Fuel your adventure in Alabama

It’s easy to connect with Alabama’s natural glory, because there’s just so much of it. The Yellowhammer State is an outdoor lover’s dream, with lush, vibrant terrain ripe for exploring

Team Wanderlust
08 July 2022
Promoted by
Alabama Travel

It’s easy to connect with Alabama’s natural glory, because there’s just so much of it. The Yellowhammer State is an outdoor lover’s dream, with lush, vibrant terrain ranging from fast-flowing rivers to Appalachian foothills, to the ice-white sands of the Gulf Coast. It is bursting with life and is one of the most biodiverse states in the US, with at least 64 ecosystems. Meanwhile, its robust culinary scene ensures you genuinely look forward to refuelling after each heady escape.

Finding adventure

A stay at The Lodge hotel at Gulf State Park offers fine views over the Gulf of Mexico

Beaches and islands

Swathes of impossibly powdery Gulf Coast beaches fringe southern Alabama. A perfect example is Gulf Shores, whose ultramarine waters launder sugar-white sands wandered by pelicans and nesting turtles. Then there’s Orange Beach, with its striking alabaster shore. It is particularly popular with cyclists and hikers, as it’s the starting point for the 24km Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail, which winds six ecosystems. This is a great chance to spy otters, wild boar and alligators.

Offshore, the wrecks of the LuLu and the Fairfield New Venture offer rich pickings for divers. Both teem with sea life and are a part of the USA’s largest artificial reef programme. Another wild escape is tiny Dauphin Island, which sits at Alabama’s southernmost tip and is home to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and Audubon Bird Sanctuary. And if you’re looking for a good birding escape, Robinson Island – reachable only by kayak, paddleboard or boat – is a thriving sanctuary and nesting area for wading herons and terns that never fails to take your breath away.

Alabama has many waterways perfect for kayakers (Jason Wallis)

Hit the water

Whether you canoe, kayak, raft or SUP, there’s an Alabama waterway calling your name. While paddleboarders might seek out the calm waters of lakes Nicol and Guntersville, others may prefer the rivers flowing down from the Appalachian Range. Many link up with the Alabama Scenic River Trail, which was once a historic trade route. And in recent years, America’s longest river trail (1,050km) has swelled beyond its core route to encompass over 8,500km of accessible waters.

Elsewhere, the 273km of waterways that make up Mobile-Tensaw Delta is another tempting escape, with plenty of overnight campsites, elevated shelters and floating platforms. Chief among its draws is the remote Bartram Trail, where an intricate web of bayous, sloughs and lakes bristle with wildlife. Alternatively, the calm waters of the Perdido River Canoe Trail run for 30km along the border between Alabama and Florida. Decaying leaves release tannins into the water, staining it a dark tea colour and earning the river its nickname, ‘blackwater’, but it’s a peaceful ride for canoeists of all levels.

Of course, some prefer their paddling to be more hectic, and Chattahoochee River, which runs the Alabama-Georgia border from Phenix City, is said to be home to the world’s longest urban whitewater, stretching up to 4km. It has duly become a local mecca for kayaking, rafting and tubing.

Little River Canyon is a prime location for white-water rafting (Dan Brothers)

Rocky highs and canyon lows

Alabama’s highest natural point, Mount Cheaha, stands at 733m and gazes across the state’s wealth of forested peaks, hidden waterfalls and caves. Real adventures await here, with plenty of rock climbing to be found, from the sandstone rises of Jamestown to the myriad bouldering courses of Horse Pens 40.

If you prefer cycling to climbing, grab a fat bike and head east of Birmingham to the Coldwater Mountain and its 64km of trails, including the plucky Bomb Dog Loop. Meanwhile, hikers can step back 8,000 years beneath the ground at Cathedral Caverns State Park, which is home to Goliath, one of the planet’s largest stalagmites. Beyond its caves, the park also encompasses 200 hectares of hiking trails and overnight campsites.

Lastly, Dismals Canyon is a privately owned nature conservatory blessed with a lush canyon floor that is stuffed with caves, bluffs, rivers, giant hemlock trees and a trio of waterfalls. Underneath its starry skies you can also spy rare bioluminescent Dismalite glowworms, which dot the mossy walls.

Finding flavour

Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q is a local icon and famed for chicken drenched in a peppery white sauce (Art Meripol)

Get grilling

Alabama has a fine reputation for its barbecue cooking. Mouthwatering charcoal-smoked meats are found all along the state’s Alabama BBQ Trail (northalabama.org/trails/ barbecue-trail), which should be on every foodie’s checklist. Stand-out names abound, including Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, which has been going since 1925. It’s renowned for its scrumptious peppery white sauce, into which its smoked chicken is thoroughly dunked.

Those in the know sing the joys of Alabama’s ‘gas-station barbecues’ loud and proud. It’s exactly how it sounds: homespun food cooked in tiny kitchens beside the pumps, and BBQ 65, Butts to Go and Soul Ful Deli Depot are all icons. Nor is it the state’s only iconic “fast” food. At Orange Beach you’ll find a host of ‘Cook Your Catch’ restaurants, including Villaggio Grille, Wolf Bay, Tacky Jack’s, and Fisher’s. You just hook your own fish and then let them cook it up for you on the spot.

The dinner table of the South

Birmingham’s culinary scene has earned plenty of recognition, not least in the James Beard Awards. Johnny’s, in the suburb of Homewood, has garnered admiring glances for the way it explores the influence of Greek migrants on Southern comfort food. Another rising star is Chris Hastings, chef and owner of Hot & Hot Fish Club, which serves up top-notch regional dishes in a cosy, historic building. More James Beard-acclaimed eateries include Highlands Bar & Grill, which injects Southern cooking with French flair; Automatic Seafood and Oysters, which offers a celebrated seasonal menu and dailycatch specials; and Cafe Dupont, which has embraced the Slow Food movement with a menu that changes daily to reflect fresh and seasonal organic fare.

From vine to wine

Set mostly in the north-east foothills of the Appalachians, the vineyards around the state produce home-grown vintages with distinctive flavours. Many rely on Alabama’s only native grape, the Muscadine, to produce white, red, rosé and dessert wines. The wineries are close enough together to visit a few in a day or two, with Wine Trail (northalabamawinetrail. com) favourites including Jules J. Berta, Wills Creek, White Oak Vineyards, Maraella, Fruithurst Wineries, and High Country Cellars. Elsewhere, the state’s Craft Beer Trail (northalabama.org/trails/craft-beer) highlights local microbreweries. Watch the brewers at work at the Cross-Eyed Owl Brewing Company in Decatur, sample a steady beer rotation at award-winning Back Forty Beer Company’s brewery, distillery and active taproom in Gadsden, and embrace the blues at the husband-and-wife-operated Singin’ River Brewing Company in Florence. Cheers!

For more information, go to the official Alabama website

Explore now

Explore More

More Articles