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10 thrilling summer activities you have to try in Alabama

Boaters on the Coosa River downstream from the Jordan Dam at large boulder. Kayakers paddle along the Coosa River downstream from the Jordan Dam. | Photo courtesy Alabama Tourism Department/Charlie Seifried

Dizzying heights, fierce competition, and old-fashioned natural wows. Summertime in Alabama can be …. exciting! Whether you want to hike, bike, kayak, or soar through the treetops, adventure-seekers need not leave the Yellowhammer State to find new, adrenaline-boosting thrills in the summer heat. 

1. Make a splash with stand-up paddleboarding

aloha paddleboarding in alabama

Paddleboard in the crystal-blue waters of the Gulf with Pure Aloha Adventures. | Photo courtesy Pure Aloha Adventures

Put your balance—and possibly your swimming skills—to the test atop a paddleboard off the coast of idyllic Dauphin Island. Outfitter Pure Aloha Adventures offers stand-up paddleboard lessons in the calm waters of Aloe Bay. New to the sport? No problem. With soaring summer temps, it’s a perfect time to take a few spills.

2. Compete in the Alabama State Games

Alabama state games

A parade of kid athletes wave American flags at the Alabama State Games Opening Ceremony. | Photo by Jay Hare/Dothan Eagle

On your mark … get set … go to Alabama’s Wiregrass Region, where athletes of all ages go head-to-head in Olympics-style contests of skill and strength. Yes, the Alabama State Games feature traditional sports such as swimming and gymnastics, but check the schedule for events like pickleball, ninja challenges, and cornhole. Many events allow for day-of registration, though deadlines vary by sport. The torch is lit in Dothan on June 11, and three days of games take place at regional venues in Dothan and surrounding areas.

3. Hike the Pinhoti Trail

Pinhoti Pulpet Rock Cheaha State Park

A hike to the top of Pinhoti Pulpet Rock in Cheaha State Park offers stunning views. | Photo courtesy Alabama Tourism Department/Chris Granger

On the 335-mile Pinhoti Trail, which spans parts of Alabama and Georgia, you can trek through wilderness, sleep under the stars, and take in the view from a stunning bluff overlooking where the Appalachian Mountains begin. Outfitters like the Pinhoti Outdoor Center offer shuttle service and hostels along the way, and can help you plan a challenging, multiday trip. This trail is often used as a warmup for those looking to hike longer stretches, like the Appalachian or Pacific Crest trails. The Pinhoti Trail begins on Flagg Mountain in the Weogufka Community.

4. Conquer Horse Pens 40

Horse Pens 40

Horse Pens 40 offers ample spots for rock climbing. | Photo courtesy Alabama Tourism Department

The rock formations at this Chandler Mountain park date back more than 600 million years, making them among the oldest exposed stones in the world and an exceptionally tempting place for bouldering aficionados. Climbers from across the country come to test their abilities at Horse Pens 40 (256-538-7439), defying gravity as they scale rock faces using just their hands and feet—no ropes. The park rents shoes and crash mats.

5. Fly through the sky

Egg Adventures ziplining

Strap in for fun at Butter and Egg Adventures. | Photo courtesy Butter and Egg Adventures

Adventure-seekers who want to reach new heights will revel in the aerial courses at Butter and Egg Adventures in Troy, which offers 23 zip lines up to 55 vertiginous feet in the sky. You can race a friend on dual, 915-foot-long zip lines or ride a bike on a narrow track through the treetops. Visitors can also try their hand at ax throwing; compete in epic outdoor laser combat, complete with machine gun nets; and take on the challenge of an escape room at the facility, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Call ahead to reserve a spot.

6. Rough it in Meaher State Park

Meaher State Park Pier

Meaher State Park Pier could serve as a picturesque backdrop in your next family photo. | Photo courtesy Alabama Tourism Department/Billy Pope

On an island wedged between two rivers, outdoors lovers can fish off a 300-foot pier; access miles of wetland paddle trails through the Mobile-Tensaw Delta; take advantage of the free, public boat launch; or pitch tents beneath stands of longleaf pine. (Don’t worry, AC-lovers: There are four cabins at Meaher State Park, including an ADA-accessible option.) At the Five Rivers Nature Center, you can join one of the free educational programs offered by professional naturalists.

7. Witness a birding bonanza

birding in alabama

Look up! You might just spot a swallow-tailed kite. | Photo by Jorman Esteban Berrio/stock.adobe.com

Six miles of trails—along with flocks of kites, swifts, wood storks, bald eagles, and more—await birders at the Joe family’s Black Angus Farm in Newbern. The family’s 200-acre property recently opened up for weekend adventurers. The showiest time to visit is June, when thousands of swallow-tailed kites swoop down on freshly cut hay fields for a grasshopper bonanza. Spectators watch the phenomenon from the shade. “You’d think the sky was just opening up,” says Chris Joe of Connecting With Birds and Nature Tours. Call ahead to arrange a Saturday visit.

8. Pedal the Chief Ladiga Trail

Chief Ladiga Trail

Get outside and enjoy the fresh air on Chief Ladiga Trail. | Photo courtesy Tom Dulaney and Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

The Southeast’s premier bike path stretches 32.5 paved miles along an old railroad corridor past pine forests, wildflower-strewn wetlands, and the lively Terrapin Creek. There’s a chain of small towns between Anniston and Piedmont, which make perfect pit stops along the way. Road cyclists still raring to pedal can link up to the Silver Comet Trail for another 61.5 miles into Georgia.

9. Catch some air at Chewacla State Park

Chewacla State Park

Bikers can catch some air at Chewacla State Park. | Photo courtesy Alabama Tourism Department/Billy Pope

Mountain bikers can head to Chewacla State Park, where the nonprofit Central Alabama Mountain Pedalers has installed a tangle of challenging, all-terrain trails that include jumps and wood-planked plateaus for elevation changes. The park’s 15 miles of single-track dip, dive, and double back, offering challenges for riders from beginner to advanced.

10. Paddle the rapids on the Coosa

Coosa River Whitewater Festival

Hot summer days call for water sports. | Photo courtesy Alabama Tourism Department/Emily Horton Reilly

Somewhere between flatwater paddling and whitewater rafting, there’s whitewater kayaking. And the Class II and III rapids along the Coosa River outside of Wetumpka are a perfect place for novices and experienced paddlers alike to give it a try. The 7-mile stretch on which outfitter Coosa River Adventures (334-514-027) operates starts with a mile-long flatwater paddle in a sit-on-top kayak before the rocky shoals shake things up. Schedule your adventure, which includes equipment and shuttle service, in advance.

Journalist and destination guide author Jessica Fender recounts her own adventures exploring the South and beyond at travelerbroads.com.

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AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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