From historic towns and state parks to national forests and coastal escapes, the state of Alabama has no shortage of great options for day trips and weekend getaways.
Whether local residents or even visitors want to get away and escape to nature in one of the many state parks, forests, or canyons; or spend a day visit towns and cities like Mobile, Montgomery, or Huntsville for restaurants, entertainment, art, or shopping; there are plenty of options in Alabama to choose from for either an adventurous or completely relaxing day.
1. Bankhead National Forest
Bankhead National Forest is located in the northwest corner of Alabama near Double Springs and is considered to be one of the state’s more magical areas.
Encompassing over 180,000 acres of protected forestland, waterfalls, streams, and lakes, the Bankhead National Forest offers a variety of excellent outdoor activities, including paddling, fishing, and hiking.
Scenic campgrounds can be found in the national forest as well, such as the Clear Creek, Corinth, and Houston Campgrounds, open from April to October.
Clear Creek and Corinth include water and electrical hookups. Trails can be used for hiking, horseback riding, and bicycling.
2. Lookout Mountain
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Known as Alabama’s “Mountain Town,” Lookout Mountain is an excellent choice for a day trip in Alabama for anyone who loves the outdoors.
Not only does the area boasts an abundance of natural beauty, there are plenty of activities to enjoy as well.
Lookout Mountain is a destination that has been welcoming visitors since 1836 and offers a rich cultural heritage, master artisans, grand mountains, stunning landscapes, exciting adventures, and delicious country cooking in its restaurants, as well as rustic cabins and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns for people who wish to extend their day trip to an overnight stay.
The town of Childersburg is among the state of Alabama’s most historic towns and boasts the title of the state’s oldest settlement.
Dating back to the latter part of the nineteenth century, the modern city of Childersburg is relatively new, however, the site where it now sits has been occupied continuously by successive groups for centuries.
During the sixteenth century, Spanish explorers occupied the area, and at one point an indigenous community as well, according to records. The historic town of Childersburg, Alabama is an intriguing destination for people to learn about both the modern and old history of the state.
4. Dauphin Island
Dauphin Island is a great destination in Alabama for a relaxing day trip. The natural environment is surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico’s turquoise waters.
Dauphin Island is a small barrier island boasting a rich history, plenty of wildlife, walking trails, and white sand beaches. The entire island, in fact, is designated as a bird sanctuary and is named as one of the “birdiest coastal communities” in the United States.
The three-mile island is one of the top places in North America for viewing spring bird migrations, and also offers several other outdoor activities, such as fishing and kayaking.
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5. DeSoto Caverns
© DeSoto Caverns
The DeSoto Caverns, which is located close to historic Childersburg, Alabama is considered by many to be one of the country’s most attractive cave systems.
This massive underground cavern is located deep under the ground surface and is named after Hernando DeSoto, the famous Spanish explorer who lived in the Native American settlement nearby that later became the town of Childersburg.
The DeSoto Caverns are historically important to the area’s indigenous people and was used at one time as a burial ground. It’s also a unique place geologically and visitors can join one of the tours for exploration.
6. Dismals Canyon
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The Dismals Canyon is a mysterious, dark, and fun place to explore, offering a unique and adventurous day trip or nighttime tour in the state of Alabama.
Found in Phil Campbell, Alabama, a mile and a half trail meanders through the canyon floor where visitors can explore while sandstone bluffs tower above them. Huge green moss-covered boulders brighten the path along the way.
The trails guides people to the water of Rainbow Falls and Secret Falls, as well as the picturesque Weeping Bluff. There is also the Soda Fountain and Grill for refreshments and a bite to eat.
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The small town of Fairhope, Alabama is located just off the shores of the Mobile Bay, radiating southern charm throughout.
This walkable, friendly, and warm town is known for its events, recreational trails, gorgeous floral displays in the downtown area, and an active arts community.
Numerous visitors come and explore Fairhope every year to enjoy its original small-town charm and ambiance. Along with several events taking place in town throughout the year year, Fairhope, Alabama is also home to a local museum with several permanent exhibits that illustrate the town’s unique history, including its Jubilee phenomenon and the town jail.
