It’s time to pack up the car and hit the road to enjoy the lazy, hazy and crazy summer days. Your options for summer getaways are endless, but there’s one destination that goes unnoticed: Alabama.
Alabama has the most beautiful stretches of beach you’ll find anywhere, mega water parks, incredible outdoor adventures and so much more.
Here are eight reasons why 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 snow-white beaches anywhere along it. The brilliant white sand is lined with the mesmerizing turquoise gulf surf.
On the east side of Mobile Bay, there are 15 beaches in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Five of them are within the Gulf State Park. Not only can you get the perfect tan, take a romantic sunset stroll or swim or surf in the gulf, but there is also paragliding and paddle boarding with the dolphins.
Gulf Shores has added beach access mats that allow wheelchair users to join in the fun. Visit the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach websites for tips on where to park and enter.
On the west 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 beach for dogs, although they must be kept on a leash.
There is a fee for parking on the island’s beaches (and an additional fee for RVs) and a nominal fee for walk-ins.
Pro tip: Before taking up the surf, be sure to learn what the safety warning flags mean.
2. Tropic Waterfalls
It is touted as the largest indoor water park in the region. You’ll be hard pressed to find an argument against that claim when you visit the new Tropic Falls at the OWA amusement park in Foley.
Larger than a football field, the park is surrounded by 1,800 panes of glass that open on sunny days and close in winter so the park stays open. Once inside, you’ll feel like you’re in the tropics, with palm trees and colorful lights all around. Then the fun begins – with a 30,000-square-foot wave pool, 142-foot-tall waterslide, waterslides, and waterslides.
When you need a break from the water, walk to Park at OWA for even more fun on the thrill rides. You can grab a bite to eat on the main street of the park.
Ticket prices and official times can be found on the OWA website.
3. Cruises with Dolphins
Orange Beach and Gulf Coasts
It is one of the most incredible sights in nature – the dolphins accompany you in the wake of your boat as if they are welcoming your world and play in the waves of the boat.
Alabama’s Gulf Coast offers many options for experiencing this beautiful spectacle. Watch for dolphins and enjoy stunning sunsets over the bays of the gulf aboard a sailboat. Feel the thrill of being on the water on jet skis or paddling silently in a kayak. Perhaps take a leisurely stroll in the shaded comfort of a pontoon boat.
Whichever option you choose, the dolphin cruise should be on everyone’s travel bucket list at least once.
4. Tours of the Cathedral Caves
Just 34 minutes southeast of Huntsville is the extraordinary Cathedral Caverns State Park.
The main attraction of the park is, of course, the cave. 250 million years in construction, the cave entrance is breathtaking, measuring an incredible 126 feet wide and 25 feet high. It is believed to be the largest such opening of any commercially operated cave in the world.
Rangers take you inside the gaping opening for a 90-minute guided tour that takes you deep into the cave. Decorative lights illuminate incredible geological formations – rocks that look like a frozen waterfall, a forest of stalagmites, a gravity-defying stalagmite 27 feet tall but only 3 inches wide, and the most incredible stalagmite known as Goliath. It is one of the largest stalagmites in the world, measuring 45 feet in height and 243 feet in circumference.
The cave is a must see at any time of the year, but in the summer it is especially pleasant because the cave maintains a constant temperature of 60 degrees all year round.
There is no entrance 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 pricing.
5. Rickwood Field
Nothing screams summer like a baseball game. Since the late 1800s, Americans have flocked to the stadium to cheer on their favorite teams. Birmingham is home to the oldest stadium 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 “best minor league stadium ever”. More than 110 years later, Rickwood Field is still a field of dreams.
Every summer, Rickwood hosts a variety of events such as vintage card and souvenir shows and of course baseball games. In the past, they’ve held games to honor the black leagues, held meetings with the famous world champion Oakland A’s from the 1970s (many of the players started their careers at Rickwood) and an annual “Turn Back The Clock” weekend where the old wooden bleachers and the hand-posted scoreboard come to life as Birmingham’s minor league team, the Birmingham Barons, play a series of games with another Southern League team, all dressed in classic uniforms of yesteryear.
6. Turkey Creek Nature Reserve
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 descends a waterfall into one of the clearest and bluest pools in the state – Blue Hole.
The second is formed just before Turkey Creek Falls and is located just a few meters from the parking lot. The flow is fast but cold and so refreshing. And if you’re brave enough, bring your own inner tube for a fun, quick slide over the short drops. The main drop is 6 feet.
The reserve has changing rooms in the main parking lot, along with a restroom. There are a few picnic tables, but get there early to get one. It can get very crowded. There is plenty of parking, but I advise you to park close to the main road. Otherwise, you might get locked out on especially crowded days.
7. Screaming Eagle Zipline
Soar like an eagle through the canopy of beautiful hardwood trees that line the shores of Lake Guntersville on the Screaming Eagle ziplines located in Luke Guntersville State Park. The zipline course has two lines that will take your breath away.
The first is the level one course. It features 10 zip lines that range from 25 to 75 feet above the ground and spans four swinging aerial bridges.
Then there’s level two, a giant leap from level one and not for the faint hearted. It includes all the tier one slopes, but adds an additional set of ziplines, one of which is 250 feet above the ground and over 2,000 feet long. Talk about the heart-pumping thrill!
There is a small entrance fee to the park, and Screaming Eagle charges a fee to ride each zipline course. There are also weight restrictions for zip lines. Make your reservation by visiting the Screaming Eagle website.
8. The Coosa River
Novice and expert rowers love to paddle the Coosa River at Wetumpka. The 11-kilometer stretch of river from the Jordan Dam to Coosa River Adventures on Company Street is a mix of flat water paddling, fun schools and Class II and III rapids.
Along the way, you’ll find beautiful flowering swamps, dogwood and azaleas, as well as 100-year-old cypress trees.
There are three rapids on the river – River Falls, Pipeline and the famous Moccasin Gap rapid. As the staff at Coosa River Adventures will tell you during the safety briefing, just go with the flow of the water and you can buy one of those t-shirts that say, “I survived the Moccasin Gap”.
On certain weekends in the 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 the Moccasin Gap, seem too intimidating, you can paddle to the side and take your boat across on land.
Canoes and kayaks are available for rent at Coosa River Adventures, or they will transport your personal kayak to the post. Whichever route you choose, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, you should make a reservation to ensure you get to the river.