Birmingham is the largest and most populous city in the state of Alabama, and while its grey exterior and long association with coal and iron works fail to hide its relatively new history as a huge, southern industrial centre, recent developments have begun to turn this large city into a cultural centre in its own right, and into a gateway to the great Alabama outdoors.
With Birmingham as your base, there are many opportunities to get out into the surrounding areas to explore the pristine nature waiting in the mountains, forests and state parks that are all just a short drive away.
Travel across nearby state boundaries, and you have cities such as Memphis and Atlanta to explore, while a long drive south will even bring you to Alabama’s own short stretch of beautiful coastline.
There are are many great day trips from Birmingham Alabama, and here are our top picks.
1. Oak Mountain State Park
Just a few miles south of Birmingham, Oak Mountain State Park can be found.
Even though it’s so close to the city centre, visiting this state park is a great way to get out into the countryside, and to spend the day surrounded by nature, before being able to easily head back to your accommodation later.
This is the largest state park in Alabama, meaning that there are plenty of opportunities to keep returning day after day.
There are miles of walking trails, mountain biking trails, camping opportunities and swimming holes to discover.
Double Oak Lake even has a small beach to escape to, while the Wildlife Center does an excellent job of caring for and rehabilitating sick and injured animals in the park.
You can visit them to find out more about their work in Oak Mountain State Park.
2. Red Mountain Park
Red Mountain Park is another great outdoors area that is only a short drive to the south of the city centre.
It’s an area of natural beauty that’s almost within walking distance of the suburbs.
It makes for a great day trip, particularly for the adventurous, as there are many outdoor activities taking place at Red Mountain.
The area was once the site of many mining operations as they dug out the iron ore that fueled the city’s industrial boom.
Today, the redevelopment here is amazing, and what was once an eyesore has been turned into an adventure playground, with a vast green space and zip lining, rock climbing, hiking and biking trails and much, much more to be enjoyed.
3. Talladega National Forest
Located in the beautiful wilderness of the famous Appalachian Mountain Range, the Talladega National Forest is one of the best outdoor destinations in Alabama.
This was once an area that was almost destroyed by overlogging, but over the years it has recovered and now offers a pristine environment for visitors to enjoy.
There are great hiking trails through the forest and through the start of the Appalachians, a veritable wilderness that is sure to make you fall in love with Alabama’s scenery very, very quickly.
Childersburg is one of the most historic towns in Alabama, as it claims the title of the oldest settlement in the state.
Although the modern city is relatively new, dating back to the late 19th century, the site of the city has been continually occupied by successive groups of people for centuries.
Spanish explorers stayed here in the mid-16th century, and records show there was an indigenous community here then, although these original people were displaced by newcomers.
It’s an intriguing place to learn about the old and modern history of Alabama.
5. DeSoto Caverns
Close to Childersburg can be found one of the most attractive cave systems in the United States.
This huge underground cavern is found deep in the earth and is named for Hernando DeSoto, the Spanish explorer who also stayed at the Native American settlement in what became Childersburg.
The cave is historically important to the indigenous culture here as it was used as a burial ground.
Geologically, it’s a very unique place, and visitors can undertake underground tours into the huge cave, accompanied by light shows that add to the ambience.
Guntersville is found to the north of Birmingham, just a short drive away from the city.
It’s located on the stunning edge of the huge Lake Guntersville, and it’s one of the most picturesque places to visit in the entire state.
Imagine clear waters surrounded by mountain peaks: that’s Guntersville, and while the scenery will leave you amazed, the hikes and the trails will leave you utterly immersed in this outdoor paradise.
Tuskegee is a few hours drive to the south of Birmingham, and this historic city offers visitors a great day trip opportunity.
There are several small museums that give an insight into the local history and into the civil rights movements here, while outdoor lovers can head into the nearby Tuskegee National Forest, which has the unusual distinction of being the smallest national forest in the country.
While the boundaries might not be very large, the wealth of natural beauty contained within the forest is absolutely wonderful.
8. Payne Lake
Just an hour and a half to the south of Birmingham is the spectacular Payne Lake, a protected area that’s surrounded by wilderness and forest which offers a great chance to enjoy a wonderful lakeside setting.
It’s peaceful, quiet and relaxed, with walking trails surrounding the glistening waters of the lake and opportunities to camp or picnic.
The hiking is easy and immersive, and you will find yourself wondering why you need to even think about going back to the city life at all.
9. Little River Canyon
The Little River Canyon National Preserve follows the winding contours of the Little River, which despite its seemingly diminutive name, has over time created one of the deepest canyons in North America.
This is one of Alabama’s best outdoor sights, and the tree-lined canyon is utterly spectacular to experience first hand.
There are powerful, tumbling waterfalls hidden along the river, and epic rock formations wherever you look.
The short hiking trails take you right into the gorge, where you will be immersed in the setting, while longer biking trails can help you get further afield.
The river too, is perfect for kayaking and canoeing, and offers a great opportunity to relax along the waters as the scenery flies past.
10. Cathedral Caverns State Park
The Cathedral Caverns are a collection of underground caves that are just waiting to be explored to the north of Birmingham.
It makes for an excellent day trip, as the cool caves are stunning in their gloomy underground darkness.
The protected site can be explored as part of the cave tours that take visitors into the network of chambers and caverns hidden in the rocks.
11. Bankhead National Forest
You will soon find that Alabama is really a quite extraordinary state when it comes to the immense natural beauty to be found here.
Yet another incredible forest to visit which is in close proximity to Birmingham, is the Bankhead National Forest.
This area of wilderness offers visitors the chance to enjoy the clear, calm waters of the Sipsey Fork River which meanders through the protected area, while along the length of the river can be found waterfall after waterfall, just waiting to be explored.
Mobile is found on the short coastline of Alabama, far to the south of Birmingham.
It makes for a unique trip, because Mobile is in many ways very different from industrial Birmingham.
Whereas Birmingham was founded by English settlers, Mobile was originally a part of French Louisiana.
It’s a lively, culturally vibrant city, with a great and scenic seaside setting.
Enjoy the warm Gulf weather, the great French inspired culinary scene and even, at the right time of year, the oldest Mardis Gras festival in the states.
13. Memphis, Tennessee
Memphis, one of the most famous cities in southern America, is one of the best cities in nearby Tennessee to visit for a cultural and musical journey.
It’s a long day trip from Birmingham, but it’s certainly worth an early start, because this is the heart and soul of music, home of Elvis Presley’s Graceland Mansion, and the scene of many famous musicians’ rise to stardom.
There are a great many museums and galleries to visit, and plenty of great restaurants and live music venues to enjoy.
14. Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville is the capital of nearby Tennessee, and this large city has a real soul to it that needs to be experienced on a day trip from Birmingham.
The city is home to the Country Music Hall of Fame as a well as an intriguing museum dedicated to the famous musician Johnny Cash.
It’s a must-visit place for music and culture lovers.
The wide banks of the long Cumberland River offer an amazing, scenic spot to enjoy throughout the year, and there are great restaurants and a lively nightlife to accompany all the musical history to be found in the city.
15. Atlanta, Georgia
Atlanta is the capital and largest city of the state of Georgia, located just a few hours to the east of Birmingham, Alabama.
Atlanta has a lot to offer, and a single day trip might not do the city justice.
It’s a truly historic place in the south, with a long association with the Civil Rights Movement and many corresponding locations and museums to experience.
There are plenty of green spaces, galleries and great restaurants to enjoy as well when visiting Atlanta.