Ready to road trip Alabama? Alabama is a fantastically diverse state with mountain, beaches, cities and a fascinating history. Did I mention the great food and friendly people? You should consider these 15 amazing stops for your road trip in Alabama whether you are just passing through Alabama on a longer visit to the Southern USA or are spending the entire time on an Alabama road trip. In Northern Alabama, you must visit Rocket City Huntsville as well as some of the other small cities. As you go through Central Alabama, you will visit Birmingham Alabama and Montgomery Alabama. Finally there is coastal Alabama with its international flair and beautiful white sand beaches.
- 1 Alabama Road Trip
- 2 What To Do in Northern Alabama
- 3 What To Do in Central Alabama
- 3.1 Visit Birmingham Alabama
- 3.2 Birmingham to Montgomery
- 3.3 Visit Montgomery Alabama
- 3.4 Alabama Road Trips From Montgomery Alabama
- 3.5 Montgomery to Mobile
- 4 What to do in Coastal Alabama
Alabama Road Trip
There’s no two ways about it – getting around Alabama is easiest by car. Hence, you can create your own standalone Alabama road trip or include it as part of a larger southern USA road trip. The conditions are great for road trips in Alabama – the roads are in great condition and there are plenty of roadside service stops if you need fuel or food.
Alabama Road Trip Ideas
Are you thinking about an Alabama road trip as part of a larger Southern USA road trip? Plenty of people I know have created a southern USA road trip that included the state of Alabama so I have broken this Alabama road trip guide into sections for Northern Alabama, Central Alabama and Coastal Alabama so that you can work the section of Alabama that you will be near into your own personalised road trip adventure.
Here are some examples of nearby big cities and their distance from places in Alabama:
- New Orleans to Mobile is a 3 hour drive.
- Both Chattanooga and Nashville in Tennessee is a 2 hour drive to Huntsville.
- Both Memphis Tennessee and Atlanta Georgia are a 3 1/2 hour drive to Huntsville.
- Atlanta Georgia is also a 2 or 3 hour drive to Birmingham or Montgomery, respectively.
In Mobile I met visitors from Lithuania who were combining a visit to the theme parks in Orlando Florida with a Louisiana Mississippi Alabama road trip. After Mobile, they were heading to the casinos in Biloxi Mississippi and then party central, New Orleans. How is that for a fun road trip for adults?
Road Trip Alabama
I decided to road trip Alabama in its entirely from the Northern Alabama to Coastal Alabama. Although I had people question whether there would be enough interesting sites to road trip Alabama for two weeks, I found myself wishing I had even more time!
When you road trip Alabama you realise how much there is to see in the state sandwiched between the mountains of Northern Alabama and the white sand beaches of Coastal Alabama. Road trips in Alabama take you through quirky small towns, big cities and farmland. You will sample plenty of delicious food, meet friendly people and learn some fascinating history.
Why did I decide to road trip Alabama? After all, the news was full off the religious right’s assault on women’s rights in Alabama (to the horror of more liberal Alabamians) . Yes, there are liberals in Alabama!
On the other hand, an Alabama road trip promised history, great food and quirky attractions – definitely my interests. So I dropped my son off in Rocket City Huntsville for his two weeks at the camps run at the NASA Space Center before I ventured off on my Alabama road trips.
I spent 8 days driving from Huntsville to Mobile in coastal Alabama and then looped back up to Northern Alabama. It took me tow days to visit Birmingham Alabama, 3 days to visit Montgomery Alabama and 3 days in coastal Alabama. I would suggest a minimum of 3 days in Huntsville and Northern Alabama too. Although this itinerary covers the four biggest cities in the state of Alabama, I would encourage you to branch out and visit some of the smaller cities and towns nearby.
Alabama Road Signs
And, of particular note are the amusing Alabama road signs. You really get a flavour for the state by the unique Alabama road signs. Sorry for the picture quality – my trusty navigator/assistant photographer/son is still honing his craft.
Just a small selection of the Alabama road signs that caught my attention. Technically the giant cross is not a road sign but I have never seen such a huge church on the side of an interstate.
