Summertime is road trip season. And one thing’s for sure: There’s no shortage of action-packed drives in Alabama. No matter where the compass points you, gorgeous vistas, tasty morsels, fascinating treasures, and lifelong memories await on these 5 epic Alabama road trips.
Sip and swirl through the north
Alabama’s wine country sits in the rolling foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Road trippers will find picturesque vineyards, pretty valley vistas, and generous pours. Sip on dry reds, sweet muscadines, and inventive fruit wines along the way. Print a North Alabama Wine Trail passport for a prize if you hit all 6 stops. (Be sure to designate a driver if you plan to drink alcohol.)
Begin in Albertville at Jules J. Berta Vineyards, set at the highest elevation of any vineyard in the state. Estate-grown grapes are hand-harvested, and a wood-fired pizza oven gives sippers a chance to put some food in their bellies. Look for classics like cabernets and chardonnays, along with more esoteric varieties like blaufrankisch.
Time your arrival at the next stop, Wills Creek Winery in Attalla, to take advantage of a free wine-making class on the first Saturday of the month. Finish the day in Hokes Bluff, where rieslings and cabernet sauvignons from Maraella Vineyards and Winery have a knack for winning national awards.
About 36 miles east in Fruithurst, wine slushies and fruit wines in varieties such as peach and blueberry rule at the rustic Fruithurst Winery Company in nearby Heflin, High Country Cellars boasts extensive lists of sweet, semi-sweet, and fruit wines. End your trip amid 11 acres of wine grapes as well as native rhododendrons and azaleas at White Oak Vineyards in Anniston.
Learn about Indigenous history down south
Thousands of years before Europeans arrived in the region, what is now Alabama was an important crossroads of trade and culture for Indigenous societies. In fact, it’s home to one of the densest concentrations of ancient Native American architecture in North America. Many Alabamians have heard of Moundville Archeological Park near Tuscaloosa, but equally important sites hide along this southern segment of the Alabama Indigenous Mound Trail.
Begin at the Bottle Creek Site, the largest city along the Alabama coast until about 700 years ago. This earthworks settlement built by Mississippians features 18 mounds, the tallest standing about 45 feet high. Nestled deep in the Tensaw Delta, the state’s second largest mound complex must be reached by boat. Historic Blakely State Park hosts seasonal guided tours that leave from the Live Oak Landing in Stockton.
Afterward, cruise via car down to Mobile for lunch and a little more backstory. The History Museum of Mobile dedicates part of its permanent exhibition to the region’s first inhabitants.
In Spanish Fort, another type of structure waits high on a bluff. The Fuller Site shell midden, a giant discard pile of clam and oyster shells, marks where several Indigenous communities gathered to take refuge from storms and build rock tools beginning at least 5,000 years ago. Continue your cruise south to Gulf State Park to collect your own shells along the beach. (The sand and shell mounds within the park are in protected areas.)
Or drive onto the Mobile Bay Ferry and take the “Gulf Coast’s Most Scenic Drive” across the mouth of the bay to Dauphin Island for a quieter beach opportunity. There, the 2 middens at Indian Shell Mound Park are the remains of ancient feasting and harvesting grounds.
Choose your own outdoor adventure in the east
Waterfalls, waterways, and wildflowers await road trippers along this untamed slice of eastern Alabama. Live out your prospector dreams on the outskirts of Lineville with one of the state’s more unusual ways to enjoy the great outdoors.
The Alabama Gold Camp nestles right up to 10 pretty miles of Crooked Creek and rents gear so you can pan or sluice for the rich stuff. Get your fill, then head northwest into the national forest where the Talladega Scenic Drive begins. (Navigate to the Adam’s Gap Trail Head on GPS.)
From there, a 29-mile stretch of State Route 281 traces the backbone of the Appalachians across some of the highest points in the state, offering valley overlooks and plenty of hiking opportunities right off the road.
