Serene marshes, quiet forests and winding waterways are the norm here, as is that quintessential easy living the Heart of Dixie is famous for. As for seasonal temps, Alabama gets (expectedly) hot come high summer, but the rest of the year offers ideal weather to explore the state’s great outdoors.
Alabama gets surprisingly elevated in its northern regions, where the southern Appalachian Mountains stretch across the land, offering solid hiking and lovely vistas. Tucked away in the northwest corner of the state, the little-known 700-acre Cane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve is a veritable hiker’s dream – rife with waterfalls, scenic wilderness and canyons.
Novice bikers will find a flat, easygoing biking path at Chief Ladiga Trail, a 32.5-mile rails-to-trails path that’s great for beginners and families alike. Lookout Mountain, in Desoto State Park, offers a 2,388-foot summit where – if you angle it right – you can spot seven U.S. states from the peak.
The Sipsey Wilderness, thick with hemlock trees, canyons and waterfalls, offer another rich hiking experience just south of Moulton; as does Hurricane Creek Park, where trails wind hikers deep into a 500-foot canyon. Those willing to take a bit of risk can try their luck at the Walls of Jericho trail, an advanced 6-mile out-and-back hike that descends 1,000 feet into a valley with its own natural rock amphitheater.
Moderate biking paths can be found at Turkey Creek Nature Preserve in Pinson, where a 466-acre preserve offers mountain bike trails that wind alongside cool 60-foot rock walls before offering a scenic view at the top. Climbers and bouldering fanatics may want to check out Moss Rock Preserve, in Birmingham, which boasts climbing routes for all skill levels.
Looking for some height? You’ll get your fill of it at Cheaha Mountain, tucked away in the Talladega National Forest. Clocking in at 2,407 feet, Cheaha offers the highest point in the state: after soaking in the views, you can try your hand at rock climbing or rappelling in the park as well.
Silky white sand beaches. Warm turquoise waters. All the stuff you dream about in Cancun is actually tucked away in southern Alabama, along Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. A decade after the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the gorgeously restored 6,150-acre Gulf State Park offers a beautiful, uninhabited public beach with clear waters, sand dunes and wild sea oats. Along Gulf Shores’ west coast, the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge offers a 7,000-acre preserve where you can climb an observation tower (on Pine Beach Trail) to spy bobcats, alligators, and red fox from afar.
Not surprisingly, locals on the Alabama coast take their seafood seriously. Fresh-off-the-boat usually means it was caught that day, and you needn’t waste your time going fancy. Seafood dives are where it’s at – case in point, the constantly packed Doc’s Seafood Shack & Oyster Bar, where you can dine to your messy heart’s content on delicious fried Gulf shrimp dunked in make-your-own cocktail sauce.