Apparently, the “Go To Church or the Devil Will Get You” sign is famous in Alabama. The owner took it down, but there was an outcry, and he replaced it. As one person said to me, you see that sign and you know you are in Central Alabama.
The signs for personal injury lawyer Alexander Shunnarah signs are everywhere in Alabama and it’s become a meme in its own right.
Yeah, there really was a drug dealer feeding a squirrel meth in Alabama to make it more vicious. The police released it into the wild when the drug dealer got arrested. So there is some poor Meth Squirrel out there in Alabama detoxing in the wild.
What To Do in Northern Alabama
I have to say Northern Alabama surprised me. I had no idea it was so mountainous! Coming in from Atlanta into Huntsville, we had a brief period where my SatNav refused to work because we had no WiFi. My son learned how to read a paper map which I assured him was a useful life skill.
Rocket City Huntsville
Our first destination in Alabama was Huntsville – nicknamed Rocket City because of the NASA headquarters.
Two of the biggest attraction in Alabama are in the Rocket City Huntsville. Huntsville is a quirky cool city in Northern Alabama with all of the attractions of a major American city but with a better quality of life.
At the number one spot there is the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Not only is it a museum, but the NASA space center runs weekly programs for school children during the summer. My son signed up for Space Camp and Aviation Challenge and loved his two weeks there.
Even if you are not a science person, there’s plenty to do in Rocket City Huntsville. The Number 3 most visited attraction in Alabama is the Huntsville Botanical Center.
There are also plenty of other museum, historical sites and shopping areas to keep you occupied. The city also has a burgeoning craft brewery scene as well as many great restaurants. After all, those well-paid scientists need somewhere to spend their money!
What Else is There in Northern Alabama?
Northern Alabama has several small towns to visit as well as a lot of outdoors activities.. As you know, I’m a city girl. Besides, I was being bitten alive by mosquitos everywhere in Alabama.
I skipped a lot of the nature stuff because I feared venturing further into a mosquito lair. I know the rest of my family would have loved activities like hiking along the Natchez Trace, checking out the bioluminescent glowworms at Dismals Canyon and a cave tour of the gigantic Cathedral Caverns.
The small towns I visited were all easy day trips from Huntsville and make great road trips in Alabama.
In Florence Alabama, I went to see where musical legends like Cher and the Rolling Stones created history at Muscle Shoals Recording Studio, the birthplace of Helen Keller at Ivy Green and the Rosenbaum House, the only Frank Lloyd house in Alabama.
My son loved Decatur Alabama for the fantastic Cook Museum of Natural Science and the Point Mallard Park. Decatur has a long history from the very beginning of Alabama history through the Civil War.
Scottsboro is home to a shopper’s paradise at the Unclaimed Baggage Center which has warehouses full of stuff that unlucky airline passengers have lost. Nearby Lake Guntersville is the largest lake in Alabama and great for all types of water sports. Scottsboro also has a sad historical connection as the place where the so-called Scottsboro Boys (9 African American teenagers) were falsely accused of raping two white women. This story and that of the subsequent trials is told a the Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center.
Practicalities for Northern Alabama
With so many visitors to the NASA space center, Huntsville has both an airport as well as a wide choice of hotels. I stayed at several places in Huntsville Alabama during the 8 days I spent in the city because I wanted to see what the different options were. Like many cities in the USA, Huntsville is pretty spread out. You have hotels in the historic downtown area, near the NASA Space Center as well as newer areas of the city.
I did regret that I did not stay at the super cool GunRunner Hotel in Florence Alabama. It’s a car warehouse conversion which would be totally in keeping with any stylish hotel in any major international city like London or New York.
Huntsville to Birmingham
How far is Huntsville from Birmingham? A little over 100 miles.
Getting from Huntsville AL to Birmingham AL is a super easy drive of a little over 2 hours. Once you get to Decatur Alabama, you can go straight along Interstate 65-S to Birmingham for most of the 100 miles.
Pitstop: Ave Maria Grotto, Cullman Alabama
If you are into quirky roadside attractions on your way from Huntsville to Birmingham, check out the Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman Alabama. About an hour from Huntsville, take exit 308 from I-65S for a short distance to reach the Ave Maria Grotto.
