The charming city of Gadsden lies on the banks of Coosa River in northeast Alabama.
In the 19th century, it was an important shipping centre and economic hub for tyre, rubber and steel companies.
Today, remnants of these industries still remain, however, the city is better known for its welcoming atmosphere, parks, lakes and gardens.
Gadsden is a great place to take the kids, with museums, outdoor pursuits and performing arts to enjoy.
It’s also a superb city to discover local history and outdoor pursuits, and if you are touring the Deep South, Gadsden is within a short drive of Birmingham, Chattanooga and Atlanta.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Gadsden:
1. Noccalula Falls Park
Noccalula Falls Park is the most popular Gadsden attraction.
Set on a picturesque 250-acres, it’s home to Noccalula Falls – a magnificent waterfall which cascades 90 feet below into the Black Creek.
The park’s 1.7-mile trail takes you through beautiful scenery, past rock formations, shrubs and botanical gardens.
You can walk, jog or mountain bike, or if you prefer a more leisurely approach, take a trip on the park’s train.
There are camp sites and cabins, and even a Noccalula Falls Wedding Chapel if you fancy tying the knot during your stay! Children aren’t excluded either, the park has a petting zoo, miniature golf course and historic Pioneer Village.
2. Noccalula Waterfall
Inside Noccalula Falls Park are the legendary Noccalula Falls.
Best viewed when there’s plenty of water in spring and winter, although stunning at any time of year, it’s a wonderful sight to see.
Learn all about the legend of Native American Princess Noccalula, for whom the falls are named after, and see her statue along the park trails.
For the best vistas, walk across the bridge above the falls.
The bridge offers 360-degree panoramic views of the cascade and lush surrounding parkland.
Alternatively, to experience the falls from a different perspective, follow the Gorge Trail underneath the waterfall for incredible photography shots.
3. Gadsden Museum of Art
Gadsden Museum of Art is located in the Downtown area of the city.
It first opened in 1965, showcasing artwork and exhibits synonymous with artists from the region.
The museum encompasses three galleries over three floors with solo artist shows, historic photography and cultural artefacts on display.
It has a pretty relaxed vibe, plenty of interactive activities for children, and even a café where you can sample good ole’ fashioned southern cooking.
4. Neely Henry Lake
Neely Henry Lake is often referred to as Gadsden’s best kept secret, and it’s easy to see why.
The lake attracts anglers from all over America with 11,200 acres of water and 339 miles of shoreline.
It’s packed with different species of fish, from bass and bluegill to catfish, plus, you have the option to take a boat out, or fish from the shore.
If fishing isn’t for you, enjoy a leisurely trip to Neely Henry Dam, created in 1966 to provide Gadsden with hydroelectric power, or stop off for some bird-watching at Ten Islands Historic Park.
You may be lucky enough to see Bald Eagles, Purple Martins, Prairie Warblers and Eastern Screech-Owls, so don’t forget your binoculars.
For a completely different experience, hire a mountain bike to explore the pathways and verdant forest trails along the water’s edge, and break for a picnic to take in breath-taking lakeside views.
5. Back Forty Beer Co.
If you like to sample award-winning craft beer wherever you go, head for Back Forty Beer Company.
Set in an historic 1940s Sears & Roebuck red-brick warehouse, the brewery was named after an old agricultural term referring to the most fertile soil on the farmland.
With imaginatively named ales, such as ‘Naked Pig’ and ‘Truck Stop Honey’, you are sure to find a pale ale, brown ale or speciality beer to your taste.
Whether you wish to sample craft beer, have a bite to eat at Back Forty Test Kitchen, or make new friends, you’re assured of a warm welcome at Back Forty Beer Co.
6. Mary G. Hardin Center for Cultural Arts
Mary G. Hardin Center for Cultural Arts opened in Gadsden in 1990. A non-profit arts centre, it’s located inside an old remodelled department store on the corner of Broad Street in Downtown.
The building is distinctive and easy to spot with a tri-colour cylinder at the entrance and a triangular rooftop.
This impressive centre hosts a range of travelling art exhibitions, visual displays and performances, and between April and September you can kick back and enjoy concerts in the pretty New Orleans-style courtyard.
7. Chestnut Station
If you want to be where the action is, Chestnut Station in Gadsden comes pretty close.
