Short trip to Falling Rock yields pleasant surprise

Published 6:00 am Saturday, February 7, 2009

After a wait I’m sure has been unbearable, today marks the first edition of what is planned to be a semi-regular hiking column. An exact schedule still hasn’t been set since the time this idea was originally brought up, but twice monthly seems a reasonable expectation.

Anyway, our first adventure will take us to Falling Rock, in Shelby County just past the Dogwood community. Take I-65 North to Exit 231, toward Calera/Saginaw. Turn right onto Highway 31, then left about one mile down the road onto Shelby County 22.

You’ll follow this road about 7.5 miles, passing over the interstate then across an intersection with Highway 119. The road converges with County Road 17 close to the Montevallo city limit sign, and you’re almost there once you wind through Dogwood.

Once past the homes in that community, begin looking to the right. You’ll pass one gravel road protected by a blue gate; park at the next such road you come to.

There are no signs marking a trailhead, but the gate is only intended to keep motor vehicles out. This is the 43,400-acre Cahaba River Wildlife Management Area, where hiking is permitted (though caution should be used during hunting season). There is also no leash law like in most state and national parks, so Molly was free to roam. She never gets out of sight, though, and I never worry about her becoming aggressive toward other hikers or other dogs because of a composure that is remarkable for a 1-year-old.

Follow the road, and stay to the right when the road splits. The gravel road isn’t much for hiking, the squeaking of oil or gas pumps is constant and the land isn’t much to look at because it has either been cleared or planted with longleaf pines—but the end of this short, 2-mile round trip hike makes it worth the time and effort.

About one-tenth of a mile from the “Y,” look for dirt berms to the left that have been created to keep vehicles off the trail behind the berms. A right at the bottom of the hill will wind down to the bottom of a waterfall that drops 75 to 100 feet. A left will take you past the top of the larger waterfall and around to a smaller waterfall. The larger fall is barely a trickle in the summer months, and the smaller fall might dry up completely.

The larger waterfall is the more scenic, and there is even a cavern behind it. Watch your footing on the way down, though. If you’ve checked out both waterfalls and are still not ready to head back, you can climb any of a number of rocks in the area or follow the creek into the woods. Hardwoods cover the area because the terrain is too steep to clear. On my trip, someone was camped underneath the waterfall, and members of a Montgomery spelunking club were using the drop for practice.

Falling Rock is a pleasant surprise at the end of the bland gravel roads. The short drive and the impressive waterfall make it a nice way to spend an afternoon.