10 Top Things to Do in Huntsville and North Alabama

Rockets in an outdoor museum in Huntsville, Alabama.

Daderot / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

While Birmingham often steals the spotlight for those planning a trip to Alabama, the northern portion of the state, roughly 90-minutes away, is definitely worth visiting as well. This is especially true of Huntsville, a city located on the border of Alabama and Tennessee, home to plenty of attractions including the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, and an interesting retail center called Unclaimed Baggage, where you can shop for suitcases and other items people have left behind on airplanes. For an easy Southern escape, consider Huntsville and the intriguing Northern Alabama region as your next vacation destination.

01 of 10

Trek to Waterfalls at Monte Sano State Park

Waterfalls in Monte Sano State Park outside Huntsville, Alabama

Bill Boehm / Getty Images

Address
5105 Nolen Ave SE, Huntsville, AL 35801-1029, USA
Phone +1 256-534-3757

Whether you're visiting Northern Alabama as part of a larger road trip across the Deep South or are simply seeking some time in the outdoors, Monte Sano State Park is a great place to unwind in nature. The 2,140-acre green space, part of the Land Trust of North Alabama, is just a 15-minute drive from Huntsville, and sports scenic mountaintop views, waterfalls, campsites, primitive campgrounds, a camp store, rustic-style cabins, and 20 miles of hiking and cycling trails. Visit in the fall to watch the leaves change color or in spring to see the azaleas in all their blooming glory.

02 of 10

Visit the EarlyWorks Children's Museum

A general store exhibit at the EarlyWorks Children's Museum Huntsville Alabama

EarlyWorks Children's Museum

Address
404 Madison St SE, Huntsville, AL 35801-4203, USA
Phone +1 256-564-8100

If you're traveling with little ones in tow, head to Huntsville's EarlyWorks Children's Museum, part of the EarlyWorks Family of Museums, which includes Alabama Constitution Hall Park and the Huntsville Historic Depot. Learn about the history of African American culture in Alabama at the Passages exhibit and mural, listen to stories about the area's earliest Native American inhabitants and inventor George Washington Carver from the Talking Tree, then check out the 46-foot keelboat exhibit to see how folks traveled down the river in the 1800s. Other hands-on activities and interactive displays let kids get creative with building blocks, play with pulleys and circuits, and hone their motor skills.

03 of 10

Geek Out at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center

U.S. Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, Alabama as seen from a USGS aerial photo

Reubenbarton / Wikimedia Commons

Address
1 Tranquility Base, Huntsville, AL 35805-3371, USA
Phone +1 800-637-7223

The U.S. Space and Rocket Center is a must-see for first-time visitors to Huntsville. Not many cities in the United States can put on a display as grand as the Saturn V rocket standing outside the Space Museum, and there's plenty to discover inside Shuttle Park, Rocket Park, and the Davidson Center for Space Exploration.

Children ages 11 and under can be enrolled in Space Camp, an immersive five-night session where they can experience the Intuitive Planetarium, take part in STEAM activities, and conduct hands-on experiments in space exploration, among other educational activities. For older kids, Space Academy is a similar experience available for ages 12–14, while those ages 15–18 can sign up for Advanced Space Academy or Advanced Space Academy Elite, each offering more in-depth experiences in engineering, science, math, technology, and other astronaut training activities.

04 of 10

Stroll Through Huntsville Botanical Garden

Huntsville Madison County Botanical Garden

Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0 

Address
4747 Bob Wallace Ave SW, Huntsville, AL 35805-3390, USA
Phone +1 256-830-4447

Huntsville Botanical Garden, located just a few short miles from the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, is home to 112 acres of meadows, wetlands, forests, collections of native plants, and special gardens to explore all year long. Although May and October are the best months for viewing the flowers and plants, December brings the holiday season and the Galaxy of Lights installation, a brilliant display of more than one million Christmas lights set throughout the gardens. Don't miss the Purdy Butterfly House, typically open June through September, with hundreds of butterflies fluttering about in open-air atriums.

