Outdoor Lovers Guide to the 12 Best Things To Do in Alabama

Ashlee sitting at a state park in Alabama watching a goose at the lake.

Also known as the Heart of Dixie, Alabama isn’t usually at the top of people’s U.S. bucket lists. But this Southern state has a surprising number of attractions and activities. From beach hopping to caving to whitewater rafting, we love road-tripping in this state. Here are the best things to do in Alabama!

1. Soak Up the Sun at Orange Beach and Gulf Shores

gulf shores orange beach al

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Even though Alabama only has 53 miles of shoreline, those 53 miles are absolutely stunning. The most famous beach areas in the state are Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, so if you’re looking to soak up some sun, you can’t go wrong with either one.

These neighboring shorelines are perfect for an all-around fantastic beach day. Go for a refreshing swim, build an award-worthy sandcastle, or settle down for a picture-perfect picnic lunch. Don’t forget to stick around for a beautiful sunset.

We love camping at Gulf Shores State Park.

2. Waterfall Hop Your Way Through Bankhead National Forest

bankhead national park waterfalls

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Calling all waterfall lovers! One of the best things to do in Alabama is visit Bankhead National Forest. Nicknamed “the land of 1,000 waterfalls,” this park is filled with countless cascades.

First, there’s Caney Creek Falls, a 30-foot cascade that claims the title of the most photographed waterfall in Alabama. Then, there’s the jaw-dropping 70-foot Feather Hawk Falls, which requires a 6.4-mile hike. Last but not least, we can’t forget to mention the 25-foot-wide Kinlock Falls that’ll take your breath away.

Most of the waterfalls in Bankhead National Forest require some sort of hike. But don’t worry! These hikes can be as easy as a relatively flat one-mile trail or a difficult off-road day hike.

We use AllTrails to locate hikes nearby when we’re on a road trip.

3. Take a Stroll Through the Huntsville Botanical Garden

botanical gardens

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Huntsville Botanical Garden is one of the most beautiful places in Alabama. Within its 118 acres, there are all sorts of gardens and ecosystems for you to explore.

Stop and smell the flowers on the Bush Azalea Trail, learn all about the South’s indigenous plants in the Native Plants Teaching Garden, or experience the peaceful atmosphere of the Damson Aquatic Garden. Even animal lovers will have something to do, thanks to the feathered friends you may be able to spot on the Lewis Birding Trail.

But if there’s one spot you can’t miss at the Huntsville Botanical Garden, it’s the Purdy Butterfly House. As the largest open-air butterfly house in the United States, you’ll be surrounded by hundreds of gorgeous butterflies flitting about. It’s a magical experience.

4. Do a Little Caving at Cathedral Caverns State Park

stalagmites cavern

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Make your way underground for a caving adventure in Cathedral Caverns State Park. Named for its cathedral-like appearance, this cave system is pretty much guaranteed to take your breath away.

Plus, there are a surprising number of things to do at this Alabama State Park. After wandering through stalagmites and stalactites galore, you can also do a little gem mining or fossil digging during your visit.

5. Learn About the Civil Rights Movement at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

Birmingham, Alabama

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No trip to Alabama would be complete without learning about the Civil Rights Movement. After all, Birmingham was a hotspot for this important societal shift.

If there’s just one Civil Rights-focused stop that you need to make, it’s the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. As you meander your way through the exhibits, you’ll follow the steps that Civil Rights activists like the esteemed Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks took in the 1950s and 1960s.

Thanks to their actions, the U.S. made significant progress toward a world with equal rights. While there’s still more work to do today, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is a great reminder of how far we’ve come.

If you’re looking for other Civil Rights attractions in Alabama, check out the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Kelly Ingraham Park in Birmingham, and Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site in Tuskegee.

6. Treat Yourself to an Island Getaway on Dauphin Island

Dauphin Island, Alabama

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Located on the Gulf Coast, Dauphin Island is definitely an Alabama gem. With seven miles of eye-catching beaches, it’s the perfect place for a sunshine-and-sand-filled escape.

And it gets even better: All of the beaches are dog-friendly, so you can bring your furry family member along with you. We camped and enjoyed the beaches with our dog—it was a blast.

