These Alabama hidden gems make perfect day trips


CW / Garrett Kennedy

If there is one thing that will never change, it is the amount of beautiful, interesting places the state of Alabama has to offer. No matter the direction of your road trip, there is a stop waiting for you on the way.

North Region

Cloudmont & Shady Grove Ranch (DeKalb County) 

This year-round facility holds Alabama’s only ski resort, Shady Grove Dude Ranch, and from its place atop Lookout Mountain, you can easily see streams and waterfalls such as Veil Falls and the DeSoto Falls. Not only is it an amazing view, but there are over 800 acres of forest to explore within the ranch. Within those acres, there is the Saddle Rock Executive Golf Course and horseback riding with trails to follow along. If swimming and fishing is a must, there are swimming areas and small rivers to fish in. For sleep and rest, Cloudmont offers large cabins to serve families or events of all sizes. 

Cathedral Caverns State Park (Jackson County)

Cathedral Caverns is not just a one stop shop in North Alabama. It includes hiking, picnics and a cave that has stalagmites in every shape and size. Not only is the cave a big feature of the park, but the park itself spans 493 acres with trails and picnic tables for visitors to enjoy. Bringing children and friends who use wheelchairs won’t be a problem, as the park is handicap accessible and it offers children’s activities like faux gem mining. Staying the night is also possible with tents being allowed and a bathhouse near the campsites. 

West Central Region: 

Backstreet Opry: Country, Gospel, Blues & Comedy (Lamar County)

Only open on Saturdays from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., the Backstreet Opry at Lamar Theatre provides a different show every night with more than 25 different entertainers and performances. This old time movie theater has such a reputation that performers come from around the state to play for free. People have been attending the Backstreet Opry since 1990 when the movie theater began to turn into a flow of country, gospel and bluegrass music outside the doors. Not only do the performers play for free, but there is no admission and free refreshments provided by local restaurants and citizens. Attendees should be prepared to dress comfortable, sing along and perhaps even perform a number with the accompanying entertainer. 

East Central Region: 

Carlisle’s Drug Store & Soda Fountain (Tallapoosa County) 

This hole in the wall has a local reputation of child-friendly atmosphere, amazing food and great staff. At the center of this not-so-average drug store is a soda fountain and ice cream station where sweet and bubbly meet. This hometown product is the center of the city and has the reputation to fit it. Open since 1914, Carlisle’s has been serving its customers with checkered floors, light blue walls and sweet hospitality. A few steps over is the Half Moon Market, which shares a space with Carlisle’s, so stopping at this drug store not only includes great food but paintings and gift items only a door down.

International Motorsports Hall of Fame (Talladega County) 

Listed on Tripadvisor with a 4.5 out of 5 rating, The International Motorsports Hall of Fame is a must-see in the East Central region of Alabama. Housing over 14,000 volumes of books, magazines and research materials, this hall of fame is more than just a walk down memory lane. The MotorSports Hall of Fame website even claims to have the “most comprehensive collection of motorsports information on Earth.” This museum also includes a speedway tour on days it is not closed for racing. Racing enthusiasts will be excited to see racing legends like Henry Ford, Enzo Ferrari and Ferdinand Porsche honored, but even racing novices will be amazed at the Kool-Aid car that Michael Waltrip demolished in 1990. 

Alabama Gold Camp (Clay County)

Clay County might be known for its various forests and parks, but there is something truly golden hiding in Clay. Prospecting for gold at Alabama’s Gold Camp is not the only hidden treasure that one can find. In fact, red garnets, fossils, citrine and Native American artifacts can all be found here. There are miles of creek for visitors to pan, sluice, dredge, high-bank and metal detect at varying price points. Rental gear can also be found onsite for first-timers. If you do find yourself tired of finding glittery gold flecks in the dark sand, there are also opportunities to ride horses and hike. 

Southwest Region:

Battleship Memorial Park (Baldwin County) 

While Battleship Memorial Park might not be a hidden gem, its greatness gets overlooked. The most noticeable attraction is the USS Alabama, a former World War II warship. The ship set sail in 1942 and was awarded nine Battle Stars for military victories during the war. One of these victories was in Tokyo on Victory over Japan Day, also known as V-J Day.

Another attraction at the park is a submarine called the DRUM. Along with the wartime submarine, the location is also host to B-52 bombers, A-12 spy planes and various other aircrafts. Under COVID-19 guidelines, the site is asking that visitors remain socially distant and encourage visitors to use an app for a self-guided tour.

Haunted Bookshop (Mobile County) 

The Haunted Bookshop is “haunted by the ghosts of all great literature.” Originally opened in 1941, this downtown relic is perfect for any bibliophile. Containing two floors of curated titles, this bookstore is unlike any other. Each genre has its own section for local authors, and the store even has a writers’ room for local writers to book and finish their pages. While local authors continue to headline events, COVID-19 created some problems for the store. Now they are having virtual events where viewers can talk to local authors, ask for advice or just listen. Being perfect walking distance to riverfront views, this bookstore is a must stop in Mobile County.

Southeast Region: 

Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice 

The Legacy Museum, located in a former slave depot in the middle of Alabama’s capital, traces the history of the Black experience in America from slavery to mass incarceration. Exhibits include a full wall timeline that features enormous historical photographs and quotes that often trail down the wall and continue onto the floor as well as numerous shelves stacked high with jars of soil collected from lynching sites across the United States. Walking through the museum gives viewers a clear, linear view of history, ending with several multimedia exhibits that comment on wrongful convictions and the racist injustices that characterize the modern justice system. After visiting the museum, visitors can travel by foot, shuttle, or car to the memorial, where victims of lynchings are honored with uniform columns of rust-colored metal suspended in the air that list the victims’ names by county.

Montgomery Civil Rights Sights and Guides (Montgomery County) 

Starting at Rosa Parks Library and Museum, this self-guided tour takes visitors around Montgomery’s iconic civil rights sights. Spots like Martin Luther King Jr.’s home and Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church are hotspots of civil rights history. The church housed the first and only congregation King ever pastored and was a central place for the Montgomery bus boycott. While the church is currently not holding tours due to coronavirus, visitors can still admire the church’s history from beyond its front door. This tour can last between one to three hours depending on how much time visitors take at each site.

Montgomery Scavenger Hunt: History and Heroes (Montgomery County)

This tour is based around trivia questions and problem-solving. Alabama’s capital building starts off the tour, but that’s not all visitors will learn about. The self-guided app informs users of city founders, Civil Rights icons, baseball legends and music stars. Along the way, many historic spots are highlighted in Montgomery, such as the Freedom Rides Museum, Court Square Fountain and Hank Williams Landmarks. Participants are expected to be able to walk 1.2 miles, all the while completing over 20 challenges in just two hours. Each participant will have an interactive role in the quest and the challenges will vary by person so this is a great opportunity to learn more about Montgomery for groups of friends or families.

Managing Editor Leah Goggins contributed reporting to this story.