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Outdoor Lovers Find Adventure In Alabama State Parks

Some call it “The Heart of Dixie.” Its official nickname is “The Yellowhammer State,” affectionately dubbed so after its state bird. Others sometimes refer to it by a lesser nickname, from a past era, as “The Cotton State.”

Most call it simply: sweet home Alabama. 

Like the famous song that both celebrated and skewered southern culture in its wry way, Alabama itself is a place of contradictions: deep history, centuries-long conflicts, immense natural beauty, and a culture as rich as the red clay that covers much of the landscape beneath the rolling hills, dense pine forests, and acres upon acres of farmer’s fields.

Its history is well-known, from its battlegrounds of the Civil War to the frontlines of the Civil rights movement. Alabama’s story is an often told struggle of American turmoil.

What the average person may find surprising is how stunningly gorgeous and beautifully diverse the state is naturally.

From the shoals, lakes, and rivers of Northern Alabama to the white sand beaches and bathwater-warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico on its Southern shoreline, Alabama is much more than meets the eye and offers much more than is commonly known.

Much of this natural bounty can be found preserved in Alabama’s State Parks system and is just waiting for adventurers of all stripes to experience it. 

Here are some can’t-miss sites:

Gulf State Park: This park has almost anything an outdoor lover can dream up! At over 6,500 acres of prime Alabama real estate, it’s one of the largest parks in the state, and its 28-mile trail system is a regular hotspot for bikers and hikers alike. Add to all this that it sits right on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, one of the most popular vacation destinations in America. If the ocean gets a little too salty for its frequent visitors, it is common practice to pop over to nearby Lake Shelby for a little freshwater fun. There is something for everyone at this destination!

Photo Courtesy Alabama State Parks

Rickwood Caverns State Park: While most think of Alabama as quintessentially “old south” due to its antebellum roots in 18th and 19th century America, one might be surprised to learn just how “old” it really is. The park, one of the state’s most unique tourist destinations, preserves a complex set of caverns that go back some 260 million years. A popular spot during the summer months to escape the sometimes oppressive southern heat, the caverns stay a cool 58–62 degrees year-round and offer a respite from the sun and the opportunity to step back into time on one of the park’s tours. Hiking, picnicking on the grounds, and even swimming in the onsite pool fed by the cold waters from the caverns are also fun activities that locals take advantage of often. This site is a must-visit!

Photo Courtesy Alabama State Parks

Lake Lurleen State Park: If making it down to the Gulf isn’t an option, Lake Lurleen offers a welcome alternative. More than 1,600 acres make up this Alabama state park with over 20 miles of biking and hiking trails, but the real feature is the titular lake. Fishing, kayaking, boating, and swimming draw visitors from miles around annually, and it’s easy to see why. Its cool, clean waters are perfect for a day on the lake, whether wetting a line in search of crappie or largemouth bass or simply taking a leisurely swim and sunning on Lake Lurleen’s beach. This park has a little bit of something for every outdoor lover!

Photo Courtesy Alabama State Parks

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