Like many southern cities, Montgomery is undergoing a revival of its downtown area. A part of town that was once void of activity has seen an increase in the number of restaurants and shops over the last decade, and businesses have flourished. Hugging the Alabama River, Montgomery’s Riverfront Park provides a place to enjoy the Alabama outdoors with trails, riverboat rides, and concerts. And, as the state capital, Montgomery is the perfect place for history enthusiasts to explore a city that played a major role in the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement.
Not far from Montgomery, at the southern edge of the Appalachian foothills, you’ll also find trails for hiking, biking, and running.
Offering a blend of outdoor adventure and rich cultural experiences, Montgomery is a great place to explore over a long weekend. To make the most of your visit to Alabama’s capital city, follow this 48-hour itinerary.
To get an authentic feel for the culture of a city, you must immerse yourself in its institutions. Rather than eating at a chain restaurant, venture to the places that locals recommend to visiting friends. For your first great meal in Montgomery, head downtown to award-winning Central Restaurant. Housed in a refurbished warehouse from the late 19th century, the restaurant uses only the freshest in-season ingredients combined with Gulf seafood and locally-sourced meats to create a southern dining experience unique to Alabama.
Continue the old-world vibe by spending your first night at the Red Bluff Cottage, a bed-and-breakfast that replicates a late 19th-Century cottage. A more modern option is the Hampton Inn & Suites Montgomery-Downtown, which is housed in one of the few history-filled high rises overlooking the Alabama River.
A Trip Through History
In a city where significant historical events took place, your first few hours are best spent with a tour of the area surrounding the Alabama State Capitol Building. There are a plethora of museums and landmarks within walking distance. As you explore the State Capitol Grounds, you’ll find many historical markers, including one commemorating the Selma to Montgomery March, which was led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The final steps of this monumental march landed on the Capitol Building. The enormity of the events that transpired within a small radius of the same building that was the first Confederate Capitol is palpable.
From the Capitol Building you can continue to explore the Civil Rights Movement at the Civil Rights Memorial Center, Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, the Rosa Parks Museum and Bus Stop, and the Freedom Rides Museum. The Museum of Alabama and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice is also nearby, along with the First White House of the Confederacy.
Where to Grab Lunch
There a few spots near Montgomery’s Riverfront Park to grab a midday bite, including Lek’s Railroad Thai, which has made a revamped Union Station building its home. Closer to the State Capitol Grounds is Chris’ Hot Dogs, which has served famous hot dogs and burgers in Montgomery for more than 100 years.
Hit the Trail
After lunch, make the short drive north to Wetumpka to the Swayback Bridge Trail. You’ll find some of the best mountain biking, trail running, and hiking in the state here, on what is a spaghetti-style trail system on the hills surrounding Lake Jordan. Created by the Trail of Legends Association, the trail network includes five distinguished loops that measure about 12 miles when combined and the area’s longest singletrack trail at seven miles. Riders and runners of all experience levels will find a challenge on this lightly-traveled collection of trails.
Seafood, Live Blues, and Beer
Back in the city, cap off the day dining at another Southern staple, the Capitol Oyster Bar. It’s not only famous for serving the best seafood in the city but also offers remarkable views of the Alabama River and downtown Montgomery. Before turning in for the night, sit for a pint at Montgomery’s only production brewery, Common Bond Brewers.
Fuel up for the day at Cahawba House, arguably the most popular breakfast and lunch spot in downtown Montgomery. Specializing in Southern-style breakfast and lunch, the Cahawba House is known for its homemade biscuits topped however you’d like. If you have time to visit Cahawba House for a midday meal, try the hearty meatloaf or savory barbecue.
State Park Adventures
With a full stomach, it’s time for a full day outdoors at one Wind Creek State Park or Chewacla State Park, both of which are less than an hour east of Montgomery and offer miles of trails for hiking and biking.
Wind Creek has nearly 1,500 acres adjacent to Alabama’s popular Lake Martin. You will find nearly 30 miles of trails to run, ride, or hike, plus it’s easy to access the lake for paddling. Unlike some freshwater reservoirs, Lake Martin is pretty clean and crystal clear. If you are looking for a serious trail with a rewarding view, hit the 0.8-mile Smith Mountain Alpine Trail, which rises steeply to the mountain summit where a fire tower gives you access to a panoramic view of Lake Martin.
Known for waterfalls and unique manmade features created specifically for mountain biking, Chewacla State Park sits on more than 600 acres and includes a 26-acre lake. The extensive trail system at Chewacla accommodates hikers, runners, and bikers of all ability levels. One of the most popular aspects of the park is the outstanding network of mountain biking trails, which allow people to gradually improve their skills and move up to more challenging rides.
While beginners can develop skills on the easy CAMP trail, intermediate riders can push themselves on the Falls View Trail, which has quick turns, rocky and rooted sections, and fun obstacles. For experts, there’s plenty of highly-technical terrain, including a free-ride area, wood structures like the “Great Wall of Chewacla,” and a big road gap jump. And for riders of all abilities, Chewacla has the state’s only dual-slalom course.
If you have to head home after your day in the park, you’ll leave with a smile on your face knowing that you enjoyed 48 great hours of outdoor fun, fascinating history, and unforgettable food. But, if you’re not ready to leave the area, consider staying the night one of six rustic stone cabins at Chewacla. In the evening, you can sit by the fireplace in your cozy cottage and recall things you loved during your trip, the trails you have yet to explore, and what you’d like to experience during your next trip to Montgomery.
Written by Hap Pruitt for RootsRated Media in partnership with BCBS of AL.