While it doesn’t feel like it yet with the freezing temperature, Spring has arrived in the Tennessee Valley. For the local schools, Spring Break is next week and if you’re anything like us, we’re itching to get outside. Here are a few short day trips in North Alabama that will entertain both you and your kids. When you’ve lived somewhere for a long time, it’s easy to overlook the attractions that are close to home. We are constantly exploring ourselves so we wanted to share with you a list of places we have visited in North Alabama that are kid-friendly with a fun, charming small town atmosphere.
We both live in our hometown, Athens, Alabama, so I’ve picked locations close to home – Mooresville, Elkmont, and Huntsville. I am also including a fun excursion in Athens so that even if you’re not local, you can experience the charm of our hometown.
There are so many historical and beautiful places in North Alabama that I struggled to limit myself to just a few options for this post. But, I am already planning another blog sharing more places to visit right here in the Tennessee Valley. I hope you enjoy this list and use it to get outside and explore with your family this Spring. We’d love to adventure with you so as you go on one of these excursions, please #thewanderingfamilies on social media!
- Mooresville and the Beaverdam Boardwalk
For an easy Spring hike that is accessible to all, check out the Beaverdam Boardwalk. You can see our blog post for more details and photos of the Beaverdam Boardwalk, but it is a one-mile round trip boardwalk trail through a Cypress Swamp. It is located just East of Mooresville on the south side of I-565. This a quick easy walk, but worth a visit! From there, I recommend heading north on County Line Rd then west on Old Hwy 20 for a stop at the historic Greenbriar Restaurant. Barbecue and Catfish are their specialty, but there are other southern options as well. From there head west until you hit Mooresville Rd then take a left. You will cross over I-565 and back in time.
Mooresville is the “town that’s older than the state”. Incorporated in 1818, the entire town is on the National Register of Historic Places. While there are some newer homes, it feels like the entire town was frozen in time. It’s worth a drive or even a stroll through town, particularly in spring with the trees and flowers blooming. If the post office is open, peek inside. It is the oldest operational post office in the state. I haven’t been inside in years, but they used to sell some small souvenir items as well.
Another great stop is the Dogwood and Magnolia Bakery. The hours vary, so check out their social media page for this week’s hours. If you happen to drop in on the weekend, visit Lyla’s Little House for some pralines or cheese straws. A fun fact about Mooresville is that Irene and Nicholas had their wedding reception in Lyla’s Dance Hall on the east side of town. This place is special to us, and I believe it will be for you also.
2. Historic Elkmont and the Richard Martin Trail
If you’re outside the Athens area and not familiar with the area, Elkmont is located due north of Athens. I personally prefer Hwy 127 to the interstate as it is much more scenic. A quaint town with historic homes and a beautiful lanscape, Elkmont is worth the day trip. The Richard Martin trail is a classic example of a “Rails to Trails” project, an innovative initiative to convert abandoned railway lines into biking and walking trails. This 11-mile gravel trail starts just north of Athens and ends near the Tennessee state line in Veto.
I recommend driving to Elkmont and parking near the Red Caboose in downtown which is located directly on the trail. You can head out either north or south, but I prefer the northern section that ends at an historic church in Veto. While I have walked this trail with a stroller without issue, it is best experienced on bike or horseback. Since the terrain is flat and straight, it isn’t the most exciting walk, but makes for an excellent bike ride.
Once you finish your bike ride, pop into the Belle Chevre creamery that is located just north of Upper Fort Hampton Road behind the historic buildings. There are steps from their patio down to the trail. Get there quickly because this location is closing in Spring 2024. The production facility has moved from its starting grounds in Elkmont to Minnesota. The tasting room and offices are looking to relocate to one of the larger towns nearby where they can include beer and wine. If you miss your chance to visit Belle Chevre, I recommend stopping at the Old Gin BBQ on your way out of town.