The city of Florence, Alabama offers something to do for just about anyone, boasting a wide variety of activities for a day trip to this area of the state.
For outdoor enthusiasts, Florence provides an array of water sports, world-class golf opportunities, legendary fishing, and plenty of walking trails. For history lovers, the region has a rich Native American and pioneer history, as well as a historic downtown.
The city is also home to retail stored by award-winning designers, restaurants serving some of the best food in Alabama, and the only home in the state designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
9. Gulf State Park
Located in the Gulf Shores area of Alabama, the Gulf State Park spans across two miles of sandy beaches and includes a Lodge and a spacious campground for visitors who wish to stay overnight.
The park offers a wide variety of outdoor recreational activities, wildlife, a beach pavilion for picnices, and white sand surf. For visitors looking for outdoor recreation, the Gulf State Park offers opportunities for kayaking, parasailing, paddling, geocaching, exploring, fishing, biking, and hiking.
There are also abundant educational adventures provided by the Nature Center, along with programs offered by the Learning Campus and Interpretive Center.
The city of Guntersville, Alabama is situated just a short drive to the north from bustling Birmingham.
Located along the edge of the beautiful and massive Lake Guntersville, the area is one of the state’s most picturesque destinations. Visitors will find mountain peaks surrounded by clear waters.
The scenery is breathtaking in itself, but the trails and hiking opportunities allow visitors and local residents of Alabama alike to become fully immersed in an outdoor paradise.
Along with the beautiful natural scenery, Guntersville also offers plenty of outdoor recreational activities, including birding, biking, hiking, fishing, boating, and skiing.
While the city of Huntsville, Alabama has been widely known as a destination to learn about aeroscience for quite some time, this “Rocket City” today has become a place for creative entrepreneurs, restaurants, and craft breweries, creating a boom of numerous new things to do in the area besides the United States Space and Rocket Center and providing even more of a reason to visit Huntsville for a day trip in the state of Alabama.
There is a wide range of culinary, historical, and cultural attractions throughout the city, including arts performances, historical districts, botanical gardens, and much more.
12. Little River Canyon
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The Little River Canyon National Preserve is led by the Little River’s winding contours. Despite the rather diminutive name, the Little River has created one of the continent’s deepest canyons over time.
The tree-lined canyon is considered by many to be one of the best outdoor sights in the state of Alabama and is an amazing thing to see first-hand.
The Little River Canyon is full of epic and fascinating rock formations, and cascading powerful waterfalls hidden along the way. There are short hiking trails that guide visitors into the canyon gorge, immersing them into the setting.
13. Cathedral Caverns State Park
The Cathedral Caverns State Park consists of a series of underground caves in Alabama, just to the north from the city of Birmingham.
These caves beckon travelers to spend a day exploring the cool and interesting cave system that is beautiful in its own gloomy way, providing a chance for adventure in the underground darkness.
The Cathedral Caverns State Park is a protected area that visitors and locals alike can visit and explore during one of the site’s cave tours, during which guests are taken through the network of caverns and chambers hidden within the rocks of the area.
The city of Mobile, Alabama is located along the state’s >coastlineVisitors can delight in the warm weather of the Gulf and French-inspired cuisine. Depending on the time of year that people visit Mobile, Alabama, they may even get to experience the country’s oldest Mardi Gras festival.
Once known as the “Paris of the South, the city is a melting pot of traditions, cultures, flavors, and people. As such, Mobile has become a cultural center along the Gulf Coast.
15. Monte Sano State Park
The Monte Sano State Park near Huntsville, Alabama is overall an excellent park for a day trip meant for enjoying nature.
The park offers a variety of trails for biking, walking, and hiking, as well as several camping options. Along with the outdoor recreation activities available, the Monte Sano State Park is also home to the Von Braun Planetarium, the brainchild of Wernher von Braun, a famous rocket scientist who helped the United States with the first moon landing.
Visitors can watch shows and tour the planetarium on Saturday nights and presentations are sometimes given by NASA astronauts.
