Not all trails are paths through the woods. Alabama is home to a wide variety of trails that follow backroads and byways to link historic, cultural, even epicurean sites of interest. Each route reveals some part of the state’s story. As you travel from point to point, it’s like moving through different chapters in the tale of Alabama’s evolution. When you’ve completed the journey, you’ll understand better Alabama’s culture and heritage, including its role in the Civil War, its food scene, musical history, and natural wonders.
If you’re only familiar with Alabama’s hiking paths, check out these other 10 trails to gain a deeper understanding of the Yellowhammer State.
1. Civil Rights Trail
Alabama was the epicenter of the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. The Alabama Civil Rights Trail follows this chapter of history by bringing travelers to important sites from the movement. The hope is that the journey will inspire people to reflect on those who fought for equal rights and take in the lessons learned from that horrifying and tragic period of the state’s history.
The state recommends starting at the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham for an overview of the movement. The rest of the route will allow you to walk in the steps of Martin Luther King Jr. across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which was ground zero during the famous Selma to Montgomery March. The trail also includes the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery and the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site honoring the first African-American military pilots.
2. Sweet Home Alabama Music Trail
From Mobile to Florence and points in between, Alabama has produced some extraordinary musical talent that has helped shape the music world. James Reese Europe, a native of Mobile, was the first African American to make a record and turn ragtime into jazz. W.C. Handy, the “Father of the Blues,” was from Florence, and the great Nat King Cole hailed from Birmingham.
The list seems endless, and the best way to learn firsthand about all of the musical talent from “Sweet Home Alabama” is to travel the Alabama Music Trail.
The trail begins in Florence where you’ll learn about Handy and his influence on the blues and country music. Head south and cross the Tennessee River to visit the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia, which provides a good historical overview of music in the state. Drive a little less than five miles and explore the world-famous FAME Studios where the likes of the Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, and Otis Redding recorded some of their biggest tunes.
From there, the trip winds its way over backroads and interstate highways to Huntsville where one of the state’s biggest music events—the Big Spring Jam —is held each September. Then, it’s off to Fort Payne to pay a visit to the museum for the band Alabama. From Fort Payne, travel south to Montgomery, the birthplace of Nat King Cole, and a stop at the Hank Williams Museum. Finally, make your way to Mobile (the birthplace of Jimmy Buffett) for a rockin’ good time at the Frank Brown Songwriters Festival and the Hangout Music Festival.
And that’s only the half of it. Visit the Alabama Tourism Department’s website for more stops along the trail.
3. Alabama Civil War Trail
In addition to its role in the Civil Rights Movement, Alabama played a key role in the Civil War as well. Montogomery served as the first capital of the Confederacy, and the Battle of Mobile Bay was one of the most famous battles in U.S. naval history. Also, the last major battle of the war took place in the town of Blakeley, which is now Spanish Fort.
Along the Alabama Civil War Trail, you can visit these and 47 other sites that played vital roles during the war.
4. Alabama BBQ Trail
Alabama is known for having some of the best barbecue in the country, and the Alabama BBQ Trail will lead you to the best barbecue shacks around.
It doesn’t matter where you start your tour, just travel hungry! Head up to Florence for the local favorite—barbecue pork with hot slaw at Bunyan’s Bar-B-Que. Then, cruise on down to Tuscaloosa to the one, the only, the original John “Big Daddy” Bishop’s Dreamland Bar-B-Que where the sauce is a “top secret,” but rumor has it that it’s vinegar-based with garlic and brown sugar.
Then there is the outlier, the home of the “Alabama White Sauce.” Big Bob Gibson’s Bar-B-Q in Decatur offers a white barbecue sauce that blends vinegar, apple juice, horseradish, lemon juice, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. Now, before you scoff, try it. You will be a convert.
5. Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail
The granddaddy of all travel trails in Alabama, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail is touted as the “largest golf course construction project ever attempted.” Created in 1980, the RTJ Golf Trail now has 468 championship holes in 26 golf courses. The New York Times has called it the “some of the best public golf on Earth.”
Find your favorite course, or try them all, by downloading the RTJ Golf Trail app from the trail’s website.
6. Fall Color Trail (aka Circle of Colors Trail)
There is nothing more beautiful than the flaming orange, red, and yellow colors of fall in Alabama. The mountains and hillsides are breathtaking with the glow of the changing leaves, and the Fall Color Trail makes it easy to locate the best spots for leaf-peeping.
Of course, you don’t want to travel across the state only to find that the leaves aren’t at peak beauty. Before heading out, plan your trip by visiting the national Fall Foliage Prediction Map.
7. Alabama Garden Trail
While we’re in an outdoorsy frame of mind, consider visiting the stops along the Alabama Garden Trail. There are seven botanical gardens along the route, including the Dunn Formal Rose Garden in Birmingham and Hoover’s Aldridge Gardens, which is home to brilliant white blooms of Snowflake Hydrangea. You can also head south to Bellingrath Gardens in Mobile to relax with the soothing sounds of fountains as you enjoy radiant azaleas.
8. Alabama Birding Trails
Stretching from the mountains of North Alabama to the Gulf Coast, the vast Alabama Birding Trail provides the opportunity to encounter more than 430 species, including the state bird, the Yellowhammer. The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources created the trail, which is split up into eight regions and includes 270 different sites. Covering a great diversity of ecosystems and landscapes, the trail leads travelers through the high-mountain hardwood forests, fields, marshes, swamps, white sand beaches, and more.
9. Alabama Bass Trail
Alabama hosts a series of championship bass tournaments each year with record catches being recorded almost annually. While the Alabama Bass Trail is geared for high-money fishing tournaments, the average bass fisherman can hit the water as well. Stops along the trail include 11 lakes, including Lake Eufala, which is known as the “Bass Capital of the World.”
Written by Joe Cuhaj for Matcha in partnership with BCBS of AL and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.