Although Alabama may be best known for its sandy beaches along the Gulf of Mexico in the southwestern corner of the state, the Yellowhammer State is so much more. With lush forests, wide-open prairies, and more than 132,000 miles of rivers and streams, Alabama is the most biologically diverse state east of the Mississippi River.
From the Tennessee River flowing horizontally across the north to the waves lapping at the Gulf Coast in the south, these are the most beautiful hikes in Alabama.
1. Joe Wheeler State Park
Located on the northern bank of the Tennessee River, Joe Wheeler State Park includes several miles of hiking trails.
One of the most popular hikes in this park in southwest Rogersville is the Blue Trail. Just south of the Lakeside Cottages, it’s a relatively flat, paved mile-long path with ample shade. For a longer walk, continue on to the 0.6-mile Yellow Trail, much of which parallels the lake. Or head east from the marina along the 2.5-mile Luther’s Pass Trail. You can either hike this path out and back or connect with the 3-mile Page Farm Trail and the 0.3-mile Punisher to loop back to the marina.
Northeast of the marina, by the First Creek Boat Ramp, another popular hiking trail is Jimmy Sim’s Trail. Hugging the easternmost inlet of Wheeler Lake, this path is known for its beautiful scenery and opportunities to glimpse wildlife.
2. Monte Sano State Park
This park near Huntsville always makes me think of the American agrochemical company recently acquired by Bayer. But the two aren’t related. Monte Sano means “Mountain of Health” in Spanish, and for more than 100 years, visitors from across the country have been attracted to the fresh mountain air, panoramic views, and mineral-rich springs at Monte Sano State Park.
Monte Sano State Park boasts more than 22 miles of trails, and visitors flock there in the spring to take in native flowers in bloom. The area is also popular in the fall, when the deciduous trees turn brilliant colors. One of the most popular paths is the Stone Cuts Trail. You’ll find a variety of caves to explore along this dog-friendly 2.4-mile loop. Several trails -- like the Waterline, Wagon, and High Trails -- wind past beautiful waterfalls. Because the paths may be slippery when wet (or muddy after it rains), be sure to wear waterproof hiking sandals.
And for a completely different experience, don’t miss the North Alabama Japanese Garden at Monte Sano State Park. With Japanese maple trees, an arched red bridge, and bright bursts of color from azalea bushes, this unique spot just north of the Monte Sano Lodge is a wonderful place to relax and rejuvenate.
3. Green Mountain Nature Preserve
About 30 miles south of the Japanese garden, the Green Mountain Nature Preserve is one of the best spots to go chasing waterfalls in Alabama. The streams and waterfalls in this 500-acre park flow nearly year round.
Located less than a mile past the entrance to the Madison County Nature Trail, the Alum Hollow Trail is one of the most popular treks at the Green Mountain Nature Preserve. Follow this 1-mile route to the Alum Falls and the Alum Cave, a rock overhang used by Native Americans for shelter. For a longer hike, continue on to the East Plateau, West Plateau, or Talus Trails, all of which connect to the Alum Hollow Trail.
A more challenging add-on to the Alum Hollow Trail is the Ranger Trail. Named for the remains of a Ford Ranger truck abandoned along the path, this 2.2-mile out-and-back trail has uneven terrain and a 415-foot elevation.
4. DeSoto State Park
In the northeastern corner of the state, just a few miles from the Georgia border, DeSoto State Park covers more than 3,500 acres atop Lookout Mountain.
For an easy hike, check out the Lodge Falls via Wildflower Trail. As the name suggests, this 0.3-mile out-and-back trail treats you to a waterfall, beautiful views, and a variety of wildflowers. For a longer, more challenging hike (with more waterfalls), explore the Laurel Falls and Lost Falls Trails. If you’re traveling with your four-legged best friend, know that leashed dogs are permitted on this 2.3-mile loop.
5. Little River Canyon National Preserve
About 30 minutes south of DeSoto State Park, Little River Canyon National Preserve is located on the southern edge of the Cumberland Plateau in the Southern Appalachians.
To drink in the beautiful scenery, from crystal-clear creeks to cascading waterfalls, hike the Little River Canyon Trail. With a 200-foot elevation change, this 1.7-mile out-and-back trail is a relatively easy way to reach the waterfall and river. Or, for a challenging hike, trek the 0.8-mile out-and-back Eberhart Trail that descends into the canyon to the river and several refreshing swimming holes. Just remember that it’s all uphill on your way back!
6. Bankhead National Forest
Directly west of Little River Canyon National Preserve, the Bankhead National Forest is the northernmost of Alabama’s four national forests.
One of the most popular day hikes is the 3.5-mile out-and-back trail to Sougahoagdee Falls. This well-marked trail includes plenty of shade and is relatively flat. And the large waterfall at the end is absolutely stunning.
For a shorter trek to an equally gorgeous waterfall, take the 0.3-mile Kinlock Falls Loop near Haleyville. Simply pull off of Kinlock Road south of the bridge and follow one of the paths about 100 feet down to the falls.
7. Oak Mountain State Park
With a population of just under 210,000, Birmingham is the largest city in Alabama. About 30 minutes south along Interstate 65 is Oak Mountain State Park. Established in 1927 by the Alabama State Lands Act, this park on Double Oak Mountain has expanded tenfold over the past century. Today, Oak Mountain has 25 miles of hiking trails and is Alabama’s largest state park, covering more than 9,900 acres.
A hike popular with visitors of all skill levels is Maggie’s Glen. This 2.2-mile loop is part of the northern end of the 6.4-mile White Trail (or Shackleford Point Trail). For a longer hike (and bigger challenge), explore more of the White Trail, which ultimately climbs to the highest point in the park, Shackleford Point.
8. Talladega National Forest
About an hour south of Birmingham, the Talladega National Forest is located in the southern portion of the Appalachian Mountains.
Near Lineville, one of the most popular hikes in this forest is the 2.1-mile Cheaha Falls Trail. Watch for a variety of wildflowers lining this out-and-back path throughout the year, including bright yellow wood poppies, soft lavender phlox, and cascading Virginia bluebells.
For a longer and more challenging trek, explore the Pinhoti National Recreation Trail that stretches more than 100 miles around mountains and through valleys.
9. Dauphin Island Audubon Bird Sanctuary
In southwestern Alabama, the Dauphin Island Audubon Bird Sanctuary is one of the best places in the country to observe migrating birds in the spring and fall. Watch for lemony American goldfinches, deep blue indigo buntings, and a wide variety of other birds as you explore the maritime forest, woodlands, marshy swamps, and beach meadows along this barrier island’s trail system.
The trails range in length from 0.3 miles to 1.7 miles, and all are rated as easy treks. The 0.6-mile Lake Loop Trail is handicap accessible and encircles Gaillard Lake under a canopy of southern magnolia, pine, oak, and gum trees. Keep an eye on the lake, where you’re sure to see turtles, herons, and maybe even alligators.
Pro Tip: Offering eight routes with 280 stops throughout the state, Alabama’s birding trails give visitors a chance to glimpse some of the 430 bird species that have been identified in the state. While you’re sure to spot a variety of feathered friends at any time of year, the best viewing opportunities are during the spring and fall migrations.
To see my all-time favorite hike in Alabama, check out TravelAwaits’ picks for the best hikes in all 50 states here.
This article is presented by KEEN Footwear. For my hikes, I wore the KEEN SOLR Sandal in Light Gray/Ocean Wave. The acronym stands for Sea Ocean Lake River, and the SOLR was the perfect shoe to splash around in when visiting waterfalls and trekking along creeks and rivers. Shop KEEN’s SOLR and other hiking shoes here.