Mooresville, Alabama is a charming small town around twenty miles from Huntsville that offers a less hectic way of life. On November 16 of 1818m the town of Mooresville was the first town to be incorporated by the Alabama Territorial Legislature.
The whole town is listed on the country’s National Register of Historic Places and is one of the most intact and important villages in the state of Alabama.
Visitors to the historic town of Mooresville can explore tree-shaded streets, beautiful gardens, and historic buildings and homes, an experience that feels like stepping back into the past.
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17. Muscle Shoals
Muscle Shoals has become a popular destination for day trips in Alabama and a popular destination for tourists in general in the country.
Thousands of people visit this “gateway to Northwest Alabama” for the many events and attractions in the area.
Annual events include the Alabama Renaissance Fair and the W.C. Handy Music Festival, while Wheeler Lake, Wilson Lake, and Pickwick Lake provides some of America’s best opportunities for fishing.
Other things to do in the area include the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, the Wilson Lock and Dam, and the Natchez Trace Parkway.
18. Oak Mountain State Park
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The Oak Mountain State Park is just a short distance outside of the hustle and bustle of Birmingham, Alabama, offering a great escape for a day from the city.
Even though the park is within such close proximity to Birmingham’s city center, Oak Mountain still provides a great destination for getting out to the countryside and a day trip surrounded by beautiful nature. As Alabama’s largest state park, Oak Mountain State Park provides abundant opportunities for fun that keep visitors returning.
The grounds include swimming holes, a small beach, camping spots, a Wildlife Center, trails for mountain biking, and walking trails.
19. Payne Lake
Payne Lake is located around one hour and thirty minutes to the south from busy Birmingham, Alabama and is a protected area surrounded by forest and wilderness, offering a great destination to simply enjoy a day in a relaxing lakeside setting. Payne Lake provides a relaxed, quiet, and peaceful atmosphere with picturesque spots for picnics and camping.
Each campsite features a trailer or tent pad, fire or cooking circle, and a picnic table. Walking trails also surround the lake’s glistening waters and hiking opportunities are immersive and easy. There are also two bathhouses and swimming beaches at Payne Lake.
20. Red Mountain Park
The Red Mountain Park in Birmingham, Alabama is another good choice for a day trip to the great outdoors, situated just a short distance from the center of the city.
The park is a place of natural beauty located nearly within walking distance of several neighborhoods.A particularly good place for outdoorsy or adventurous people, the Red Mountain Park has plenty of outdoor activities to take part in.
The grounds have undergone a redevelopment and have now become an adventure playground with biking trails, hiking trails, rock climbing, vast green spaces, zip lining, and much more.
The historic town of Selma provides plenty of opportunities for exploration in Dallas County of Alabama. Visitors of the state and locals like will find themselves surrounded by rich layers of American history and many different recreational opportunities. Selma, Alabama is a great day trip whether visitors are looking for a relaxing getaway or a journey to the past. One of Selma’s claims to fame is being home to the state’s largest historic districts and provides visitors with numerous civil rights movement-related exhibits to explore. For those not really interested in history, there is a large lake for boating, fishing, swimming, and more.
Explore Alabama's wineries and flea mrkets.
22. Talladega National Forest
The Talladega National Forest is located within the natural beauty of the country’s famous Appalachian Mountain range and is one of the state of Alabama’s best outdoor destinations. The forest area was once almost destroyed due to over logging, however, it has recovered over the years, and today provides a pristine environment that both visitors and locals can now enjoy for a day in the outdoors. The Talladega National Forest includes some great trails for hiking through the protected area, as well as throughout the beginning of the Appalachian mountains. The grounds are a genuine wilderness that showcases the natural scenery of Alabama.
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The city of Tuscaloosa is the largest center for education, industry, and commerce in western Alabama, as well as the locations of the University of Alabama.
Tuscaloosa boasts a wide variety of things to do that can easily fill a day trip to the city, including the Lake Lurleen State Park, Alabama Museum of Natural History, football games, and many other family-friendly attractions.
