Our Trip To Mentone, Alabama, High Atop Lookout Mountain

Cathy B. Bridges

© Copyright 2020 by Cathy B. Bridges

Photo of waterfall.

A few years ago, we took a trip to Mentone with our friends. Although we have lived in Alabama all our lives, there are so many places we have not visited. Mentone was one of those places, and I am glad we went. I booked a chalet at the Cloudmont Ski and Golf Resort, and we were all excited about going. We weren’t going to ski or play golf—just peace and relaxation for a few days. The pictures online made it seem to be just what we wanted, and the chalets looked like they would be fun and different.

Mentone is in Dekalb County atop Lookout Mountain. Mentone means “Toning of the Mind,” or “Mind Stretching,” although some folks say “Mind-Boggling” would better describe this magical place with the highest elevation of any incorporated town in Alabama. Initially occupied by Indians, mainly Cherokee, Mentone is known for its healthy iron-rich mineral springs, peacefulness, and pure, fresh, crisp, clean mountain air. In the spring, many blooming trees and shrubs plus mountain laurels and other fragrant wildflowers bloom, adding to the natural ambiance of the area.

The spring-fed Little River flows through Mentone along the eighty-three-mile-long narrow high plateau of the Lookout Mountain. It plunges over a precipice one hundred seven feet to form Desoto Falls in part of Desoto State Park, which is in the Chattahoochee National Forest. The falls and park got their names for Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto, who was in the area of what is now Mentone around the year 1540.

Little River Falls is in Little River Canyon National Preserve near Fort Payne approximately 10 miles south of Desoto State Park. The preserve sits at the southern edge of the Cumberland Plateau. The falls are easy to get to with practically no hiking to enjoy gorgeous views. Both Little River Falls and Desoto Falls are the most impressive waterfalls in the state of Alabama.

There are quite a few private boys and girls adventurous summer camps located in Mentone offering horseback riding, archery, arts and crafts, canoeing, swimming, and more. Some are Christian camps inspiring kids, building character, and confidence. The area is perfect for those who appreciate the outdoors. There are lots of campgrounds and RV parks, log cabins, mountain chalets, bed and breakfast Inns, and even a cute little wedding chapel. Imagine no traffic jams or neon signs—just lots of natural beauty to enjoy.

It was the first week in July before the 4th when we arrived at the Cloudmont Ski and Golf Resort. We did not know what to expect, and once we finally found it, having passed a camp or two along the way, the long winding road eventually brought us to our destination. It was quite a large place and appeared to be partially unkept, especially the golf course, which seemed to be in the middle of it all.

After winding our way around the long road to the office, we checked in, and the lady gave us a key and pointed us toward our chalet. It was in a lovely private spot, which is what we had wanted. It was very near the ski area and not far from the entrance to the Shady Grove dude ranch, which was also on the property. The Little River was flowing right behind our chalet. In the background, you could see the old covered Union crossing bridge originally constructed by Union forces around 1863. The owner of Cloudmont had moved it from another location in 1972 as an added attraction to enhance the area. We were going to love this!

The chalet was cute on the outside, and reminded me of the Swiss Alps or maybe something you would see on a box of Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate mix. After we went in, it was evident that updates had been in order a long time ago. There was a full-size bed downstairs, a small bathroom, a small kitchen, and a sitting area. The sitting area led out onto a wooden deck that overlooked the Little River. In between the kitchen and sitting area, a narrow metal spiral staircase led up to the small loft with another full-size bed.

The loft is where my husband and I slept because our friends are taller than us, and we knew that there was no way they could comfortably get up and down that narrow metal staircase, especially at night trying to get to the bathroom. After drinking beer on the first night, my husband had to use an empty plastic coke bottle so he would not have to go up and down those stairs to the bathroom. When you get our age, nightly toilet trips can often be exasperating. He did not think it was so funny, but it was quite comical to me and gave me something in which to tease him.

The beds were the worst of it all. No. They were just flat out horrible. I may as well be honest. The mattresses were so old and worn out; we had to hang on to the sides to keep from rolling into each other in the middle. I don’t think any of us got a good night’s rest the whole time we were there. Oh well. Who needs to sleep when you are on vacation anyway, right?

