By Scott Morris
In the South we like to say you can’t get there from here.
Some of the most scenic spots in our beloved land remain that way because they are inaccessible to all but those who are willing to suffer a little. And we’d like to keep it that way to preserve their solitary nature.
One such destination is Collier Canyon, my favorite hike in Bankhead National Forest. This narrow box canyon does not enjoy the federal protection of Sipsey Wilderness. Rather it is part of the Brushy Creek watershed in the vicinity of the Grayson sawmill community.
You won’t find a trail to Collier Canyon. You just pull off the side of a gravel road and follow a nondescript drainage downward through rugged terrain until you drop into the canyon by sliding and holding onto roots and tree limbs.
The first feature is Shangri-La Falls, which plunges into a bluish-green pool. Then you hike upstream, traversing the creek several times across slippery rocks until you resolve yourself to wading. Several small waterfalls drop between the hemlocks and mountain laurel until you reach the head of the canyon where you find the most interesting feature.
The largest of the waterfalls drops into the canyon here. To the side of the falls are two manmade rock pillars that reach to the top of the canyon. In the stream lie flat rocks with square holes chipped into them. This was all once part of a commercial mill operation that ground corn for the community.
A few years ago, a group of kayakers rappelled into the canyon with their boats after a heavy rain. “In my book, Collier Creek is the most scenic waterway in Alabama,” one wrote in their trip report for alabamawhitewater.com. “It is beyond Little River Canyon, beyond the Walls of Jericho. If it had better whitewater, it would be a shrine.”
Most of us will never paddle on Collier Creek, but the few of us who make the rugged 5-mile hike will never forget the tight canyon, dripping with water at every turn. And while we can show you the way, we can’t tell you how to get there from here.