The charming city of Helena is located 20 miles south of Birmingham, Alabama.
The city has been named in the ‘Best Places to Live Top 100’ list in the United States and has been ranked 13th ‘Best Place to Raise Your Kids’. The city was originally named Cove, until a new railroad line was built during the Civil War era.
A railroad engineer Peter Boyle named the railway station Helena, after his girlfriend, and later the town’s name was changed too.
Today, Helena is surrounded by state parks and nature preserves, and with a rich heritage, great dining, shopping and wineries to explore, it’s the perfect place to stay when touring Alabama.
1. Oak Mountain State Park
Established in 1927, this picturesque park 7 miles from Helena has now grown to just under 10,000 acres, making it the largest state park in Alabama.
With exceptional recreational activities, hiking and mountain biking trails, and wildlife rehabilitation centres inside the park, it’s a great place to spend a day or more.
It’s possible to camp overnight and picnic under the stars, or you can enjoy a rock, country or blues concert at the outdoor amphitheatre.
2. Joe Tucker Park
If you don’t want to do a lot of driving, and wish to stay local to Helena, head for Joe Tucker Park.
With a whole host of children’s activities and recreational facilities, you can easily spend a day here.
Bring a picnic and a blanket and relax on the fields, play some baseball, or challenge friends and family members to a game of tennis.
There are playground facilities for the kids, plus walking trails where you can discover regional flora and fauna.
3. Kenneth R. Penhale City of Helena Museum
This compact, yet informative museum displays the history of Helena, told through photographs, artefacts and documents.
Housed in a building which dates back to the late 1800s, this collection showcases everything from military history, to the construction of the railroad, and even information about the tornado which almost wiped out the city! When you’ve completed your visit and asked the volunteers all of your questions, take a walk to nearby Buck Creek and stop for lunch or dinner in a waterside restaurant.
4. Blue Water Park
If you thought you would have to travel to the coast to learn how to scuba dive, think again! Blue Water Park in nearby Pelham caters to divers of all ages and skill levels, providing training and equipment to anyone interested in mastering the underwater pastime.
You can take a scuba diving course with trained instructors and even gain a variety of certificates at the park.
Alternatively, should you wish to remain above the deep blue water, you can glide along the lake in a kayak or canoe, admiring the scenery as you go.
5. Hoover Metropolitan Complex
Sports fans visiting this area of Alabama could pay a visit to Hoover Metropolitan Complex.
The stadium holds up to 10,000 people at any one time and hosts a number of sporting events, concerts and banquets each year.
The complex was home to Birmingham Barons baseball team until 2012, and now hosts the SEC Baseball Tournament and acts as a high school football pitch for the local area.
If there are any games on during your stay, it’s a great place to meet like-minded sports fans, plus you can show your support and make new friends by cheering on the local team.
6. Take a Balloon Ride
If taking a ride in a multi-coloured hot air balloon is on your bucket list, you could be checking it off really soon. Soar high with the birds in the sky, looking down at city skylines and patchwork fields and forests, as you float across the Alabama countryside.
It can be a romantic trip for two, you can take the family on an aerial journey, or even celebrate an elevated birthday with friends.
There are several hot air balloon stations in Alabama, and one a few miles from Helena, but remember to book in advance and take weather conditions into account to avoid disappointment.
7. Oak Mountain Amphitheatre
Oak Mountain Amphitheatre has played host to some of the biggest names in the music industry.
Located on the edge of the state park, this outdoor arena is in the perfect setting to enjoy music and nature in harmony.
Country great Willie Nelson has graced the stage here, as have Lynyrd Skynyrd, Counting Crows, and John Mayer even filmed one of his concert DVDs here.
You can camp over in the park after the concert and reminisce with familiar songs and old friends under starry skies.
8. Ozan Winery & Vineyard
Just 17 miles drive from Helena is the award-winning Ozan Winery and Vineyard.
Whether you wish to take a cellar tour to learn about the wine-making process, enjoy an adventure to the vineyards by train, or dine in the on-site bistro, you can do it all.