We had to be careful not to get too feisty when taking a shower because it felt like the bottom was going to fall out of the tub. Please. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, and when all was brand new, I am sure it was a fantastic place to visit and have fun. We were just about 35 years too late, but it wasn’t all bad. The beautiful natural scenery and fresh air made it all worth it. There is just something special about being in the mountains.

Cloudmont Ski and Golf Resort is located on an 800-acre spread and is also home to the Shady Grove Dude Ranch. The resort opened around 1970. The ski area had two 1,000-foot beginner-intermediate slopes with two “pony lifts” to take skiers to the top. I have never been skiing there, but I knew a lady that did, and she said it was great fun back in the day. Of course, the temperature had to drop to 28 degrees for making a quality machine-made snow base to hold the snow during warmer days. The month of January is probably the best time for skiing in North Alabama, and then it does not always get that cold.

We visited the Wildflower Café nestled in the trees in Mentone, which is in a 120-year-old building that was once an old Mentone Smokehouse. It opened in 2007, and besides the great food served there, the entertainment of local musicians and casual atmosphere is perfect for the locale. A country store with pottery, jewelry, clothing, candles, jams, jellies, and local artwork is located inside also. The Wildflower was voted best café in Alabama in 2015 and again in 2018. It also was featured in Southern Living Magazine. People from all over return again and again. The famous tomato pie is one reason, and their peanut butter pie may very well be another. Unfortunately, we failed to try either one, but I am sure we will return one day. When we do, I will be sure to try both.

A lot of the craft shops in Mentone were not open when we were there, which was disappointing, but some folks only open their shops on weekends since they live elsewhere. As we drove around the downtown area, the remains of the 130-year-old Mentone Springs Hotel came into view. Built-in 1884, it was known as one of the healthiest and most attractive spots in the South. There were on-site swimming and fishing in the river, tennis, bowling, croquet, billiards, dancing, and a playground for children. This historic hotel burned to the ground in 2014.

While at Cloudmont, we did a lot of walking and just enjoying the peacefulness. It was so quiet, which was a nice change of pace. We heard not one siren or honking horn, and that was great. There were trails with colorful wildflowers and so many large rock formations jutting out; you could stand under some of them when raining and not get wet.

The day we went to Fort Payne, we had a good country breakfast at the historic Mountain Inn Restaurant at Desoto State Park. The restaurant is in the original sandstone lodge built in the mid-1930s and has a warm rustic feel with a fireplace and ladder-back chairs. It sits on the edge of a canyon overlooking the west fork of Little River. There were quite a few windows so we could enjoy the scenery while we had our breakfast, although it was a bit foggy.

We visited Desoto Falls and Little River Falls, which were breathtaking. Although we were there in July, Spring, late Fall or Winter is the best time for observing the most water flow. There are many waterfalls in the Lookout Mountain area, but we only visited the two I mentioned. While there, we saw picnickers, hikers, kayakers, and so many diverse people who were also enjoying God’s creative masterpiece.

While in Fort Payne, we visited the Alabama Fan Club and Museum because we always loved the group Alabama. Three cousins from the Fort Payne area starting singing together around forty decades ago, and became famously well known. There was not much there on that day, though. Most of it had been taken out for Fan Appreciation Day another time. We did, however, buy some t-shirts and a few other souvenirs.

After we had exhausted all options, we decided to leave one day early. It was the 4th of July. We loaded up our friend’s truck and was looking forward to going home soon. What happened next was unexpected. The truck would not start. The alternator had gone out! Our friend had to call his mechanic to come from another county to where we were so he could fix the truck for us-and on his birthday, no less! What a dedicated mechanic!

Several hours later, we were finally on our way and thoughts of sleeping in my bed sounded better and better the closer we got to home! At least we can say that the crisp mountain air was exhilarating, and we are not sorry that we went. It was an experience, and we will go back one day with a little more knowledge of the area than we had the first time.

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