Forget the overpriced and clichéd dinner-and-a-movie combo: An easy, affordable formula for a great first date is to take things outside. Multiple studies show that people feel more positive when they do something active in a natural environment, and research also backs up the idea that there's a special kind of chemistry that happens between folks when adrenaline is involved. In other words, you may just feel the sparks fly as you and your date hike, kayak, or even climb, and even if the date itself is a bust, well, as least you got in some outdoor activity.
Getting outdoors for a date is easy in north Alabama, thanks to the abundance of rivers, lakes, and forests. Whether you prefer to explore the land or water, you can easily access top-notch trails and waterways to enjoy a comfortable outing that lasts an hour or two. And don't sweat it if you don't own a ton of gear, as outfitters can supply all the necessary stuff you don’t own.
So, got your eye on a certain someone? Here, five great outdoor first date ideas to help you plan your adventurous outing, from the Tennessee River in Florence to the mountains near Fort Payne.
1. Paddle on Lake Guntersville.
While Lake Guntersville is popular with water skiers, the 69,000-acre lake also has its quiet nooks. Sheltered from the lake’s main channel and motorboat traffic, Short Creek provides a calm environment for stand-up paddleboarding or flat water kayaking. After you enter Lake Guntersville State Park, head to the Country Store to rent kayaks or paddleboards. Then, to reach Short Creek, backtrack to Alabama Highway 227, turn right and travel 1.3 miles west to a low-slung staff housing building that sits on the left, just before the major bridge.
Park here and put-in and paddle on Short Creek. As you paddle along, keep an eye out for bald eagles, which nest in the state park.
After you leave the water and return your boats or boards, drive to the Lake Guntersville State Park Lodge to take in a panoramic view of the Tennessee River. To extend your date, have a bite in the lodge’s Pinecrest Dining Room, where you’ll enjoy a river view and tasty fare like shrimp and grits, bourbon-glazed salmon, and bacon-wrapped pork chops.
2. Take a hike in Monte Sano State Park.
A hike makes a great date, but it’s important to pick the right kind of trail. If you choose a steep and challenging trek, you and your date will spend more time sweating and gasping for air, rather than laughing and talking. A better choice is a relatively flat path like the South Plateau Loop in Huntsville’s Monte Sano State Park . Traversing the top of Monte Sano Mountain, the trail hugs a bluff and allows views of distant ridges and valleys to the southwest. Walking at a comfortable pace, you can complete the 3.5-mile loop in two hours or less, and the well-marked trail is easy to navigate, so you won’t get lost.When you’ve finished your hike, it’s a quick walk to the park’s main picnic area. To really impress your date, pack a cooler with food and drinks and have a picnic on the bluff overlooking the undisturbed forest in McKay Hollow, and folds of green ridges running to the horizon.
3. Rappel at Fort Payne.
If cost isn’t a huge concern, and you want to wow your date, spend a few hours rappelling with True Adventure Sports in Fort Payne. Over the course of four hours, TAS guides will teach you the ropes for safe rappelling, and then give you several opportunities to descend an 85-foot rock wall in the mountains of northeast Alabama ($42.50/person.) Guides provide detailed personal instruction, so a newbie will feel comfortable. By the time you take your third trip down the wall, you’ll feel like a pro. You’ll also get great photos, because the crag includes a natural platform where you can stand and get a great view of your date while he or she is rappelling.
After a day on the rocks, it’s worth it to drive about 25 minutes to the Wildflower Café in Mentone. This hippie chic restaurant serves delicious and healthy lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch, including a popular quiche and melt-in-your-mouth tomato pie.
4. Hike Florence Nature Loop.
One of the best spots for a date in the Florence, the 2.5-mile TVA Nature Loop passes through a tranquil wooded area and leads to the Old Railroad Bridge, which you can cross to enjoy beautiful views of the Tennessee River and McFarland Park.Because this nature trail is paved, you and your date can ride bikes or just stroll down the path. No matter how you do it, be sure to cross the old bridge, which dates back the 1800s and makes a great place to catch the sunset.
After you’ve worked up an appetite, drive back toward Florence for delicious seafood at the Tennessee River Bottom Grill, a floating restaurant under the O’Neal Bridge. Find a table on the deck overlooking the water and feast on fresh shrimp, crab legs, blackened fish, or other American fare like hamburgers and grilled chicken sandwiches.
Getting there: From Florence, take Alabama Highway 72 south to cross the Tennessee River. Take a left on NE 16th Street, travel 0.3 miles and turn right onto Ashe Boulevard. Go 0.1 mile, and the trailhead parking area is on the left.
5. Kayak the Flint River.
A kayaking date usually requires a bit of planning and effort, but it’s super easy to paddle the Flint River in north Alabama. This tributary of the Tennessee River typically has a gentle current, and the water rarely exceeds Class I conditions. So, you and your date should be able to make it down the river with ease, even if you aren’t experienced kayakers. If you want to go slow, you can move at a leisurely pace, sliding through mellow channels bordered by green woods and high bluffs. On occasion, your pace will quicken as small rapids provide a bit of entertainment. Along the way, you’ll find sandbars where you can stop to stretch your legs and eat lunch.While the Flint makes for easy paddling, this date is also convenient because a local outfitter will supply all the gear and transportation. Located on Highway 72, North Alabama Canoe and Kayak offers rentals for single and tandem kayaks, as well as canoes and other necessary gear. Plus, NACK will shuttle you to the put-in, and then pick you up at the take-out. For a 3-hour paddle, put in at Alabama Highway 72 and take out at Little Cove Road.