At the Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman, a German Benedictine monk has created stone miniature replicas of world-famous Catholic religious places of worship on a 4 acre park. We are talking everything from Jerusalem to the Shrine at Lourdes. This grotto is listed on the National Register of Historic Sites.
For good measure, he threw in some secular places like the leaning Tower of Pisa. By the way, the monk only visit about 6 of the 125+ places he created in stone so it’s not necessarily that accurate. On the other hand, the dedication needed to achieve something like the Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman is pretty extraordinary.
The Ave Maria Grotto is an easy stop to take a break and stretch your legs on your way from Huntsville AL to Birmingham AL. The address for the Ave Maria Grotto is 1600 St Bernard Drive SE, Cullman AL 25055. It is open daily except for Chrismas and New Year’s days.
What To Do in Central Alabama
Central Alabama covers a wide swathe of the state. The city of Birmingham is considered north central in the state and the city of Montgomery is south central.
Visit Birmingham Alabama
Birmingham Alabama is the largest city in Alabama. If you visit Birmingham Alabama with kids, the Birmingham Zoo is the second most visited attraction in Alabama. I took a civil rights tour of Birmingham which included the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the 16th Street Baptist Church and Kelly Ingram Park.
I stayed at a fabulous boutique hotel in downtown, Elyton Hotel, which has got a great location near many restaurants and the Alabama Theatre, an iconic showplace since 1927.
If you are looking to visit Birmingham Alabama directly, the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth Airport is only a few miles from the city.
Birmingham to Montgomery
How far is Birmingham from Montgomery? A relatively short 92 miles.
Getting from Birmingham to Montgomery is likewise very easy on the interstate. The drive from Birmingham AL to Montgomery will take close to two hours.
Pitstop: Peach Park, Clanton Alabama
On the drive from Birmingham AL to Montgomery AL, you simply have to stop in Clanton Alabama on Interstate 65-S (exit 212). You know Clanton from a distance because of the water tower shaped like a peach.
Stop by Peach Park which has a barbecue restaurant, bakery and ice cream store. This is definitely the place to try peach cobbler and peach ice cream.
Once again you are about an hour on the road from Birmingham to Alabama, so Clanton makes a great pit stop.
Visit Montgomery Alabama
When you visit Montgomery Alabama, you realise that the city has been witness to so much that is uniquely American – Westward expansion, slavery, the Civil War, the Jim Crow Era, country music and literary greatness.
Check out Old Alabama Town, a living history museum, if you want to see how hard and scrappy life in the Mississippi Territory was.
Among the civil rights venues to visit are the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church where Martin Luther King Jr was a pastor and the Rosa Parks Museum dedicated to the woman whose refusal to give up her bus seat made history.
Alabama was one of the first states to secede from the Union. Jefferson Davis was sworn in as president of the Confederacy in front of the Alabama State House. The First White House of the Confederacy was also located in Montgomery Alabama.
The aftermath of the Civil War and the Jim Crow Era are graphically illustrated at The Legacy Museum which looks at the mistreatment of African Americans in the USA from lynching to chain gangs to mass incarceration. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is dedicated to the 4000+ African Americans who were lynched between 1877 and 1950.
In terms of the arts, you have the Hank Williams Museum, a pioneer of country music. In addition, the former home of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald is now the Fitzgerald Museum. Although the couple were only in residence for one year, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote one of his greatest works, Tender is the Night, at this location.
Montgomery isn’t all government and historical attractions though. There’s a great food scene and nascent craft beer scene.
In Montgomery I stayed at a couple of different places. I could not pass up staying at the Fitzgerald Museum which has rooms through AirBnB but I also chose to stay in a Marriott for the simple convenience of being downtown.
If you are looking to visit Montgomery Alabama directly, the Montgomery Regional Airport is 10 miles from the city.
Alabama Road Trips From Montgomery Alabama
If you would like to learn more about Civil Rights issues in the USA, you need to check out these two shorter Alabama road trip ides from Montgomery.
Alabama Road Trip Ideas: Selma Alabama
Selma is only 50 miles (about an hour drive) from Montgomery but is an important part of American civil rights history.
The Selma to Montgomery march by Martin Luther King Jr and other civili rights leader helped with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. They chose Selma because the town had 57% African Americans of which only 3% had voting rights.
