At one time Fort Payne, Alabama produced more than half of the socks in America, and the town was known as “Sock Capital of the World”! Today, the sock and hosiery factories may have vanished, but it’s still home to state parks, nature preserves, lakes and museums.
Whether you wish to hike along mountain trails, visit beautiful cascading waterfalls, or learn a bit about local history from the times of the Cherokee’s to the present day, you can do it all in Fort Payne.
1. Little River Canyon Preserve
The 15,288-acre nature preserve is home to the longest mountain river in the state.
Located on top of Lookout Mountain, the river has three main waterfalls which include Little River Falls, DeSoto Falls and Grace’s High Falls – the highest in Alabama at 133 feet.
Whether you wish to reconnect with nature, go swimming, hike scenic trails, or photograph views from the canyon, you can do it here.
It’s possible to camp overnight by the riverside, and if you don’t mind limited facilities, it can be a rewarding experience sleeping under the stars in this beautiful Alabama preserve.
2. Martha’s Falls
The best place to swim in Little River Canyon Preserve is at picturesque Martha’s Falls.
It’s a popular place with locals, especially during summer months, plus it’s easy to walk to from the car park.
There are natural benches made from rocks where you can sit and enjoy a picnic, abundant diving spots, and rock-climbing areas for the more adventurous.
Bring a camera, some swimming gear and relax by the beautiful swimming hole beneath the falls.
3. Alabama Fan Club and Museum
If you don’t know much about the “Alabama Band”, their fan club and museum in Fort Payne is a great place to learn. The cousins from Fort Payne left over 40 years ago with an intent to change the face of country music.
Their success that followed was unparalleled, with 21 straight number one singles, which has never since been rivalled.
Their journey throughout the music industry led them to sell 73 million albums, and even achieve a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame! You can follow their incredible journey through videos, photographs and interviews with the band at Alabama Fan Club and Museum, and even pick up a few souvenirs from the gift shop while you’re there.
4. DeSoto State Park
Another place for nature lovers to explore is DeSoto State Park.
Located around 6 miles northeast of Fort Payne, the area is home to fragrant wildflowers, cascading waterfalls and nature trails.
Leisurely days can be spent hiking or mountain biking across 25 miles of trails, you can dine in the park’s restaurant, or take a dip in the seasonal Olympic-size swimming pool.
Alternatively, walk to the nature centre to listen to educational talks and see live animals, go fishing for the day, or drift serenely down the river on a kayak.
5. Orbix Hot Glass
If you’re looking for a special keepsake of your Alabama stay, visit Orbix Hot Glass in Fort Payne.
This creative studio crafts and sells unique glassware in a kaleidoscope of colours, shapes and styles.
Whether you seek a pretty Pixie Vase, a Reactor Carafe for your Alabama wine, or decorative ornaments and centrepieces for your coffee table, you can find them all here.
The workshop hosts a leading team of glassblowers who hand-craft each individual piece with attention to detail, and you may be able to watch them work too if you time your visit right.
6. Sallie Howard Memorial Baptist Chapel
Sallie Howard Memorial Baptist Chapel sits at the summit of Lookout Mountain.
Colonel Milford Howard built it as a memorial to his wife, based on trip to Europe they had taken together.
The simple, yet charming mountaintop chapel is rustic and serene, with wooden pews and a natural rock formation behind the altar.
It’s a popular place for weddings, and religious services held every Sunday welcome both locals and tourists.
7. Fort Payne Depot Museum
As the name suggests, Fort Payne Depot Museum served as a station depot for the Alabama-Great Southern Railroad.
During its time as a working station, thousands passed through its doors each year, and this continued for the 85 years it was in service.
Today, the well-preserved building showcases a range of collections, artefacts and exhibits relating to life through the ages in Fort Payne.
With a range of Civil War, World War I and II memorabilia, dioramas and interactive exhibits, it’s a great place to delve deep into local history.
8. Sally’s Smokin’ Butt BBQ
This Fort Payne restaurant is popular with locals and tourists, and basically anyone who enjoys barbeque food.
Whether you enjoy succulent meat combos of pork and brisket, ribs, chicken or a mouth-watering dessert, this diner has them all.
The diner is set in an old gas station, and offers a warm, friendly atmosphere coupled with generous plates of food.
If you’re heading out to one of the state parks for the day, they even do a take-out menu, so you can take delicious sandwiches, sides and home-made cakes with you.
9. Alabama Walking Park
Alabama Walking Park is a new park in Fort Payne, located behind the Depot Museum.
With recreational facilities for young and old, it’s a great way to spend a leisurely day.
Whether you wish to work-out at the fitness station, stroll along landscaped walking trails, or dodge the water jets in the Splash Pad, you can do it all.
There are pavilions and grassy areas where you can break for a picnic, and playgrounds for the kids to run around in.
10. Cloudmont Ski Resort
As the temperature drops, the snow begins to lay at Cloudmont Ski Resort on Lookout Mountain.
The compact ski resort caters to beginners and intermediate skiers with two x one-thousand-foot slopes.
The snow may be machine-made, but it offers a great chance to learn winter sports, even in a sunnier climate.
Instructors can help you along the way, and “pony lifts” transport you to the top of the slopes.
If you want to stay the night, it’s possible to rent a cabin or chalet, and you can even play a round of golf if you fancy a change of pace.
11. Big Mill Antique Mall
Located in the former Davis Hosiery Mill in Fort Payne, Big Mill Antique Mall is the perfect place to browse antiques, collectables and artwork.
Set in an historic warehouse building which once made socks, the store sells a wide range of Americana arts and crafts, plus there’s information relating to the structure’s history to discover.
Even if you are not interested in the shopping or antiquing experience, it’s worth coming just to walk through the old mill or dine in the vintage style on-site restaurant.
12. Cherokee Rock Village
Follow in the footsteps of the Cherokees at nearby Cherokee Rock Village.
Nestled above Leesbury, 24 miles south of Fort Payne, it boasts breath-taking vistas and huge stacks of boulders which are popular with rock climbers.
The area is a haven for bird watchers and nature lovers, as it’s not unusual to spot soaring birds of prey overhead.
The boulder ridge is lined with Virginia Pines and Hickory Trees, offering a superb viewpoint over the Alabama countryside below.
13. 411 Drive in Theatre
Experience watching a movie the old-fashioned way, in a traditional Drive-in theatre and grill.
The 411 Drive-in Theatre shows all the latest Hollywood blockbusters, and it’s open every evening from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and each weekend for the rest of the year.
It’s a place where all the family can sit together in the great outdoors and watch films on a huge screen.
You can call in your order to the snack bar to avoid queues, then collect your burgers, hot buttered popcorn and chilli cheese fries later.
14. Dine at Vintage 1889
Set inside the historic Big Mill, Vintage 1889 is a charming restaurant serving quality food in an old antiques mall.
The impressive mill was once used for making hosiery and socks, and its 125-year-old heritage provides a unique backdrop for dining.
If it’s warm outside, you can dine in the courtyard beneath the old water tower, or on chillier days cosy up in the mill building.
The restaurant features one of the region’s largest beer selections and serves a selection of lunch and dinner dishes.
It caters well to vegetarians too, with spinach artichoke dip with warm tortilla chips, a vintage veggie sandwich and veggie burgers.
For the carnivores, there’s also a choice of delicious chicken, beef and pork dishes.