With rolling green mountains, sparkling lakes, lush forests, and roaring rivers, “Alabama the Beautiful” is best experienced outdoors. Now that the weather has warmed and the days are longer, it’s time to get out and enjoy the natural beauty Alabama has to offer. As one of the most biodiverse states in the country, there’s always something new to see and discover outdoors, whether it’s a vibrant species of bird or a gorgeous native flower. In North Alabama, there are several places to enjoy the wonders of Mother Nature, whether you prefer to hike, bike, get out on the water, or simply have a picnic in the sun.
Spanish for “Mountain of Health,” this northeast Alabama state park has been welcoming visitors from across the U.S. since the late 1800s. Its sweeping views and mineral springs were the draw then, and today the 2,140-acre park is still known for offering spectacular vistas from atop the mountain. Twenty miles of hiking trails and 14 miles of mountain biking trails crisscross the park. For more ways to explore, check out the park’s Japanese Gardens or 18-hole disc golf course.
Buck’s Pocket State Park (Urte Kortjohann/Facebook)
What visitors love about Bucks Pocket is that it has maintained its wildness, while still being accessible to the public. Located in the town of Grove Oak near Guntersville Lake, the park is known for its 1,000-foot Jim Lynn Scenic Overlook offering sweeping views of the park below, as well as its great fishing at Morgan’s Cove on Lake Guntersville and 15 miles of hiking trails. In June of 2021, the park unveiled a new ORV trail that takes adventurers on 6.3 miles of rugged paths through beech and hardwood forests to see some of Alabama’s unique flora and fauna. The trail is the first of its kind at any Alabama state park.
Open year-round, the Huntsville Botanical Garden contains 112 acres of diverse Alabama ecosystems. From grassy meadows and woodland paths to aquatic habitats and gorgeous floral gardens, there is plenty to explore. It’s easy to get lost in thought and find moments of serenity around every turn of the garden, whether under the cool shade of a giant oak tree or amid rows of brilliant blossoming azaleas. Don’t leave the gardens without spending time in the nation’s largest open-air butterfly house, a 9,000-square-foot natural stone and steel beam structure overlooking Smith Lake that’s home to thousands of native butterflies, as well as tadpoles, frogs, button quail, and turtles.
For a truly one-of-a-kind experience, put Dismals Canyon at the top of your Alabama adventure bucket list. The National Landmark is home to the Dismalites, a naturally occurring phenomenon where bioluminescent creatures similar to glowworms light up the canyon walls. The gorgeous natural display can only be seen at Dismals Canyon and in New Zealand or Australia. During peak seasons, from late April through May and from the end of September through the beginning of October, the landmark hosts guided night tours to see the special bright blue-green light show. In addition to the Dismalites, Dismals Canyon is a wonderful place to get lost exploring the mystical geological wonders of the canyon floor. A 1.5-mile hiking trail follows a stream through boulders, magnificent waterfalls, cliffs, and magical moss-covered ferns and trees.
This area of North Alabama is a gold mine of gorgeous natural attractions. Between Little River Canyon Natural Preserve, the 104-foot Desoto Falls, and Walls of Jericho, there’s so much to see and do. DeSoto State Park is a nature lover’s playground. The 3,500-acre park offers something for everyone, from hiking and mountain biking to swimming, kayaking, horseback riding, fly fishing, geocaching, and even ziplining. It’s the perfect place to unwind around all the sights and sounds of the outdoors, from the birds chirping you awake in the morning to a cool breeze at your back and the rustling of fluttering leaves.
(Burritt on the Mountain/Facebook)
Burritt on the Mountain proves that you don’t have to get far outside of the city to become fully immersed in nature. The 167-acre site overlooking the city atop Round Top Mountain is home to Dr. Burritt’s 1938 mansion, as well as the historic park and barnyard that showcases aspects of 19th century farm life from the Tennessee Valley of the Cumberland Plateau. The Burritt Trails are a great place to enjoy a day hike through fields of wildflowers, lush forest, and other gorgeous landscapes. Popular trails include Rock Bluff Trail, which encircles Round Top Mountain, Discovery Trails, Big Cove Turnpike Trail, and Trough Springs Trail.