Next, find your way north on State Route 9 toward Piedmont. The 50-foot-wide Terrapin Creek and bevy of outfitters give paddlers easy access to gentle waters. Or push through to Centre, where a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday evening arrival will allow you to catch the latest blockbuster at 411 Twin Drive-In theater along with a dose of under-the-stars nostalgia.
Anglers waking up in Centre may want to hit Weiss Lake for epic crappie and bass fishing. Otherwise, keep pointing north toward Little River Canyon National Preserve in Fort Payne. At the visitors center, get the inside intel on some of the prettiest country in the state. Be sure to take the long way through the preserve. Highway 176 traces the canyon rim, offering travelers access to hidden gems like the Hippie Hole swimming basin and stately Mushroom Rock. There are also seasonal waterfall views and ample options to hike through hills bursting with spring wildflowers.
Keep going until you hit True Adventure Sports, where you can soar over ravines and through the canopy on a zip-line tour. You can also opt for guided caving, rappelling, or climbing excursions. Looking for less adrenaline? Head about 20 miles north for a photo finish at the 104-foot-high DeSoto Falls, one of Alabama’s tallest waterfalls.
On ’cue out west
It’s hard to get more quintessentially Alabama than barbecue. This driving feast starts out west and samples pork, chicken, and more from some of the state’s most beloved pit masters. Just be sure to pack your stretchy pants and extra napkins.
Arrive early for lunch at the iconic Archibald & Woodrow’s BBQ in Northport, where the ribs are famous and the lines often form before doors even open. Work off a few of those calories browsing local folk art in the historic downtown’s famed Kentuck Art Center.
Then head across the river to the Paul W. Bryant Museum on the University of Alabama campus. Take a deep dive into more than a century of Crimson Tide football history.
For dinner, sample the same hickory-smoked ribs that have wowed superstars like Reba McEntire and Hank Williams Jr. at the original 15th Avenue location of Dreamland Bar-B-Que.
Nearby, Full Moon Bar-B-Que’s slow-fired meats and iconic chocolate-dipped cookies have tempted diners since 1986. Good luck saving room for fan favorite SAW’s BBQ. The chain’s Soul Food location serves up pulled pork and smoked chicken, and it also has an extensive menu of other gems like barbecue boiled peanuts.
Not full yet? One more barbecue legend lies about 8 miles north in Decatur. Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Que developed the iconic white sauce that defined a genre and drenches his family’s slow-smoked chicken. Load up at the drive-through for a pretty picnic, followed by some much-needed trail walking, at nearby Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge.
A trail for treasure hunters
From Ardmore to Gulf Shores, there are more than 100 members of the Alabama Antique Trail across the state. But a sweet little stretch in the state’s southeast corner packs a particular wallop with destination-worthy importers, on-trend interiors, a sprawling flea market, and longtime collectors sharing their expertise with shoppers—for those of us who don’t know pateras from patinas.
Start in Montgomery at Pickwick Antiques, specializing in 18th, 19th, and early 20th century furnishings. From rare Staffordshire pottery to flowery French mirrors, the shop’s rep for curating only the finest is well earned. While in town, drop by Montgomery Antiques & Interiors, where a single space features upscale options from more than 20 collectors, including well-loved local institutions like the Unicorn Shop.
Next, head east to Auburn. Vignettes on Magnolia mixes vintage finds with new interior design pieces, accessories, custom linens, and paper goods out of a period home. From there, it’s a short hop to Angel’s Antiques & Flea Mall. Find shabby chic, farmhouse, military, crafts, and tools spread out amongst a 68,000-square-foot former Walmart just off Interstate 85.
Heading south, books, decor, and homewares from Waterford crystal to CorningWare classics greet shoppers at The Clayton Mercantile.
Wrap things up at the must-visit Antique Attic Imports in Dothan, an institution since 1969. Wander amid rows of wingbacks, wicker, and waterfall dressers from Europe and America in this airy, 16,000-square-foot showroom. The 3 generations that run Attic have set aside special rooms for quilts, oak, music, and Depression glass, among other specialties.
Follow award-winning journalist, blogger, and travel pro Jessica Fender’s adventures at travelerbroads.com.
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