boardwalk, Desoto State Park
Perched on the western slope of Lookout Mountain, the little Alabama town of Mentone has welcomed travelers since the nineteenth century, when the area’s natural springs were a draw. Today, visitors come for the views, the recreational activities and the laid-back vibe. Summer camps have long called the area home, and generations of kids have spent a chunk of vacation here.
Mentone is home to Cloudmont, Alabama’s only snow skiing resort, open December 15—March 15, and to the Shady Grove Dude Ranch, but many visitors opt to explore the area on foot via the hiking trails which crisscross DeSoto State Park. These range in difficulty from the 1000-foot Talmadge Butler Boardwalk Trail to the 16-mile DeSoto Scout Trail; all offer a scenic walk through the woods. Just down the road, DeSoto Falls has a dam, waterfall and lake for swimming and picnicking. A few miles south, Little River Canyon National Preserve, a unit of the National Park System, spotlights
the Little River, unique in that it flows for most of its length atop Lookout Mountain. The 23-mile drive along the canyon rim offers spectacular views over the 700-foot deep gorge. The dramatic Little River Falls is the centerpiece of the Preserve, but visitors can also enjoy hiking, canoeing and whitewater kayaking.
Downtown Mentone suffered a tragedy several years back in the loss of the big historic Mentone Springs Hotel, which burned in a spectacular thirty minutes, but the heart of town still offers the Mentone Inn and the shops at the Mentone Log Cabin Village as well as several good restaurants. The Wildflower Cafe and Country Store is listed in “100 Alabama Dishes to Eat before you Die” for its justly-famous Tomato Pie.
Just down the Street, Kamama combines a cafe with an art gallery.
One of the most interesting places to stay in Mentone is the Mountain Laurel Inn, a bed and breakfast located in the woods overlooking the canyon below DeSoto Falls. Sarah Wilcox was a camper in Mentone, and later a camp counselor, and in 1996 she found a career as an innkeeper here. Mountain Laurel Inn, named for the rhododendron which blooms spectacularly in May, offers four rooms and an apartment nestled in the woods. Breakfast, served in the main building, is always delicious and
frequently features the Decadent French Toast for which Sarah has become famous. Visitors here can choose from a range of activities from hiking the river gorge to sitting on the porch. In cooler weather, a firepit brings back the campground experience.
Mentone is located in northeast Alabama on State Highway 117 about one hour south of Chattanooga, Tennessee. For more information on area attractions, visit the website at www.discoverlookoutmountain.com
Photos by Jack Purser