Nestled deep in the woods, on a bluff atop Lookout Mountain, sits a row of cabins, and although they look rustic and simple, they include all the comforts of home, and best of all — they’re within a four-hour drive of Fort Benning.
My husband and I rented one of these cabins a few weeks ago and I must admit, when he first told me we were going to Mentone, Ala., I was a little hesitant. I’m not exactly a wilderness girl. I was just hoping for indoor plumbing … and a dishwasher. I was pleasantly surprised when we arrived and found not only those amenities, but many more. In fact, our little two-person cabin included a full kitchen, a washer and dryer, a flat-screen TV (with a satellite dish) and both a Jacuzzi and a hot tub.
But we didn’t go to the mountains to hang out inside all day. We wanted to explore all the area had to offer, and we weren’t disappointed. Mentone is located near the Alabama-Georgia state line and is home to both Desoto State Park and Little River Canyon.
Desoto State Park was developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the mid-1930s to preserve the natural beauty of what was then known as State Park No. 5. The park, dedicated in 1939, has expanded to more than 3,000 acres. Many of the original structures are used today. Desoto State Park is open year-round and includes campgrounds, picnic areas, playgrounds, pavilions, a volleyball court, tennis courts, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, as well as cabins and chalets available for rent. There are also 19 miles of hiking and biking trails, and a 104-foot waterfall known as Desoto Falls. The western-most edge of the park is called Little River Canyon and at 17 miles long and an average depth of 400 feet, Little River Canyon is commonly referred to as the Grand Canyon of the East. The canyon features waterfalls, picnic tables, hiking trails and at the center of it all The Little River — one of the few rivers in the U.S. that flows almost entirely along a mountaintop. However, the best way to get the full canyon experience is to follow the scenic drive along the canyon rim. The 23-mile loop includes multiple overlooks where you can stop and take some great pictures.
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Because it was cold and snowy during our trip, we didn’t spend too much time outside. If you want to take full advantage of the campgrounds, hiking trails and other outdoor activities, go when it gets a bit warmer.
Fortunately, the weather was perfect for one outdoor activity — snow skiing at Cloudmont Ski and Golf Resort. Known as the southernmost ski resort in the country, Cloudmont has been open daily since 1970, but only after the overnight temperatures consistently dip below 28 degrees. The beginner-intermediate course is covered in machine-made snow that mimics the real stuff quite nicely. I’d never skied before, so the 1,800-foot slope was perfect for me and even though he spent four years in Alaska, my husband found it enjoyable. No skis? No problem, Cloudmont has skis, boots, poles and snowboards available for rent, just be sure to pack your gloves. A full snowsuit isn’t necessary because you’re still in Alabama, but you’ll need some water-resistant clothing to keep warm and dry when you fall.
After an afternoon of skiing and sightseeing, our cabin was a great place to relax and unwind. Located in Cupids Crest, all the cabins on our street are owned by Paul and Carolyn Todd. The Todds go out of their way to make your experience perfect. We arrived to find the lights on, the cabin warm and soft music playing on the satellite TV.
They also provide a 55-page welcome packet that explains everything — from how to work the appliances to things to do and see in the local area. However, the best information comes from previous occupants of the cabin and it’s in the guest books.
The books chronicle the adventures of people from the Southeast for the most part, but I saw a couple of entries from Missouri and Illinois, too. During the last 10 years our little cabin has seen couples celebrating honeymoons, birthdays, holidays, redeployments and wedding anniversaries — from the first to the 50th and many in between. I spent several nights curled up by the fire reading about sights to see and restaurants to visit. There were also lots of promises to return and “thank yous” to the Todds for their hospitality. Phrases like “this was the perfect place for a romantic getaway” and “the sunset views were absolutely breathtaking” were common and repeated over and over, and we found them to be true as well.
It was nice to get away and enjoy the mountains and still be so close to home. I would definitely love to return to Mentone to see the fall colors, which is why the cabins are busiest September through December, Carolyn said. However, the Rhododendron Festival in May and the “mile-long yard sale” in August are big attractions too. She recommends booking six to eight weeks in advance to ensure you get the dates you want, but sometimes two to four weeks is enough depending on the time of year. However, no matter the season, she said, there is always something to do in Mentone.