The Tuscaloosa Riverwalk extends the length of the southern banks of the Black Warrior River in downtown Tuscaloosa and offers a paved trail for bicycling, running, and walking. There are also several great restaurants.
The city of Tuscumbia, Alabama is a historic city dating back to 1820 and was one of the state’s earliest centers for industry, commerce, and agriculture, including the home of the country’s first railroad on the western side of the Allegheny Mountains. There are many things to do in Tuscumbia for a day trip in Alabama, such as the Tuscumbia Depot, the Cane Creek Canyon Reserve, Spring Park, the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, the home of Helen Keller, the Coon Dog Cemetery, the Rattlesnake Saloon, the Belle Mont Mansion, and the Tennessee Valley Art Center, and much more.
The historic city of Tuskegee in Alabama is just a couple hours away from Birmingham, offering a unique area to explore for a day. The city boasts many different small museums that provide insight into the events of the civil rights movement that took place in Tuskegee, as well as the area’s local history in general. However, Tuskegee, Alabama isn’t just for the history enthusiast. Outdoorsy visitors can head to the Tuskegee National Forest, the country’s smallest national forest, and while the grounds may not be that large, there is plenty of natural beauty within the small forest to keep people interested.
What are the 25 Best Day Trips in Alabama?
The 25 Best Day Trips in Alabama according to local experts are:
Attraction Spotlight: The History Museum of Mobile, Alabama
Visiting the history museum, located in, and focusing on Mobile, Alabama, allows locals as well as visitors from outside the area to learn about the appreciate the history, culture, and art from the area. With a collection of historic artifacts, hands on experiences, and other galleries, visitors will see something new each time they visit.
Cannon - The gallery, roughly 700 feet in size, that houses this Civil War memorabilia allows museum guests to get an up-close look at one of the eight original cannons that were in operation on the CSS commerce raid ship Alabama. Weighing roughly 8,000 pounds (two and a half tons!) and over 10 feet in length, this deck gun/cannon sunk with the ship in the water off the coast of Cherbourg in France after a battle with the Union ship USS Kearsage in 1864.
Inge Gallery - The gallery (named after Mary Jane Slaton/Inge, a longtime museum volunteer) displays some of what many people would consider the “finer things in life,” especially those that have a special prominence in Mobile society. Featuring Baccarat crystal, Boehm porcelain, Limoges china, pieces from some of the oldest “mystic” societies in Mobile, as well as other decorative arts, sculptures, and paintings, a picture of the gallery’s namesake hangs outside the gallery, as if welcoming visitors inside.
Mini House Gallery - Aaron Friedman, famous “Mobilian,” is well-known not only in the area but also throughout the country for his miniature houses. This gallery serves to display the donated houses (originally built for his granddaughters), which are made with exquisite detail to replicate mansions in both Mobile and Alabama states as a whole. Visitors should make sure to pay attention to each detail - they were all created with great craftsmanship as well as lots of love!
New Day (Part One) - This exhibit takes an up close and detail look at the original inhabitants of Mobile, Alabama: Native Americans. Learn about the roughly 300-year history of the area and its inhabitants, journeying through the history of slavery, the Colonial era, World War 2, and the Civil Rights movement as it related to Mobile.
New Day (Part Two) - This exhibit, part two of the Old Ways exhibit, explores the history of Mobile as it relates to the disasters that have hit the area, diversity, the local industries, and recreational activities that the people of Mobile enjoy.
While wandering the museum, visitors should make sure to check out the walls and the hallways as various antiques and artifacts, including furniture and paintings, are located throughout.
The museum offers many special events for both adults and children, which are updated on their website and sent out in their newsletter. Below are a few of the most popular:
Night at the Museum - Held in October, guests can celebrate video games and comic books after hours at the museum. Participants are welcome to dress up as a favorite character. There is a small admission fee, although children five and under are free.
Colonial Day - March at the museum brings an educational event called Colonial Days. Complete with re-enactors, demonstrations, and activities, this event allows visitors to really step back in time and see what it was like for Mobile residents in those days. Trying using a quill pen or doing laundry the old-fashioned way! Admission to this event is free.