At Selma, you can see the Edmund Pettus Bridge where Alabama state troopers stopped the marchers on their first attempt. The vicious beating of African Americans by the state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge (named after a Confederate Army General and KKK Grand Dragon) brought the Civil Rights issues to the forefront of the national consciousness. Near the bridge is the National Voting Rights Museum.
Alabama Road Trip Ideas: Tuskegee Alabama
I did not have time to visit Tuskegee Alabama which is only a 45 minute drive from Montgomery Alabama (in the opposite direction to Selma).
I met a nice couple at Dexter Avenue Church who were doing the Civil Rights trail in Montgomery and then going to Tuskegee and finally Selma in one day. I was super impressed with their hustle because all of the museums close at 5pm so they would be packing a lot into that day.
Tuskegee is home to several interesting museums.
- There is the George Washington Carver Museum dedicated to George Washington Carver who was an African American scientist who encouraged the planting of alternative crops like peanuts and legumes to avoid the soil depletion caused by the growing cotton.
- There is also the home of Booker T. Washington, the Oaks which is operated by the National Park Service. Washington was an African-American educator who advocated education as a response to the Jim Crow Laws of his time. Sort of like the Michele Obama ‘When they go low, we go high” response of his time.
- Another great museum is the Tuskegee History Center, a history museum which tells the story of all the local peoples including Native Americans, African Americans and European Americans.
Montgomery to Mobile
Driving the 170 miles from Montgomery to Mobile takes about 3 hours. Once again most of the time and miles from Montgomery AL to Mobile AL are spent on Interstate 65-S.
Detour: Monroeville, Alabama
If you feel like doing a short detour on the way from Montgomery to Mobile, get of I-65S at Exit 93 for the half-hour drive to Monroeville. Famous as the hometown of Harper Lee who wrote To Kill A Mockingbird, Monroeville has a small museum dedicated to the book/movie at its Courthouse.
What to do in Coastal Alabama
I had a tour guide describe Mobile Alabama as the ‘red-headed stepchild of Alabama’ – a description that made me laugh. I can see why the rest of Alabama thinks Mobile is a little different but to be fair, so is Huntsville. Huntsville and Mobile were also my two favourite places in Alabama but I have always been a fan of quirky. I found Central Alabama way too religious and finding decent coffee was a challenge.
Settled by the French and the first capitol of French Louisiana, Mobile reminds me of New Orleans with its architecture and laid-back style.
Mobile Alabama would also like you to know that they were the first city to celebrate Mardi Gras in the USA. There’s a Mardi Gras Museum and Mardi Gras is still celebrated in family -friendly style in the city.
Mobile has lots of historic neighbourhoods and a vibrant restaurant and bar scene. Kids will love visiting the USS Alabama, a former Navy battleship at Battleship park.
Near Mobile, there is Bayou Le Batre made famous as the place Forrest Gump had his shrimp boat. There is also Dauphin Island, a barrier island with glorious beaches and an Audubon Bird Sanctuary. How can you not love a place that bills itself as the sunset capitol of Alabama?
Take the Mobile Bay Ferry from Dauphin Island back onto the mainland at Fort Morgan, Alabama for one of the best Alabama scenic drives you will come across. I looped back up to Mobile on scenic route 98 but you can go further along for more coastal Alabama.
Detour: Gulf Shores and Orange Beach
Keep going along Ccoastal Alabama and you get Gulf Shores and Orange Beach which will fill anyone’s idea of fun in the sun and sand.
In Mobile I stayed at the historic Battle House Renassance Hotel and Spa. It’s got a great location walkable to most of Mobile’s sites. In addition to the spa, there is also a rooftop pool and tennis courts.
If you are looking to visit coastal Alabama directly, the Mobile Regional Airport is located on the Gulf Coast and 13 miles from Mobile, itself.
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We were helped by Huntsville CVB on our visit to Northern Alabama in the form of 3 nights stay at the Drury Inn & Suites Huntsville as well as free admission to several of the area’s sites. We did not otherwise receive compensation of any form, monetary or otherwise, from any of the products, services, hotels etc mentioned in this article.
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