Huntsville stands out as the hub of Northern Alabama, offering diverse options in dining, recreation and the arts. For visitors, NASA history and Space Camp top the list of must-dos though residents enjoy nearby recreational opportunities in the nearby Cumberland Plateau, part of the Appalachian Plateau. I’ve pulled together a list of 12 things to do in Huntsville and the surrounding areas.
U.S. Space and Rocket Center
A must for every visitor to Huntsville, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center features a sprawling complex where I found the largest collection of rockets and space memorabilia in the world. A day’s worth of discovery and learning awaits along with an IMAX theater and glimpse into Space Camp.
As a Smithsonian affiliate and the Official Visitor Center of NASA’s Marshal Space Flight Center, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center features a rocket park with 27 missiles and rockets that grew into the NASA program. I also found the Space Shuttle Pathfinder, a test simulator along with one of the original Saturn V rockets.
The U.S. Space and Rocket Center is located at One Tranquility Base and open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. everyday. Adult admission is $24 and $16 for students 5 to 12 with kids 4 and under entering for free.
Space Camp for Families
With programs for kids as young as 9 all the way until high-school seniors, Space Camp offers STEM-based camps in a variety of topics ranging from two-day introductory mini-camps to week-long summer resident camps. For families that share a love of space, Space Camp offers family camp. In a three-day program, families work together to learn about rocket construction and use training simulators.
Space Camp is located at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Meals and lodging are provided in camp-like dorms.
Marshall Space Flight Center Bus Tour
The Marshall Space Flight Center houses NASA’s research and development facility for programs like the mission to Mars. Take a guided bus tour of the facility that remains closed to the public.
A bus tour departs daily from the U.S. Space and Rocket Center for a two-hour guided tour. Stops include the historic test site of former rockets, the International Space Station (ISS) payload operations and the Propulsion Research and Development Laboratory.
Tours are limited to U.S. citizens and a picture ID is required for all over 16. Tickets are $20 for all over 5-years-old and kids 4 and under are free.
A.M. Booth’s Lumberyard
Dine on the patio of a restored 100-year-old lumberyard while enjoying live music. This complex features several restaurants and hosts special events. I found A.M. Booth’s Lumberyard at 108 Cleveland Ave.
Campus No. 805
Across 13-acres of a revitalized high school campus, I found a complex of craft breweries, restaurants, food trucks, retail shopping, live music and a speakeasy. Campus No. 805 is located at 2620 Clinton Ave. W.
DeSoto State Park
Developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s, DeSoto State Park preserves the CCC-built Desoto Lodge and cabins. Though my favorite feature of the park, the 104-foot Desoto Falls is a must.
DeSoto State Park offers camping along with the lodge, cabins and restaurant. Pick up a Junior Ranger booklet for the kids and take a hike to discover the rugged beauty of northern Alabama. DeSoto State Park adjoins the Little River Canyon National Preserve.
Located at 7104 DeSoto Parkway NE, 75 miles southeast of Huntsville, DeSoto State Park is free to enter.
Little River Canyon National Preserve
From Lookout Mountain, Little River flows through sandstone carving Little River Canyon as it passes over Little River Falls. One of the wildest and cleanest rivers in the Southeast, Little River offers recreational opportunities like rock climbing, kayaking and hiking.
Stop by the Little River Canyon Center for a map, a Junior Ranger booklet and an educational movie. Located at 4322 Little River Trail NE and open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Little River Canyon National Preserve is open from sunrise to sunset and is free to enter.
Trail of Tears National Historic Trail
In the early 1800s, the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole people were forcibly removed from their lands and relocated to the Indian Territory, present-day Oklahoma. Using several routes, including land and waterways, visitors can retrace the Trail of Tears.
The Benge Route passes through the Little River Canyon National Preserve where I found interpretive information.
Russell Cave National Monument
Near the Tennessee border, the Russell Cave National Monument offers a glimpse into the history of human civilization 1,000 years before European contact. Russell Cave provides one of the most extensive archeological records on the East Coast.
Explore Russell Cave from the boardwalk only. Located at 3729 County Road 98 in Bridgeport, 70 miles northeast of Huntsville. Russell Cave is free.
Find a treasure at Unclaimed Baggage Center
In the tiny town of Scottsboro, I stumbled upon the final destination for lost baggage. After airlines spend 90 days looking for a bag’s rightful owner, unclaimed bags end up in Alabama.
Bargain hunters from across the country take a side trip from Interstate 59 to hunt through a retail space that spans several buildings. During my visit, I found wedding dresses, racks of men’s suits, a coat of armor and high-end watches like Rolex and Cartier.
Be prepared to dig, though I found clothing sized and grouped by color. I found dressing rooms and a café serving Starbucks along with gourmet sandwiches and pastries in the facility.
The Unclaimed Baggage Center is located at 509 West Willow Street, Scottsboro, 40 miles southeast of Huntsville. Open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and closed on Sunday.
Brunch at the Wildflower Cafe
Tucked away in a woodland fairyland, I stumbled upon Wildflower Café. A charming eatery that appeals to grandmothers and grandchildren equally.
As I meandered through the rooms of the old house, I stopped to enjoy the local artists’ work that covered the walls. My eyes darted around the dining room as I sat in a mismatched chair and I sipped on a glass of iced tea.
I sampled remakes of southern stables on flowered pottery that reminded me of my grandmother’s pattern. The standout at Wildflower Café, the Famous Tomato Pie, boasts a tender yet flaky crust with layers of tomato and cheese. Firm and flavorful, it’s a must. The Polenta Shrimp Grits topped my list as well, with an elevated remake of the southern favorite. I finished out my brunch with a ham and cheese quiche with a hearty mouth-feel and tender, savory crust.
The Wildflower Café is located at 6007 Alabama Highway 117 in Mentone, 70 miles southeast of Huntsville.
Savor the Arts
After a hearty brunch at Wildflower Café, walk next door to Kamama Gallery for a collection of local artists’ work. I found pottery, landscapes and sculpture in the cultural hub of Mentone. Grab a cup of coffee at the Kamama Gallery’s café, located at 5951 Alabama Highway 117.
Another gallery, the Miracle Pottery, features the work of Valinda Miracle, who used ceramics as a form of physical therapy after a major car accident. In addition to a gallery, Miracle Pottery features classes in ceramics and located at 7811 Alabama Highway 117.
I always suggest Lonely Planet Guides for more information, including this region.
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