If you have young kids, your visit to Elkmont isn’t complete without a stop at the playground in Elkmont Rural Village. Located just southwest of the city on Hwy 127, “the Village” is a rural development that includes spacious homesites, stables, trails, and a wooded playground and picnic area. We love this playground, in particular, the lengthy metal slide on the hillside. Located in the woods, there is both old and new playground equipment, picnic tables, and a small basketball court. When you enter the community, follow the signs to the stables. The park is on your right just past the stables. Now get in your car (or on your bike) and head to Elkmont before Belle Chevre closes its doors.
3. The Huntsville Botanical Gardens and Stovehouse
This stop stands out from the others on my list in that it is neither free nor a small town, but with all the spring flowers in bloom, Spring is a great time to visit the Huntsville Botanical Gardens! We requested a membership last year for the twins’ birthday in lieu of gifts from grandparents, we thoroughly enjoy every visit. While admission can be pricey for a large family, you may consider a membership as a more affordable option if you think you would visit often. They have several family-friendly events and even homeschool classes throughout the year. My kids always enjoy the butterfly house, the Children’s Garden (especially in summer when they can play in water), and the Garden Railway.
While there are numerous other fun activities and restaurants to visit in Huntsville, I recommend heading from the garden straight to Stovehouse. We love the food court style options at Stovehouse, so everyone can find something they enjoy. The lawn area is a perfect place to let the kids to run around. If you are looking for more outdoor adventures while in Huntsville, check out our posts about Monte Sano and Alum Falls.
4. Historic Downtown Athens and the Swan Creek Greenway
I know a few of our North Alabama readers are from outside of Athens, and if so, I want to lure them in for a visit to our not-so-small town. Irene and I both grew up in Athens and are excited by all the fun new things there are to do in town. While I wish there were even more outdoor opportunities in Athens, the Swan Creek Greenway is a gem. It is 2.3 miles in length and parallels Swan Creek for nearly the entire way. It connects several important spots in town including: the Sportsplex, Athens Middle School, Swan Creek Park, and the communities along Forrest Street before reaching its terminous at Hwy 72. The new Trailhead behind Winter Timber Outdoors on Eidson Street provides plenty of parking and informational signage.
The creek has a bedrock riverbed, so at normal flows there are areas where you can walk out on the rocks for a closer look or to put your feet in the water. Our Forest School group frequents the area and the kids always end up soaking wet from running wild in the creek. We often see Great Blue Heron, songbirds, raptors, snails, and fish when we stop to enjoy the creek.
The trail is composed of finely crushed gravel and is great for strollers. You’re likely to see joggers, cyclers, and people of all ages out for a walk. There are three trailheads and while all of them provide great access. I recommend parking at Swan Creek Park by the Middle School so you are centrally located and can walk in either direction. From here, it is straight shot on Hobbs Street into downtown Athens where you can grab some food at one of several local establishments in downtown. We love Village Pizza, Lucia’s for Mexican, Wildwood Deli for weekday lunch or Friday steak dinners, and Terranova’s for Italian.
As natives of Athens, both Irene and I are immensely proud of our downtown. Not only is Athens a beautiful, historic downtown. Athens Main Street works hard to put on fun events nearly every weekend, it seems. Merchant’s Alley is the latest project where the city was able to convert an unsightly alleyway into a work of art and entertainment venue. In the Alley, speakers echo fun tunes around the clock. There are several murals throughout in addition to adirondack chairs and picnic tables. It is located on the west side of Jefferson Street next to Terranova and U.G. White, our historic hardware store that now offers housewares, candy, vintage toys, and a coffee shop. Athens is a fun town with a great community that supports our local businesses, so if you aren’t from here I highly suggest you come check it out!
In addition to these day trips, I am hoping to do some further exploration during our Spring Break using the Alabama Mountain Lakes and Tourism Trail Guides. These aren’t hiking trails, rather they are tourism driving routes that link sites based on a common theme. The Waterfall Trail and Mural Trail are both calling my name, but there are Trails for nearly every area of interest.
As you explore these places this Spring, we’d love for you to tag us so we can see your adventures! Be sure to follow us on Instagram for our adventures @thewanderingfamilies and tag #thewanderingfamilies in yours! We can’t wait to see all the fun you have!