You can pair Ozan Vineyard wines with lunch or purchase a couple of bottles as a souvenir of your Alabama stay.
If you enjoy a cheeky glass of red wine, try the Ozan Cabernet, a balanced fruit-forward red from American oak barrels, or if you prefer a refreshing glass of white, the Ozan Reisling is a stellar choice.
9. Old Town Helena
Leading from the centre to Buck Creek, Old Town Helena is a pleasure to wander through.
With a laid-back, friendly atmosphere, superb dining options, bars and gift shops, there’s plenty to occupy all ages.
You can stroll to Helena Park to see Buck Creek Waterfall, follow the waterside trail, or take in an entertaining performance at Helena Amphitheatre.
Walk alongside the railroad and imagine what life was like when industry first arrived and discover what makes this charming city so popular with visitors and locals.
10. Jim ‘n’ Nicks Bar-B-Q
One of the most popular Bar-B-Q joints in the local area is Jim ‘n’ Nicks.
They pride themselves on using fresh ingredients, great cuts of meat and they pay attention to detail with their cooking process.
Whether you fancy trying their one-of-a-kind slow-smoked pulled pork dishes, the Bar-B-Q chicken with sauce, or the generously portioned sharing plate – Mr Jim’s Deluxe Combo, you are sure to return for more before your stay is over.
11. Aldridge Gardens
Nature and Art finds its perfect balance at Aldridge Gardens in nearby Hoover.
The 30-acre former residential property of horticulturist Eddie Aldridge is one of the most popular attractions in the outer suburbs of Birmingham.
One of the main highlights is the delicate Snowflake Hydrangea which is the official flower of Hoover City.
However, you can also visit temporary art exhibits in the gardens or learn to improve your own painting or drawing skills in a class.
The gardens are home to a variety of bird species, plants and floral displays, plus there’s a six-acre lake with surrounding walking trails to enjoy.
12. Moss Rock Preserve and Waterfalls
Outdoor adventurers will adore a day out at Moss Rock Preserve and Waterfalls.
With almost 12 miles of hiking trails, you can witness the natural beauty of this preserve on foot.
The area consists of 349-acres which are home to rock climbing areas, cascading waterfalls, flowing streams, emerald forests and abundant wildlife.
The preserve has a recorded 143 bird species to encounter too, so bring your walking shoes, a camera, binoculars and a picnic, and enjoy a fun day of recreational activities in this beautiful corner of Alabama.
Warehouse31 is perhaps Alabama’s scariest attraction.
This haunted house is not for the faint hearted, with locked rooms, tunnels of doom, spooky cemeteries and asylums, it’s as grizzly and ghoulish as they come.
As you creep along the trails, through antiquated libraries and autopsy rooms, you think there is no end to the horror, that is until you reach Monsters Midway, where you can relax over snacks, drinks and play carnival games.
From there you can decide if you want to experience the terror all over again…
14. Ballantrae Golf Club
Ballantrae Golf Club was designed by well-known golf course architect Bob Cupp.
This public 18-hole golf course in nearby Pelham is surrounded by rolling hills, water features and verdant trees making it interesting and fun for all skill levels.
With pristine, yet challenging fairways and manicured greens, this superb course is the perfect way to spend a relaxing few hours with like-minded enthusiasts.
15. Interstellar Ginger Beer & Exploration Company
Most people have heard of craft beer taprooms, but have you ever heard of a Ginger Beer brewery? Interstellar Ginger Beer & Exploration Company is the brainchild of Daniel Sims and Dr. Shane Kelly.
They vowed from day one to unlock the secrets of ginger beer, and they have! Their venue is now Alabaster’s main hot spot for craft brews and a great night out.
They create high-quality ginger beers which are all inspired by famous drinks, boasting innovative recipes which range from ‘glow in the dark’ drinks to gluten free brews.
If you’re a ginger beer virgin, you can try First Contact – made with lemon and cold pressed ginger.
Alternatively, if you’re a veteran, try the Martian Mojito or Space Mule, both guaranteed to tempt your taste buds into wanting more.