It’s time to pack up the car and hit the road to enjoy the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. Your options for summer travel are endless, but there is one destination that flies under the radar: Alabama.
Alabama has the most beautiful stretches of beach you will find anywhere, mega waterparks, incredible outdoor adventures, and so much more.
Here are eight reasons you should put Alabama on your summer travel list.
1. Gulf Coast Beaches
Orange Beach, Gulf Shores, Dauphin Island
While Alabama only has a small footprint on the Gulf Coast — 32 miles, to be exact — the state has some of the most beautiful, snowy white beaches anywhere along it. The brilliant white sand is outlined with the mesmerizing surf of the turquoise gulf.
On the east side of Mobile Bay, there are 15 beaches in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Five of those are within Gulf State Park. Not only can you get the perfect tan, take a romantic sunset walk, or swim or body surf in the gulf, but there is also parasailing and paddle boarding with the dolphins.
Gulf Shores has added beach access mats that allow wheelchair users to get in on the fun. Visit the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach websites for tips on where to park and admission.
On the western side of the bay, Dauphin Island has three public beaches — the East End next to Fort Gaines, the West End, and Public or Middle Beach next to the elementary school. Public Beach is a rare dog-friendly beach, though they must be kept on a leash.
There is a parking fee at the island’s beaches (and an additional fee for RVs) and a nominal fee for walk-ins.
Pro Tip: Before hitting the surf, be sure to learn what the safety warning flags mean.
2. Tropic Falls
It’s touted as the region’s largest indoor waterpark. You’ll be hard pressed to find an argument against that statement when you visit the new Tropic Falls at the OWA amusement park in Foley.
Larger than a football field, the park is enclosed in 1,800 glass panels that open on sunny days and close in the winter so the park can stay open. Once inside, you will feel like you are in the tropics, with palm trees and colored lights all around. Then the fun begins — with a 30,000 square foot wave pool, 142-foot-tall water slide, tube slides, and body slides.
When you need a break from the water, then walk over to the Park at OWA for even more fun on the thrilling rides. You can grab a bite to eat on the park’s main street.
Ticket prices and official hours can be found on the OWA website.
3. Dolphin Cruises
Orange Beach And Gulf Shores
It’s one of nature’s most incredible sights — dolphins escorting you in the wake of your boat as if welcoming you to their world and frolic in the boat’s waves.
The Alabama Gulf Coast offers you plenty of options for experiencing this beautiful show. Watch the dolphins and take in a stunning sunset in the gulf’s bays aboard a sailboat. Feel the rush of being right there in the water on jet skis, or silently paddling in a kayak. Maybe take a relaxed tour in the shaded comfort of a pontoon boat.
Whatever option you choose, cruising with dolphins should be on everyone’s travel list at least once.
4. Cathedral Caverns Tours
Just 34 minutes southeast of Huntsville is the extraordinary Cathedral Caverns State Park.
The park’s main attraction is, of course, the cavern. 250 million years in the making, the entrance to the cavern is breathtaking, measuring an incredible 126 feet wide and 25 feet tall. It is believed to be the largest such opening of any commercially-operated cave in the world.
Park rangers then lead you inside the gaping opening for a 90-minute guided tour that takes you deep into the cave. Decorative lights illuminate incredible geologic formations — rocks that look like a frozen waterfall, a stalagmite forest, a gravity-defying stalagmite that is 27-feet tall but only 3-inches wide, and the most amazing stalagmite, known as Goliath. It is one of the largest stalagmites in the world, measuring 45 feet tall and 243 feet in circumference.
The cavern is a must-see any time of year, but in the summer, it’s especially enjoyable because the cave maintains a constant 60 degree temperature year round.
There is no admission fee to the park; however, there is a fee to take the cave tour. Tour times vary, so visit the park’s website for the latest schedule and prices.
5. Rickwood Field
Nothing screams summer like a baseball game. Ever since the late 1800s, Americans have flocked to the ballpark to cheer on their favorite teams. Birmingham is the home of the oldest ballpark still in use in the country — Rickwood Field.
In 1910 — and with the help of Connie Mack — Rick Woodward designed what (at the time) was described as the “finest minor league ballpark ever.” Over 110 years later, Rickwood Field is still a field of dreams.
Every summer, Rickwood hosts a variety of events, like vintage card and memorabilia shows and of course, baseball games. In the past, they have held games to honor the Negro leagues, held reunions with the famous World Champion Oakland A’s of the 1970s (many of the players began their career at Rickwood), and an annual “Turn Back The Clock” weekend, where the old wooden bleachers and the hand-posted scoreboard come back to life as Birmingham’s own minor league team, the Birmingham Barons, play a series of games with a fellow Southern League team all dressed in classic uniforms of the past.
6. Turkey Creek Nature Preserve
Doesn’t swimming in a cold mountain stream in the heat of summer sound inviting? Then Turkey Creek Nature Preserve in Pinson is waiting for you. It’s the perfect way to beat the heat.
There are not one, but two swimming holes at Turkey Creek. The first is where the cold mountain stream cascades down a waterfall into one of the clearest, bluest swimming holes in the state — Blue Hole.
The second is formed just before Turkey Creek Falls and is located only feet from the parking lot. The flow is swift but cold and so refreshing. And if you’re brave enough, bring your own inner tube for a fun and fast slide over the short falls. The main drop is 6 feet.
The preserve has changing rooms in the main parking lot along with a restroom. There are a few picnic tables, but get there early to snag one. It can get very crowded. There is plenty of parking, but I would advise parking close to the main road. Otherwise, you may find yourself blocked in on especially crowded days.
7. Screaming Eagle Zip Lines
Soar like an eagle through the canopy of the beautiful hardwood trees that line the banks of Lake Guntersville on the Screaming Eagle Ziplines, located in Luke Guntersville State Park. The zip line course has two lines that will take your breath away.
The first is the level one course. It features 10 zip lines ranging from 25 to 75 feet above the ground and crosses four swaying aerial bridges.
Then there is level two, a giant leap up from level one and not for the squeamish. It includes all of the runs in level one but adds an additional set of ziplines, one of which is 250 feet above the ground and over 2,000 feet long. Talk about heart-pumping excitement!
There is a small admission fee to the park, and Screaming Eagle charges a fee to ride each zip line course. There are also weight restrictions for the zip lines. Book your reservations by visiting the Screaming Eagle website.
8. The Coosa River
Beginner paddlers and experts alike love paddling the Coosa River in Wetumpka. The 7-mile stretch of river from Jordan Dam to Coosa River Adventures on Company Street is a mix of flat water paddling, fun shoals, and class II and III rapids.
Along the trip, you will encounter beautiful flowering swampland, dogwoods, and azaleas, plus 100-year-old cypress trees.
There are three rapids on the river — River Falls, the Pipeline, and the famous Moccasin Gap rapid. As the staff at Coosa River Adventures will tell you during your safety briefing, just follow the flow of the water and you’ll be able to buy one of those t-shirts that say, “I Survived Moccasin Gap.”
On certain weekends in summer, Alabama Power opens the flow to 8,000 cubic feet per second, making the river more challenging for recreational kayakers. If the rapids, like Moccasin Gap, look too intimidating, you can paddle to the side and carry your craft to the other side on land.
Canoes and kayaks are available for rent at Coosa River Adventures, or they will shuttle your personal kayak to the put-in. Whichever way you choose, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, you must make a reservation to ensure that you get to hit the river.
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