In additional to the museum events, the facility is also available to rent for meetings, ceremonies, and receptions. Contact the staff for booking and availability.
School field trips are welcomed at the museum. Available for groups of 10 or more, reserved in advance by contacting the museum, the website offers a full set of educator resources including a guide to what is found inside so that teachers can plan a lesson plan ahead of time. At least one adult chaperone is required for every 10 students and students must follow all museum rules or they will be asked to leave; no food or drink is allowed inside, students are not allowed to be disruptive, etc.
The History Museum of Mobile, Alabama, 111 South Royal Street, Mobile, AL, 36602, Phone: 251-208-7569
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Attraction Spotlight: University of South Alabama Archaeology Museum
The Archaeology Museum, located at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, offers guests (especially those interested in archaeology and its role in society) a chance to glimpse inside the work that archaeologists are doing around the university. This unique collection highlights the study of archaeology as a whole, as well as what archaeologists have unearthed and how that helps better understand the history of the area.
Part of The Archaeology Museum’s focus is on the Common Read (also known as the Common World Initiative), which encourages people all across the United States to read a common book and share in a national discussion about its theme. A recent featured book was Homecoming, written by author Yaa Gyasi. The book, the first novel from the author, is a historical fiction book focusing on the key subjects/themes of slavery, history, family, race relations (including racism). The Common Read exhibit ties into the DFFAAHT (Dora Franklin Finley’s African American Heritage Trail) tour. This exhibit allows guests to travel back through time, stopping at historically significant events important to shaping the Mobile’s diverse history with a focus on how African Americans contributors who have triumphed past the many struggles they have encountered but have yet to get the proper historical credit.
The museum as a whole features artifacts and historical exhibits from the Gulf Coast area and covers nearly 12,000 years of Alabama’s prehistory as well as history. Many of the exhibits feature life sized replicas and representations of how and where archaeologists work and the discoveries that they have made from a local perspective. Take a peek at the way Woodland cultures lived in ancient times, Mississippi and Alabama people and their mound building, the early French population/settlers, and a day in the life of an African American family after the end of the Civil War. See the importance archaeology has had to Mobile.
Mineral Collection - Alan Borg procured this elaborate mineral collection, which has been on display at the museum. After his death, his collection was donated to the museum with the stipulation that it be on display but also used for undergraduate research and teaching purposes. The exhibit features only a small selection of his huge collection, but also shows the love of geology and minerals that Borg had for his whole life. Even that small collection is one of the largest of its kind on the Gulf Coast. Keep a special eye out for the fluorescent minerals, as they are one of the favorites in the collection.
The archaeology museum plays host to a monthly lecture/talk series, all of which are open to the public and offered free of charge. Generally meant for adult audiences, the topics change depending on what is on exhibit at the museum. They are put on by experts in their field, like university employees and people who are well respected in their fields.
There is also a wide array of family programs offered at the museum, often on Saturdays and even after hours. With craft and story time for the little ones, as well as social events with light refreshments for the adults, there is something for everyone and all events are frequently updated on the website.
Besides the lecture series and family programs, the museum will also hold random special events. One of the most popular is celebrating International Archaeology Day with a celebration full of activities, games, and tours throughout the day.
School field trips are always welcome at the archaeology museum. Tours are built to meet (and exceed) state curriculum standards in Alabama and work toward historical awareness as well as helping to develop critical thinking skills.
Tours can be scheduled by contacting the educational staff at the museum either by phone or by email, which is listed on the website. They are offered Tuesdays through Fridays between the hours of 9:00am and 12:30pm and are around two hours in length. The archaeology museum is able to accept groups of up to 60 or 70 people (generally around 3 classes) at a time. If more students are expected, contact the staff ahead of time to see if they can accommodate. There is a small fee per student.
There is also the option for virtual school tours/field trips through either Google Hangouts or Skype - these are offered free of charge!
University of South Alabama Archaeology Museum, 6052 USA Drive South, Mobile, AL, 36688, Phone: 251-460-6101
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