Got extra time on your Alabama road trip? Check out more of the “Heart of Dixie” by embarking on some of the most popular day trips from Huntsville, AL. Nestled in the mountainous Appalachian region, Huntsville gives you easy access to laid-back cities and natural wonders to pad your Alabama vacation plans.
Within a quick drive of Huntsville, you’ll have endless options to get in touch with nature, from the towering waterfalls of Fall Creek Falls State Park to the underworld of Tumbling Rock Cave Preserve. History buffs will be in their element, too. With a rich Southern heritage in the area, you can stop on the US Civil Rights Trail in Birmingham or explore the historic city of Childersburg.
Huntsville might be sweet home Alabama, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay here on your getaway. Cross state lines into Georgia and Tennessee for plenty more to see & do. Country music fans can visit Nashville, while you can drop the nature lovers in your travel crew off in Chattanooga.
Looking for inspiration? Spice up your Southern adventure with this guide to the most exciting Huntsville side trips!
Explore “The Magic City” on your Alabama road trip. Less than two hours from Huntsville is the vibrant city of Birmingham. With industrial heritage and an important stop on the US Civil Rights Trail, history buffs will find plenty to love in Alabama’s third-biggest city. But a fun foodie scene, modern attractions, and a rising cultural reputation make this a winning destination all around.
The Birmingham protests brought an end to legalized segregation in Southern states. And a visit to Birmingham’s Civil Rights District gives you a big slice of history. Also known as “Little Harlem,” the area is home to key Birmingham tourist attractions like Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and Ballard House Project. Follow in the footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rev. Fred Shuttleworth as you learn about their fight and the legacy they left behind.
Birmingham isn’t a city stuck in the past. It’s blowing up as a creative and cultural hub. Discover rising talent in the area at the epic Birmingham Museum of Art or one of the stunning venues in the Theatre District.
Hopefully, you’ve worked up an appetite. Birmingham is packed with award-winning restaurants, so it’s the perfect place to try Alabama’s famous BBQ fried chicken before returning back to Huntsville.
Get a taste of Tennessee with a day in Chattanooga. Two hours across the state border, Chattanooga is set in a beautiful location that gained it the nickname “The Scenic City.” This city is a fantastic choice to add to your Huntsville trip if you love nature and the great outdoors.
The Tennessee River is a staple in Chattanooga’s tourism, with the Tennessee River Gorge housing one of the most diverse ecosystems in the United States. For a tranquil afternoon, spot 200 types of birds on a riverboat cruise. Adrenaline seekers can spice things up with tubing and rafting on the Ocoee River.
Located at the peak of Lookout Mountain, Rock City is one of the most popular places to see in Chattanooga. Get panoramic views of seven states as you discover ancient rock formations and magical gardens.
Back in town, you’ll find charming ways to spend your afternoon. Try famous Tennessee whisky at Chattanooga Whiskey. Tour the distillery or tick the sight off with some drinks in the tasting room.
Bluff View Art District is the ultimate European escape. Stroll through pretty Italian streets set upon stone cliffs. Gaze out at the river below as you pop between galleries and cafes. Carve out some time for River Gallery Sculpture Garden, an outdoor gallery that’s a wonderful place for some me time.
Got extra time in Huntsville? Why not make a detour to Music City? Nashville is the hometown of country music and offers a great excuse to visit some honky tonks. The city is iconic for its music scene, but it also has a rich history, tasty food, and funky artwork.
Get a deep dive on your tour of Nashville in one day on the Old Town Trolley. Your vintage-style, luminous orange bus has 15 stops to hop off and a live commentary on board so you can soak up as much information as possible. You’ll trace the footsteps of stars like Elvis Presley on Music Row and learn about Nashville’s automotive heritage at Marathon Village.
It’s rude to visit Nashville and not indulge in hearty Southern food. Skip the restaurants and try Nashville hot chicken and mouth-watering BBQ on a food tour. There are endless breweries and distilleries to wash it all down. Ole Smoky makes over 40 different moonshines in a rainbow of colors and is a buzzing destination for live music and sports.
Although Frist Art Museum houses exciting exhibitions and is one of the most popular places to visit in Nashville, the city’s creativity spills out into the streets. Once dreary buildings are made radiant with impressive street murals. Take a street art tour to help you find the finest masterpieces in the city.
Around two hours and 30 minutes from Huntsville is the small city of Childersburg. It’s one of the oldest constantly occupied cities in the US, so you’ll find history dating back to the 1500s. With dreamy scenery and natural wonders, it’s easy to see why Spanish explorer Hernando Desoto stopped here on his expedition through Alabama in 1540.
Kickstart your Childersburg adventure on the Kymulga Grist Mill and Covered Bridge. It’s been here since the Civil War and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The nostalgic site has antique machinery and work tools still intact. Linger a while and sample the local honey. Or cross the wooden bridge over Talladega Creek and explore the pretty nature trails on the other side.
Descend into the intricate underground world of Majestic Caverns. The first cavern on record in the country, Majestic Caverns is dripping with the largest concentration of onyx-marble stalagmites and stalactites in the world.
When you’re not exploring the prehistoric landscape of impressive columns and the luminous cathedral room, try the endless activities on offer outside. Pan for gemstones, get lost in the maze and try wacky water golf.
Cathedral Caverns State Park, AL
Admire nature’s craftmanship at Cathedral Caverns State Park. The karst cave has an enormous stalagmite forest giving it a cathedral-like appearance. It’s around 40 minutes from the city, so it’s a quick and easy way to spice up your afternoon with one of Huntsville’s top attractions.
