that extends forward from the falls on a three foot wide ridge. Created by the erosive force of water flowing through wide joints in the base of the cliff, this arch is considered quite young due to the fact that water still flows through its opening. During drier periods, Town Creeks powerful rapids usually slow down to a tiny trickle, making it possible to walk the length of the lower falls and into the arch. This natural formation was almost destroyed during one of the most colorful events in the towns history.
Legend has it that two men, highly intoxicated from a day full of drinking moonshine, traveled to the falls carrying a bag full of dynamite. Its not quite clear if they were engaging in a bit of “redneck fishing”, or if their intent was to destroy the arch, but several explosions were heard coming from the falls area. Thankfully, their attempts were unsuccessful. While the most popular way to see the lower falls is to simply dive down into the lower banks of Town Creek, we decided to hike the short trail instead. The very center of the creek, which has the strongest current, was too deep to cross on foot so we headed back up the hillside to walk across the pedestrian bridge.
The footings for this bridge date back to the early 1900’s, when a large covered bridge once spanned the same crossing. Early pioneers built the bridge to connect the rural farming communities of Dekalb County to neighboring Marshall County. At the time, cotton was a huge commodity in the south and Grove Oak had one of the few cotton gins in the surrounding area. It was not uncommon to see mule trains pulling carts full of cotton, crops, and materials used in the day to day life of residents passing through here on a regular basis.
One of these trains ran into an unexpected problem one afternoon, when an entire group of mules refused to enter the covered bridge. Turns out that the dark enclosed space mixed with the thunderous sounds of the rapids below, were frightening to the animals. An ingenious plan was devised to take apart the plank siding of the bridge and reassemble them into criss-crossed slats to not only provide protection to those crossing, but also allow light into the tunnel to ease the animals tension.
Just on the other side of the crossing is the beginning of a 0.4 mile trail that leads down to the lower falls area. While there are no official trails here, you can still find several well worn paths following the southern banks of Town Creek. Some of these lead up into the hills, past some interesting rock formations surrounded by beautiful stands of wildflowers and native ferns. When you reach the precipice of High Falls, the trail becomes very narrow and steep. While most adults can manage this, its not recommended for children. A few sections of this path are heavily eroded and plunge 35 feet down into the river bank.
The first way to get down is via a couple of knotted ropes spanning the full height of the cliffs. If this is not your cup of tea, then you’re in luck because theres an easier way down. Just continue up the path another fifty feet and you’ll encounter a series of steep switchbacks leading down to the river bank. Most people get discouraged and turn back upon seeing the ropes as the other path is hidden out of sight, just over a small hill. Getting down onto the sandy banks of Town Creek reminds me more of a day spent at the beach than being out on a small creek.
From this vantage point we can spot all the various groups of cliff jumpers making their way down the falls to find the perfect spot to dive from. Theres even a small queue of swimmers standing atop Arch Rock, patiently waiting for their turn to jump of the natural bridge. All of those swimmers inevitably paddle their way to our spot on the beach in order to climb back up the cliffs to the upper
Investigating the area surrounding us, I spot a small stand of eastern bluestar growing on all along the riverbank. This perennial plant is one of the darlings of Americas native plant movement, often used in meadow restorations and high profile horticulture displays across the country. Despite having a mildly toxic milky sap, this plant is a host to the Coral Hairstreak Butterfly caterpillar. While its star shaped flowers dazzle onlookers with their pastel shades of powder blue, its foliage takes center stage during fall as it turns from deep green to fluorescent yellow.
Heading back up the cliff to take one last look at High Falls and Arch Rock, I could not stop thinking of just how incredible this place is. Who would have thought this hidden gem existed, tucked away in the hills of northeast Alabama. So far, our trip through this gorgeous state has left us even more inspired to continue exploring it. Up next we’ll be making our last stop in Alabama to see the one of the largest waterfalls in the area, DeSoto Falls. Until next time, see y’all on the trails!