This lively bar/grill and music venue always has something going on.
Whether you fancy impressing locals with your Karaoke skills, want to listen to live music, or shake your stuff on the dancefloor, you can do it all here.
Throw some deep-fried southern buffalo wings, mini corn dogs and local brew into the mix, and you’re in for a fun night!
8. Tigers for Tomorrow
Located on 140 acres, Tigers for Tomorrow is a non-profit wild animal preserve, with over 170 tigers, African lions, black leopards and bears.
This non-breeding reserve offers a forever home to many predatory animals who were at threat in the wild.
The sanctuary’s goal is to bridge the gap between humans and animals through conservation and education.
There’s private tours and educational group visits on offer, where you can see wolves, cougars and more in this picturesque park set in the Appalachian foothills.
9. Chief Ladiga Trail
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With 33 miles of paved pathways, Chief Ladiga Trail is the ideal place for cycling, jogging, hiking or even inline skating.
You can bike, or walk through emerald forests, passing farmland, and wetlands brimming with wildlife.
There’s no motorised traffic, so you can enjoy Alabama’s natural beauty in peace as you weave through Cleburne and Calhoun counties.
There are several streams dotted along the trail, offering the perfect spot for a picnic, so just sit back, relax and enjoy the countryside in all its glory.
10. Mort Glosser Amphitheatre
Mort Glosser Amphitheatre was built in Gadsden in 1935. It was constructed from locally-sourced sandstone quarried from Lookout Mountain in northeast Alabama.
The outdoor theatre features a half-hexagon shaped seating area, timber frame and stone arch, and a club room.
It was utilised during the Second World War as a USO centre to entertain servicemen from nearby camps.
In the decades which followed, it has hosted live music events, summer plays, boxing matches and even political rallies.
Every first Friday during the summer you can enjoy free concerts, or there’s the option to hire the amphitheatre for your own celebration.
11. Etowah Memorial Bridge
Etowah Memorial Bridge, or Coosa River Bridge as it’s also known, spans the Coosa River in Gadsden.
Built in 1927 by Charles G. Kershaw Contracting Company of Birmingham, Alabama, the open-spandrel concrete arch bridge is dedicated to the memory of servicemen who lost their lives during World War I. The memorial plaque and monument can be seen at the entrance prior to crossing, there’s also some great views of the cityscape from the bridge, so don’t forget your camera.
12. Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail
Surrounded by Lee’s Lake the Appalachian foothills, The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Silver Lakes awaits.
This incredible verdant landscape with forests, grasslands and wetlands is a sight to behold.
There are 36 holes of golf to play, on a variety of challenging courses including The Mindbreaker, Heartbreaker, Backbreaker, and The Short Course.
As you make your way around the golfing trail, skies, colours and landscapes change dramatically throughout the day, displaying an atmospheric, cinematic backdrop as you navigate some of the best courses in Alabama.
13. Downtown Gadsden
Downtown Gadsden is home to great shopping, dining and museums.
Whether you’re seeking a special gift for a loved one, discovering local artwork, or want to enjoy ‘First Friday’ events with locals, this is the place to be.
First Friday’s are held on, you guessed it, the first Friday of each month on Broad Street in Downtown Gadsden.
It’s an event which everyone in the city comes out for, with street food vendors, classic cars, market stalls and live music.
Bring the family, make new friends and dance, dine, and shop till the sun goes down.
14. Imagination Place Children’s Museum
Designed for children between the ages of 2 and 10 years, Imagination Place is a safe zone where kids can learn, explore and interact with exhibits.
Discover the museum’s permanent exhibit, KidsTown USA, a miniature town centre for youngsters.
Visit the grocery store, board the Imagination Express train, or even sail on a sunken pirate ship! Whatever your children fancy doing during their Gadsden trip, here, the imagination knows no bounds.
15. Central Carver Legacy Museum
Carver High School served African-American students of Gadsden until it was closed in 1971. It was named in honour of George Washington Carver, the famous American botanist and inventor.
The museum, located in the old high school, showcases the positive impact it had on the African-American community at the time, through a range of displays, exhibits and artwork.
It’s a great example of how a small school, transformed into a thriving educational centre with new departments, gymnasiums, 26 classrooms and a lunchroom.