There are quite a few cool things to do on Dauphin Island. Spend a day at Dauphin Beach, get a glimpse at ongoing marine research at the Estuarium and Dauphin Island Sea Lab, or go bird watching at Dauphin Island Bird Sanctuary. There is also a great campground right on the coast.

Guess what else? You can beach hop right to Orange Beach and Gulf Shores from Dauphin Island, riding the Mobile Bay Ferry to Fort Morgan. 

7. Spot Bioluminescent Creatures at Dismals Canyon

dismals canyon al

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By far, one of the best things to do in Alabama is spot bioluminescence at Dismals Canyon. Native to Alabama, tiny insects known as “dismalities” give off a teal glow each night. The goal is for the eye-catching light to attract food for them to eat – and they unintentionally give humans a magical show as well.

In order to see these dismalities, you’ll have to wait until after dark when you can take a guided night tour. Your guide will then take you through the canyon, where you’ll spot these glowing creatures all along the canyon walls.

As if that weren’t magical enough, this Alabama natural wonder also contains bioluminescent firefly larvae. Between those, the night stars and the dismalities, you’ll find yourself in an enchanting, otherworldly landscape.

8. Spend a Day at Cheaha State Park

cheaha state park

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So far, this list includes our fair share of state and national parks. But no list of the best things to do in Alabama would be complete without Cheaha State Park.

Located in Delta, Alabama, Cheaha State Park is just an all-around stunning slice of nature, and there are so many ways to make the most of it. Hike your way to the scenic Bald Rock, take in the views from Pulpit Rock, or go for a swim in Cheaha Lake.

It sounds like a great day to us, especially if you want to get outdoors and hike.

9. Whitewater Raft Your Way Down the Chattahoochee River

Huntsville, Alabama, USA Skyline

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Summers in Alabama can get hot. We’re talking 90+ degrees Fahrenheit on a regular basis. And while we love the outdoors, those temperatures aren’t necessarily ideal for hiking, biking, and rock climbing.

That said, one of the best ways to cool down is with a whitewater rafting trip down the Chattahoochee River. With the help of Whitewater Express, paddle your way through calm Class I or raging Class V rapids. It’s safe to say that this thrilling experience will be one of the highlights of your Alabama trip.

10. Pay a Visit to Little River Canyon National Preserve

little river canyon al

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Visiting Little River Canyon National Preserve is, without a doubt, one of the best things to do in Alabama. With its thriving trees, sandstone cliffs, hidden waterfalls, and more, it’s a natural playground.

It should come as no surprise that the list of activities in Little River Canyon is pretty lengthy. You can gape in awe at Little River Falls, go for a swim at the “Hippie Hole,” take a scenic drive on Little River Canyon Rim Parkway, or hike the Bridge Trail—and all of that’s just the start.

You had us at the “Hippie Hole.”

11. Say Hello to the Animals at Alligator Alley

alligator swamp sanctuary

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Make your way to Mobile for a visit to Alligator Alley. This swamp sanctuary allows you to get up close and personal with alligators. As a matter of fact, there are over 600 of them on the property.

If you like, you can stay a relatively safe distance from the alligators by hanging out on an elevated boardwalk. But if you’re a little more adventurous, you can feed and even hold these intimidating creatures.

No trip to the South is complete without seeing alligators.

12. Explore Stephens Gap Callahan Cave Preserve


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If you’re like us and saw someone’s Instagram showcasing the magnificence of Stephens Gap and want to visit, take note that some planning is involved. A permit is required to access this hidden gem, which has a beautiful waterfall inside.

From bioluminescent creatures to Civil Rights Movement museums, the best things to do in Alabama really do span the gamut. Without a doubt, this Southern state is a great place to get outdoors – whether it’s to the beach, into caves, or through a forest.

Where indicated, images courtesy of Depositphotos.com.

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Sarah Etinas

Sarah Etinas is a full-time travel writer and avid adventurer. She has written for dozens of renowned publications, including Time Out, Insider, Honolulu Magazine, and TripAdvisor. When she's not writing, Sarah practices what she preaches by traveling to new destinations, hiking to beautiful waterfalls, and exploring her home. You can find more of her professional work on her portfolio website and follow her adventures on her Hawaii travel website.