To get into Cathedral Caverns State Park, you’ll step through a huge opening. It measures a whopping 126 feet wide by 25 feet tall. On the other side hides a mysterious world of immense structures and intricate formations. Take a cave tour to learn more about the fascinating spaces.
The magical frozen waterfall is a flowstone that drips down from the ceiling. Say hi to Goliath, one of the largest stalagmites in the world, with a circumference of 243 feet. You’ll also find a mystery river and a stunning natural pool.
Of course, the main attraction here is the stalagmite forest. This incredible feat of nature is so otherworldly it had a starring role in two films, Secrets of the Phantom Caverns and Disney’s Tom and Huck.
Tumbling Rock Cave Preserve, AL
For a more adventurous cave experience, spend the day at Tumbling Rock Cave Preserve. Its remote location is a little over an hour from Huntsville. With over six miles of passageways, it’s one of the longest caves in Alabama.
Despite its length, it isn’t a technical cave, so you don’t need to be a caving expert to discover nature’s wonders. You will need to get a permit first, though.
Descend into the depths of the earth, navigating narrow passageways and a trickling stream. As well as towering stalactites and stalagmites, you’ll encounter curious columns like Elephant’s Feet, two 20-foot pillars supporting the weight of the huge room.
You can probably guess what’s in the Christmas Tree Room by its name. The stalagmite inside is shaped just like a Christmas tree. It’s even decorated with lights over the festive period!
The two stars of Tumbling Rock Cave Preserve are Topless Dome and Mount Olympus. The stunning Topless Dome is an epic 400 ft shaft with a waterfall crashing down from the ceiling. At the end of your journey, you’ll reach Mount Olympus, a mystical 200-foot mountain in a cave.
Want to see what the state of Georgia has to offer? It’s under a three-hour drive to the charming city of Rome. The picturesque city has stunning scenery, historic architecture, and a lively downtown area.
Like its Italian cousin, Rome is nestled in seven hills. But these are the foothills of the ancient Appalachian Mountains, setting a dreamy scene for your Georgia adventure.
With three rivers snaking through the city, soak up your surroundings with lots of outdoor fun. Kayak or canoe down the Etowah River, find a quiet fishing spot, or take a walk on The Heritage Riverways Trail System.
Architecture lovers will have a fabulous time exploring Berry College. The largest college campus in the world is full of historical treasures. Discover pretty chapels and grand halls as you make your way through their sprawling grounds. If you’re a budding engineer, you’ll be amazed by one of the world’s largest wooden overshot waterwheels.
With endless 19th-century steeples, bell towers, and bridges, it’s hard to pack Rome into one day. Between the Rivers Historic District is brimming with ornate Victorian architecture in the shadow of the landmark City Clocktower. Wrap up on its Broad Street, home to pretty boutiques, antique stores, and family restaurants.
Lake Guntersville State Park, AL
You can find natural beauty less than an hour away from Huntsville. Lake Guntersville State Park is perched on the edge of the Tennessee River, with 6,000 acres of natural woodland. Whether you want to take in peaceful nature or get stuck into exciting outdoor adventure activities, visiting this Alabama state park is a great day out for the whole family.
From nature trails to zip lines, there’s something for everyone at Lake Guntersville State Park. Explore diverse flora and fauna and spot rare birds like the bald eagle. There are multi-use trails throughout the area. Trek them on foot or enjoy a relaxing horseback ride.
Make the most of the outdoors with tennis, volleyball, and an 18-hole golf course. If you’d rather relax, there’s a tranquil beach complex where you can laze on the sand and cool off in the lake. You can also rent boats, kayaks, and canoes from the fishing pier and drift across the water.
Monte Sano State Park, AL
Heal your body and soul with a trip to Monte Sano State Park. Monte Sano translates as “mountain of health.” It gained this reputation thanks to its clean air, natural scenery, and mineral springs. This rejuvenating retreat is a short 15-minute drive away, making it a super easy detour from Huntsville.
At 1,600 feet altitude and with 2,500 acres of nature, you’ll be treated to mountaintop vistas, blooming azaleas, and bustling woodland. If you can’t get enough of the tranquil atmosphere at Monte Sano State Park, there are charming stone cabins and a campground for overnight stays.
Explore it all on 20 miles of hiking and biking trails. A popular route is the waterfall hike, ending at a trickling stone staircase. Pack a picnic and eat lunch al fresco to the sound of the rushing water.
Transport yourself to the east with a visit to the Japanese Garden. With elaborate pavilions and Japanese maple trees, it’s a dreamy spot to while away for a few hours.
Fall Creek Falls State Park, TN
It takes around two hours and thirty minutes to get to this legendary spot, but it’s one of the most popular day trips from Huntsville. Fall Creek Falls State Park is sprinkled with impressive gorges, epic waterfalls, and incredible vistas, and is one of the largest and most-visited state parks in Tennessee.
The 29,800-acre park is named after Fall Creek Falls. At 256 feet, it takes the 11th spot among the tallest waterfalls in the United States. The huge circular basin has lush forest spread across its top and a rushing white tower of water plunging to its depths. Hike and scramble down to the base to see it in all its glory. Or, for a bird’s-eye view, trek up to the secret overlook and spot it over the trees.
There are lots of other smaller waterfalls to find in Fall Creek Falls State Park. Cane Creek Falls is a vast curtain of water crashing into Cane Creek. Watch as the white foam turns into rushing green. There’s a fun hike here that involves crossing a long suspension bridge across the river.