It’s time to pack up the car and head out to enjoy the lazy, hazy, crazy summer days. Your summer travel options are endless, but there’s one destination that’s flying under the radar: Alabama.
Alabama has the most beautiful stretches of beach you will find anywhere, mega water parks, incredible outdoor adventures and 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. The brilliant white sand is framed by the mesmerizing surf of the turquoise gulf.
On the east side of Mobile Bay there are 15 beaches at Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Five of them are located in Gulf State Park. Not only can you get that perfect tan, take a romantic sunset stroll, or go for a swim in the Gulf or body surf, there’s also parasailing 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 parking and admission tips.
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 dog-friendly beach, although they must be kept on a leash.
There’s a parking fee on the island’s beaches (and an additional fee for RVs) and a small fee for walk-ins.
Pro tip: Before hitting the surf, it’s important to learn what the safety warning flags mean.
2. Tropical Falls
It is considered the largest indoor water park in the region. You’ll have a hard time finding 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 surrounded by 1,800 panes of glass that open on sunny days and close in winter to allow the park to remain 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 water slide, tube slides and body slides.
When you need a break from the water, head to the Park at OWA for even more fun on the exciting rides. You can eat something on the main street of the park.
Visit the OWA website for ticket prices and official hours of operation.
3. Dolphin cruises
Orange Beach and Gulf Coasts
It’s one of nature’s most incredible sights – dolphins escorting you in the wake of your boat as if welcoming you into their world and frolicking in the boat’s waves.
The Alabama Gulf Coast offers you many ways to experience this beautiful show. Watch dolphins and enjoy a breathtaking sunset in the bays of the Gulf aboard a sailboat. Feel the rush of being right in the water on jet skis or paddling silently in a kayak. Perhaps take a leisurely tour in the shady comfort of a pontoon boat.
Whichever option you choose, a dolphin cruise should be on everyone’s bucket list at least once.
4. Guided 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 the making, the entrance to the cave 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.
Park rangers then lead you into 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 stalagmite forest, a gravity-defying stalagmite that’s 27 feet tall but just 3 inches wide, and the most amazing stalagmite known as Goliath. At 45 feet tall and 243 feet in circumference, it is one of the largest stalagmites in the world.
The cave is a must-see at any time of the year, but it is particularly pleasant in the summer as the cave has a constant temperature of 60 degrees all year round.
Entry to the park is free; However, the cave tour is chargeable. Tour times vary, so check the park’s website for the latest schedules and prices.
5. Rickwood field
Nothing says summer like a baseball game. Since the late 1700s, Americans have flocked to baseball stadiums to cheer on their favorite teams. Birmingham is home to the country’s oldest operating baseball stadium – Rickwood Field.
In 1910, Rick Woodward—and with the help of Connie Mack—designed what was (then) called “the greatest ballpark ever built.” Over 110 years later, Rickwood Field is still a dream field.
Each 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 honoring the Negro leagues, meetings with the famous Oakland A world champions of the 1970s (many of the players started their careers at Rickwood), and an annual “Turn Back The Clock” weekend where the old Wooden stands and hand-laid scoreboard come to life as Birmingham’s own minor league team, the Birmingham Barons, play a series of games with another Southern League team, all dressed in classic uniforms of the past.
6. Turkey Creek Nature Reserve
Doesn’t it sound inviting to swim in a cold mountain stream in the summer heat? Then the Turkey Creek Nature Preserve in Pinson awaits you. It’s the perfect way to beat the heat.
There is not one, but two bathing spots at Turkey Creek. The first is where the cold mountain stream cascades down a waterfall into one of the state’s clearest and bluest swimming holes – the Blue Hole.
The second is formed just before Turkey Creek Falls and is located a few meters from the parking lot. The current is fast but cold and so refreshing. And if you’re brave enough, bring your own inner tube for a fun and fast slide down the short falls. The main drop is 6 feet.
The nature reserve has changing rooms in the main car park as well as a toilet. There are a few picnic tables, but get there early to snag one. It can get very crowded. There is ample parking but I would recommend parking near the main road. Otherwise, you could get blocked on particularly crowded days.
7. Screaming Eagle Zipline
Soar like an eagle through the canopy of beautiful hardwood trees that line the shores of Lake Guntersville with the Screaming Eagle Ziplines at Luke Guntersville State Park. The zip line course has two lines that will take your breath away.
The first is the Level 1 course. It features 10 ziplines ranging from 25 to 75 feet above the ground and traverses four swaying air bridges.
Then there’s level two, a giant leap up from level one, and not for the faint of heart. It includes all of the runs in level one, but adds an additional set of zip lines, one of which is 250 feet above the ground and over 2,000 feet long. Talk about heartbreaking excitement!
There is a small entrance fee to the park, and Screaming Eagle charges a fee to ride each zip line course. There are also weight restrictions on the zip lines. Book your reservations by visiting the Screaming Eagle website.
8. The Coosa River
Beginners and experts alike enjoy paddling on 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 flatwater paddling, fun shoals, and Class II and III rapids.
Along the journey you will encounter beautifully flowering marshland, dogwood and azaleas, and 100-year-old cypress trees.
There are three rapids on the river – River Falls, the Pipeline and the famous Moccasin Gap rapids. As the Coosa River Adventures staff will tell you during your safety briefing, just follow the flow of water and you can purchase one of those t-shirts that say “I Survived Moccasin Gap”.
On certain summer weekends, Alabama Power opens the river to 8,000 cubic feet per second, making the river more of a challenge for recreational kayakers. If the rapids like Moccasin Gap look too intimidating, you can paddle to the side and carry your boat to the other side on land.
Canoes and kayaks are available for rent from Coosa River Adventures, or they will bring your personal kayak to the launch. Whichever way you choose, between Memorial Day and Labor Day you must make a reservation to ensure you can access the river.