Alabama's Mountain Country

While the leaves are turning, slip off for a weekend to the small towns of Fort Payne and Mentone (view map).
Tanner C. Latham
Alabama's Mountain Country
Unwind on the front porch at the Mentone Springs Hotel.

Little River Canyon threads through some of the most stunning fall color in Alabama. This month discover the secret jewel cutting through the state's slice of Lookout Mountain. Mother Nature may bring you here, but the antiques shopping and the enchanting small towns of Fort Payne and Mentone will keep you for the whole weekend.

Friday--A Downtown Delight
Nestled sleepily in the valley between Sand Mountain and Lookout Mountain, downtown Fort Payne welcomes you to the beginning of your weekend. Stop first for lunch at Heroes Café, and order the daily special--a meat and two or three vegetables ($4.75-$6.75)--served until 2 p.m.

Now you're ready for some shopping, so find Big Mill Antique Mall, and hold on to your socks as you walk in the door. With 21,000 square feet of display space and about 45 vendors, we guarantee this former hosiery mill, built in 1889, has just about anything you might want. We particularly liked the antique hardware booth. (Fun fact: With more than 150 hosiery plants and 36 million pairs of socks produced every week, Fort Payne is known as the Sock Capital of the World.)

Another one of our favorite stops in town is Cranberry Corner, a gift shop specializing in designer pottery, ceramics, china, and hand-blown glass.

Begin your ascent up Lookout Mountain via State 35/U.S. 11 en route to Mentone, the charming vacation retreat community with a population of around 400. You'll get your first taste of autumn color on the tree-canopied road that twists up the mountain and stretches through the rural DeKalb County countryside.

Check in to the historic Mentone Springs Hotel, which was built in 1884 and offers nine rooms. Of the 16 bed-and-breakfasts, guest cottages, and cabins around Mentone, we liked this one the best, not only for the great service but also because the wraparound porch overlooks the town's main intersection. Rates range $85-$165; (256) 634-4040. For more modest but comfortable accommodations, consider the DeSoto State Park Lodge. Lodge rates range $65-$68, cabin and chalet rates range $65-$95; 1-800-568-8840.

Go casual for dinner at Dessie's Kountry Chef, a short walk from the hotel. Slap down $7.99 for the legendary fried catfish. End your evening with a slice of Dessie's homemade Buttermilk Coconut Pie ($2).

If your hometown lights blot out starry skies, stop on the way back from dinner, and lift your gaze for a while as the cool, peaceful night blankets you.