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05 of 10

Shop for Unclaimed Baggage in Scottsboro

People shopping at Unclaimed Baggage Center

Unclaimed Baggage Center

Address
509 W Willow St, Scottsboro, AL 35768, USA
Phone +1 256-259-1525

Oprah Winfrey once called Unclaimed Baggage in Scottsboro "the best-kept shopping secret in America." Just 45 minutes from Huntsville, it also makes a great day trip. Browse collections of clothing, suitcases, jewelry, books, and other items people have somehow left behind or lost in transit. Known as the only store in America where you can buy and sell unclaimed luggage from the airlines, this unique shopping center has become a top tourist destination, attracting nearly one million visitors annually.

06 of 10

Venture Up to Burritt on the Mountain

Burritt on the Mountain, a living museum and historic park, Huntsville, Alabama

Buyenlarge / Getty Images 

Address
3101 Burritt Dr SE, Huntsville, AL 35801-1142, USA
Phone +1 256-536-2882

Learn about the history of Huntsville and the Tennessee Valley at Burritt on the Mountain, just a 10-minute drive from the town center. Not only does this open-air museum offer amazing views of the city from its hilltop perch, it's also home to a park, several log cabins and restored houses from the 19th century, and the historic mansion of its original owner, local physician William Burritt. Visit to get an in-depth look at how people lived in the area during the mid- to late-1800s, relax in the park, see the farm animals, or hike the estate's scenic nature trails.

07 of 10

Check Out Cathedral Caverns State Park

Cathedral walkway lights

 Alabama State Parks

Address
637 Cave Rd, Woodville, AL 35776-8700, USA
Phone +1 256-728-8193

For an interesting underground day trip, head to Cathedral Caverns State Park, located about 40 minutes from Huntsville between Grant and Woodville. This cave system currently holds seven world records, including widest cave entrance (at 25 feet tall and 128 feet wide) and largest stalagmite, Goliath, which measures 45 feet tall and 243 feet in circumference. You'll also find a large flowstone waterfall, a huge cavern called the Big Room, and Mystery River, which flows through the cavern. Archaeologists have also turned up a number of Native American artifacts dating back to as early as 7,000 B.C.

08 of 10

Pay Homage to Hellen Keller at Her Birthplace

Ivy Green, Helen Keller Birthplace and Home Museum

 

Walter Bibikow / Getty Images 

Address
300 N Commons St W, Tuscumbia, AL 35674, USA
Phone +1 256-383-4066

Born in Tuscumbia, Alabama, Helen Keller was the first deaf and blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in the United States. The inspiring story of how Anne Sullivan taught her to understand and speak English is somewhat of an American legend and was most notably portrayed in the film "The Miracle Worker." If you're in Huntsville, consider doing a day trip to Tuscumbia, roughly 90-minutes away, to learn about Helen Keller's early life at Ivy Green, her birthplace and childhood home. For a real treat, visit in June or July and catch a performance of "The Miracle Worker" in the backyard of the house where the famous story actually took place.

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09 of 10

Admire Ave Maria Grotto

View of various miniature structures (by Benedictine monk Brother Joseph Zoettl) in the Ave Maria Grotto

 

Buyenlarge / Getty Images

Address
1600 St Bernard Dr, Cullman, AL 35055-3057, USA
Phone +1 256-734-4110

About an hour outside Huntsville, the Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman, Alabama, is the ingenious work of Brother Joseph Zoetl, the German monk who founded St. Bernard Abbey (the Benedictine monastery where Ave Maria Grotto is located) and lived there for more than 70 years. Come to see the amazingly accurate architectural miniatures of shrines throughout the world set in the beautiful Alabama hillside. Pack a picnic lunch and plan to spend the whole day wandering the four-acre park.

10 of 10

See the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament

Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament

brandi sims / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-2.0

Address
3222 Co Rd 548, Hanceville, AL 35077-6360, USA
Phone +1 256-352-6267

Located in Hanceville, Alabama, about an hour and 15 minute drive from Huntsville, the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament is a beautiful place that's open to people of all faiths, whether you're religious or just want to explore your spiritual side. Situated on 400 acres of stunning farmland in the Alabama countryside, Our Lady of the Angels Monastery and its famous shrine are officially consecrated Franciscan pilgrimage sites, and where founder Mother Angelica constructed a magnificent shrine of gold, marble, and cedar in a similar style to the Franciscan monasteries you'd find in Europe. Come to celebrate mass in this sacred space or simply to admire an exquisite example of Romanesque–Gothic architecture.

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10 Top Things to Do in Huntsville and North Alabama