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5 wonderful winter activities–Alabama style

Huntsville Skaters Get your ice skate on at Huntsville’s Skating in the Park. | Photo by Jeff White Photography

Sure, snowball fights are hard to come by in Alabama. And sledding? Forget about it. But December fun isn’t just about flurries.

In the Yellowhammer State, intrepid travelers can watch stars fall on dark nights, take forays through urban forests, and pedal past powdery, white dunes on the coast. So let it snow in the higher latitudes. Alabama has its own brand of winter adventure. 

1. Get comfy in the coziest cabins

Cheaha Cabins

A visit to Cheaha State Park will make you feel like you’re in winter wonderland.

Snuggling up next to a roaring fire sounds nice, right? Luckily, Alabama’s mountains, foothills, and woods are studded with cabins, many of them historic stone structures straight out of a storybook. Cheaha State Park’s recently updated rustic cabins and secluded A-frame chalets offer guests new gas log–burning fireplaces and a fire pit in every yard, but that’s just the beginning.

Cheaha, sometimes called an “island in the sky,” sits at the highest point in the state. Opt for one of the bluff-side cabins for sweeping views of miles of the surrounding Talladega National Forest and sunsets that are, well, golden. (On-site eatery Vista Cliffside Restaurant, with arguably the best deck in Alabama, offers a similar vantage point.)

Inside the mountain getaways, find modern amenities and romantic touches such as screened porches and deluxe whirlpool tubs in some units. Explore Cheaha Lake, climb the park’s observation tower, or try a little forest bathing on the park’s newest hiking path, the Shinrin-Yoku Wellness Trail.

2. Marvel at starry nights

Deep in the Conecuh National Forest, light pollution is low and the stars shine under some of the darkest skies in the state. This month also brings the longest nights of the year and one of the Northern Hemisphere’s most prolific meteor showers, the Geminids. Starting to sound like a stellar party yet? Among the 84,000 acres of forest between Andalusia and the Florida line, there are plenty of places to lie back and look up.

For those with comfort in mind, try the Open Pond Recreation Area, which is open year-round and offers bathrooms, water, and a picnic area. With lake access, fishing, and plenty of hiking trails to explore, Conecuh might just inspire visitors to make a winter camping trip out of the excursion. The Geminids peak in the earliest hours of December 14 at about 50 meteors an hour, but the stars are out all month long.

You may also like: Alabama's natural wonders: How many have you seen?

3. Skate through Huntsville

Huntsville Santa

Lace up your ice skates and hit the rink—you might even ice skate next to Santa! | Photo by Jeff White Photography

A family favorite turns 10 this season and does double duty near Huntsville’s downtown. Skating in the Park gives visitors the chance to glide along the ice in the winter chill and an excuse to see what’s new in Rocket City. Indulge in a hot cocoa or a warm pretzel from a rink-side vendor or venture a few blocks over to sample the city’s newest sit-down fare.

Time a visit for one of Skating in the Park’s special events. Past calendars have included DJ nights, visits from Santa, and turkey bowling, a 10-pin competition using a frozen Butterball. But be sure to save time to duck into the neighboring Huntsville Museum of Art to see the latest exhibits, including “Sweetness and Light: Children in Illustration,” which features illustrations of childhood scenes. Skates are available to rent on-site, as are sliding “walkers” for the balance challenged. The celebration is expected to draw thousands of people, even though pandemic protocols limit guests to 125 at a time and masks are required. Those looking for maximum social distance can watch from afar on a live web cam.

You may also like: On the Huntsville’s Craft Coffee Trail

4. Take a walk in the woods

Towering hardwoods, rare flora, rushing whitewater, and boulder fields are all less than a 5-mile drive from the heart of Hoover. Moss Rock Preserve’s 349 wild acres allows nature lovers to choose their own adventure and activity level. The 1.5-mile round-trip Waterfall Loop takes hikers past a series of waterfalls, which flow best during winter months, and to a sandstone glade thought to be one of only 35 of its kind in the world.

Keep your eyes peeled for naturally occurring bonsai trees. To the west, find the picturesque Tunnel Falls along the White Trail. Or follow the more heart-pumping Orange Trail in the northeast along a creek, past a series of small cascades, through one of the preserve’s two longleaf pine stands and—after a climb—to the Top of the World for some of the most scenic views in this diverse urban park. The lucky few might even spot a cottontail or fox along the way

5. Cruise the dunes

Gulf Coast Bike Rider

A bike ride along the Gulf Coast’s white sands is a fun way to spend the holiday. | Photo courtesy Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism

Just because there’s no snow, doesn’t mean you can’t play snowbird. Fly south to Alabama’s Gulf Coast and enjoy the powdery white sand along the cycling trails in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, where cooler December temps make pedaling extra pleasant.

Cruise an easy 5-mile round-trip alongside the waves on a broad bike lane that parallels the main drag, Alabama Coastal Connection. Start and end at the new Gulf State Park Pier and reward yourself with a happy hour—and gorgeous views of the coast—at ByWater Beachside Bar and Grill.

For a more substantial trip, road bikers can take in a little history with their scenery. Head west from the Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge’s Pine Beach Trailhead and, watching for traffic the first stretch, pedal the 12 miles on the main road to historic Fort Morgan, where those famous words, “Damn the torpedoes!” were first uttered. Anyone with get-up-and-go left can hop the Mobile Bay Ferry over to Dauphin Island for more exploration. Just remember, it’s another 12 miles back. 

Award-winning journalist and guide author Jessica Fender will take a beach towel over snowshoes any day. Follow her exploits crisscrossing the South and beyond at

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