Guest Blog: Camping at Dismals Canyon

Editor’s Note: Conservation Alabama member Jen Howard and her daughter Grace Howard-Weinberg (age 9) are avid campers. Based in Birmingham, they’ve spent time as a family in many of Alabama’s beautiful places. We appreciate them sharing one of their recent excursions with us!

[Grace]: My mom, my little sister, and I went on an adventure: an exciting camping trip at Dismals Canyon in November. We would like to tell you about some of the things we saw, learned, and experienced.

[Jen]: Dismals Canyon Conservatory is located on privately owned land in Northwest Alabama, near Phil Campbell. The U.S. Department of the Interior has designated the Conservatory as a National Natural Landmark, through a program that recognizes and encourages the conservation of sites that contain outstanding biological and geological resources.

[Grace]: What is special about Dismals Canyon is the canyon and its history, and the glow worms (or, Dismalites) that can be seen at night on the canyon walls. Dismals Canyon is the only place in the world where such high numbers of these glow worms can be seen at one time. A biologist took us on a nighttime tour of the canyon, and we saw lots of Dismalites. It was like stars on the face of the rocks. We went all the way down into the canyon with flashlights. They were all over the faces of the rocks, buried in the moss, and on the floor. I will say that we have been there before, and you can see more Dismalites in the late spring and summer than in November, but it was still super cool.

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Grace climbs at Dismals Canyon (Photo by Jen Howard)

[Jen]: The canyon is just as interesting in the daytime. It contains a 1.5 mile trail, following a stream. Day hikers can see beautiful moss-covered cliff faces, waterfalls, areas where Native Americans once lived, and other unusual natural features. A trail map, providing some background information about points of interest along the way, is available at the Country Store.

[Grace]: My favorite part was the hike we went on through the canyon. The Kitchen site was the area that Native Americans used for cooking and tribal rituals. The Phantom Falls was super cool because you hear a waterfall behind you but it’s not there. (The rock picks up an echo from an actual waterfall downstream.)  We ate lunch at the Secret Falls. It is a beautiful waterfall that you get to by stepping on rocks across the stream. Close to that is the Dance Hall. My sister and I liked to dance on it. (It was a really tall, big, flat rock that you could dance on, and the Native Americans used it for secret rituals.)

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Grace and her sister at the Dance Hall (Photo by Jen Howard)

[Jen]: Our family chose to stay at the Sleeping Water campsite, which is one of eight primitive campsites in the Conservatory. A bathhouse with restroom facilities is available for campers. Campsites do not have running water, so it is necessary to bring potable water or filter water from a nearby stream. Although the parking area is located a short hike from each campsite, the upside is that the campsites are extremely private. We took advantage of the concierge service, which involves assistance in carrying gear to and from the campsite upon arrival and departure, and assistance in setting up. That was a great feature for a mom traveling with two small children! Another helpful resource was the Country Store near the entrance to the canyon, where firewood and other supplies are available, and the people are extremely nice.

[Grace]: We got the best campsite ever! My favorite part about the campsite was that it had a waterfall and a mini cave. There was a cool little nature path from the road leading to our campsite. The path had a really cool bridge that went over a creek that my sister and I had fun playing on.

One of the reasons I always love camping trips is the s’mores. I absolutely adore s’mores. We tried to make an oven out of a box and aluminum foil but it caught on fire. Just a little experiment though.

I learned a lot and had tons of fun on this camping trip and if you decide to go to Dismals Canyon you will, too. Their website is


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One response to “Guest Blog: Camping at Dismals Canyon”

  1. Donna Matthews says :

    I love reading the guest blogs. Great addition to the website!

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