Classic Road Trips: Northern Alabama

It wouldn’t be summer without taking a classic American road trip, am I right? We recently had a fantastic time exploring Northern Alabama on our way to Porsche Parade, the annual conference for the Porsche Club of America.

It was my first visit to Alabama and my preconceived ideas about the state turned out to be incredibly off base. The first surprise is how incredibly green and forested the northern part of the state is! Keep reading to learn more about the best road trip destinations in Northern Alabama.

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The Best Road Trip Destinations in Northern Alabama

Florence & Muscle Shoals

Historic downtown Florence is an absolute gem of a town. Situated on the Tennessee River, Florence is a perfect base for exploring the surrounding Shoals and even Huntsville, about 1:15-1:30 away.

When visiting Florence you must stay at the GunRunner boutique hotel! It is without a doubt the most stylish hotel in the state of Alabama.

The incredibly chic bar & lobby of the GunRunner Hotel

When you’re done exploring downtown Florence, hop in your car and drive over the river to Muscle Shoals. Music is the name of the game in this town. There are several recording studios as well as the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. I recommend stopping by both FAME Recording Studio (the original studio of the Muscle Shoals sound) and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio (more famous and started by the disgruntled “Swampers” from FAME).

Northern Alabama Road Trips
Muscle Shoals Sound Studio
Wall of Legends at FAME Studios

Take a spin around town stopping at Riverfront Park and try to find the two massive, aluminum, singing river sculptures along the way. Hint: This page will help you pinpoint their locations! As you head farther south and west out of town, make a stop at the Helen Keller Birthplace. It looks exactly like it did in the Miracle Worker, right down to the famous well.

Northern Alabama Road Trips
Helen Keller’s Birthplace

Lastly, make your way to the Rattlesnake Saloon, a dining venue like no other in that it is set into a canyon overhang. It’s a unique spot to grab a bite or beer, cool off a little and enjoy some live music. NOTE: Thursday – Sunday only in the summer months.

Northern Alabama Road Trips
Note to self: closed on Mondays!

Huntsville

Certainly, the star of Huntsville, Alabama is Tranquility Base, aka the US Space & Rocket Center. While the outdoor displays are showing their age (and are currently being refurbished), a day spent here is unforgettable. Allow 3-4 hours for your visit. This will be time enough to see one of the excellent planetarium shows, wander the indoor and outdoor displays, and even try a simulator or two.

Northern Alabama Road Trips

With additional time in Huntsville, drive through the historic downtown area and the Twickenham neighborhood. In the 1800s, Twickenham was home to the cotton trading center of the Tennessee River Valley. Homes here date from 1814 and remind me of the Garden District homes of New Orleans and the historic district of Charleston.

Lastly, thrift shoppers will want to make the 45-minute trip to Scottsboro and the Unclaimed Baggage Store. The only store of its kind in the US, who knows what finds you’ll come across as you scour the contents of someone’s trip gone awry.

Birmingham

While Birmingham has had its share of bad press in recent years, I found it a very liveable, welcoming city and felt safe walking around the downtown districts with the greatest tourist appeal. In the evenings, we enjoyed strolling both 2nd Street North and South.

Birmingham’s City Walk

The North District is home to Le Fresca, an excellent Italian trattoria, and Cannella Gelato, both highly recommended. On nearby South 2nd, you’ll find Pepper Place. Home to numerous bars, restaurants, and shops, Pepper Place was once the location of Dr. Pepper syrup and bottling facilities!

A restaurant in the Pepper Place complex.

Find Your ideal Birmingham lodging

Vulcan Park

We were surprised to learn that Birmingham’s roots lie in the iron and steel industry. A trip to Vulcan Park gives incredible views over the city and the tiny museum was well worth the 15 minutes or so it took to tour. Very informative!

The symbol of Birmingham and the view from the catwalk.
Northern Alabama Road Trips

Sloss Furnaces

Keeping with the industry theme, the Sloss Furnaces are made for photo ops! Massive in size, you can take a self-guided tour or just run out here to snap a few pics. NOTE: Closes at 3:30 daily.

Northern Alabama Road Trips
We couldn’t pass up this photo op!

Barber motorsports

Barber Motorsports isn’t just for car enthusiasts! The museum and driving school are set on what is often called “the Augusta National of car tracks”. Well-manicured grounds and artistic “Easter eggs” hidden around the property just add to the overall appeal.

Northern Alabama Road Trips

The museum features the world’s largest display of motorcycles as well as an extensive collection of cars and outboard motors. It’s also home to the Barber Advanced Design Center. Here you can watch parts being 3D printed and see how the design process comes together to create top-performing, lightweight bikes.

They print those spare parts already inside the cage! Incredible.

A short walkway connects the museum with the driving school. This is especially fun if students of the Barber School are on the track. The bridges offer glass floors so you can watch the cars speed by below, or you can observe by just looking out over the twisting raceway.

talladega superspeedway

Channel your inner “Ricky Bobby” with a visit to Talladega Superspeedway. About an hour outside of Birmingham, Talladega offers the quintessential NASCAR experience on race days. As a special part of Porsche Parade activities, we took some fun & unforgettable laps!

A short distance off the highway in Ragland is Shirley’s Mainline BBQ. It has incredible pulled pork, brisket, and a frozen peanut butter pie that can’t be missed!

cheaha state park

Cheaha State Park is a must-see for nature lovers! It’s about an hour and a half outside Birmingham and includes the highest point in Alabama. You’ll enjoy some spectacular views at the end of the 1/4 mile Bald Rock boardwalk and you can enjoy numerous hiking trails. This park represents the Southern end of the Appalachian Trail.

Bald Rock Group Lodge

For more of our favorite road trips, check out these posts on Eastern Tennesee & Atlanta and French Lick, Indiana! Do you have any road trips planned this summer? If so, where? Or is there a favorite of yours that I should know about? Let me know in the comments below or by messaging me on social media!


Thanks for stopping by and happy travels! Until next time…

It wouldn't be summer without taking a classic American road trip, right? Our most recent one was to Northern Alabama! Find out what makes it such a great destination. #huntsville #alabama #roadtrips
It wouldn't be summer without taking a classic American road trip, right? Our most recent one was to Northern Alabama! Find out what makes it such a great destination. #huntsville #alabama #roadtrips

Author: Betsy Ramsey

Betsy Ramsey is the author of Natty Gal. Born and raised in Northeast Ohio, she now lives there with her husband and Bichon-Frise, Dolce. A mindful fashion & capsule wardrobe enthusiast, she travels extensively, visiting 56 countries to date. Betsy is committed to helping others live their most fulfilling life!

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