In Alabama, fall seems to hit suddenly. One morning, around mid-October, you walk outside and realize that the humid weight of summer has lifted, and cool, crisp air fills your lungs. Like an alarm clock, it’s everyone’s signal to get outdoors and make the most of the South’s best season.
But once fall arrives, you have just a few weeks until the rain and cold winds blow in. So, you need a plan to score as many autumn adventures as possible. To help you map out the season, we’ve compiled an Alabama bucket list for the fall—15 outdoorsy pursuits, bike rides, hikes, festivals, and some Halloween-themed fun.
Let this bucket list be your guide for a spectacular fall full of outdoor fun. Otherwise, you could wind up in a dark field waiting in vain for the Great Pumpkin, while your better-informed pals grab all the candy. Hey, don’t be that kid. Use our list, and have an awesome fall.
1. Climb world-class boulders at Horse Pens 40.
No sweltering heat and no sweaty palms: In fall, the cool, dry air creates ideal conditions for scaling the sandstone boulders at Horse Pens 40 in Steele. Situated atop Chandler Mountain, northwest of Birmingham, Horse Pens 40 boasts one of the most concentrated boulder fields in the world, with hundreds of problems ranging from V0 to V12. To add some stoke to your trip, visit in October when top climbers gather for the Triple Crown Bouldering competition.
2. Hike through spectacular fall colors.
From late October to early November, the trees in Alabama glow as the leaves shift from green to bright yellow and blood red. When the oaks, maples, and hickories show their colors, the trails in Alabama are spectacular, and few things are finer than a brisk fall hike. At Little River Canyon, and other parks across the state, you’ll find backcountry trails that hug high bluffs and provide great views of forests that form a patchwork of orange, bronze, and scarlet.
3. Camp at the Gulf Shores Outpost.
For a wild and unique Gulf Shores experience, avoid the concrete condos and camp in an Outpost tent at Gulf State Park. In the fall, evening temperatures hover in the high 60s, so you don’t need air conditioning to sleep comfortably. Surrounded by trees, each secluded tent includes cots and accommodates four. Plus, there’s a portable toilet nearby. And don’t forget a swimsuit, since the ocean is still warm enough for swimming.
4. Relax in a mountain cabin.
Looking for a serene escape during the fall season, but not up for a full-on camping excursion? A weekend in a state park cabin provides the perfect antidote. During the day, you can hike, ride or run park trails to get the endorphins pumping, and then retreat to your cabin for evening drinks beside a crackling fire. At Monte Sano State Park, 14 rustic cabins perched on the side of the mountain come equipped with amenities like kitchens, fireplaces, separate showers and baths, cable television, outdoor grills, picnic tables, and porches where you can enjoy the sunrise. You also find rustic cabins at DeSoto State Park and Cheaha State Park.
5. Battle zombies in a corn maze.
In the fall, dozens of farms in Alabama offer pumpkin patches and Halloween entertainment. But every October, Magnolia Farms in Summerdale takes it up a notch with hayrides through a haunted corn maze. In the dark of night, you’ll board a hay wagon and ramble through an eight-acre corn maze armed with a paintball gun to shoot encroaching zombies.
6. Camp in a hammock.
Hammock camping is wildly popular because it puts you closer to nature. From a high perch on the Pinhoti Trail, you can relax in your hammock and watch the sun set, without a tent obstructing your view. From the Cheaha Trailhead, near Cheaha State Park, climb a little more than three miles to McDill Point, a west-facing outcrop with dramatic views and ample trees to support your hammock.
7. Kayak to see eagles at the Coastal Bird Fest.
Each fall, hundreds of species of birds migrate to the Alabama Gulf Coast. During the Alabama Coastal Birdfest in early October, you can join experts on birding trips to the woods and beaches on the coast. Some of the field trips take place at the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge on Fort Morgan Peninsula, a world-class birding location. During the festival, you can also join a kayaking trip at Meaher State Park to visit an eagle’s nest accessible only by water.
8. Hunt ghosts on the streets of Birmingham.
You’ll feel a nip in the air and a chill in your spine while strolling the haunted streets of Birmingham. Beginning in October, the Birmingham Historic Touring Company leads two-hour walks that include tales of spiteful murders, haunted hotels, hidden cemeteries, and the legend of May Hawes, the “Mermaid of the Lake.” In 1888, the body of 7-year-old Hawes was discovered in Birmingham’s East Lake, and people still claim to see her apparition wandering the shoreline.
9. Explore an ancient culture at the Moundville Native American Festival.
Spanning 185 acres beside the Black Warrior River, the Moundville Archaeological Park has a majestic and mysterious vibe. From A.D. 1000 to A.D. 1450, Native Americans occupied this land and created some of North America’s tallest earth mounds. Today, 29 mounds still stand, including one 58 feet high. Each fall, descendants of the Moundville inhabitants gather at the site to share their customs and traditions. During the festival, Native Americans demonstrate traditional dances and share techniques to pit fire pottery, weave baskets, and carve a hunting longbow.
10. Bomb down the Bomb Dog Trail.
For the ultimate riding experience in Alabama, bomb your way down the Bomb Dog Trail, one of state’s top-rated mountain biking trails. Located in Anniston, this 2-mile route is one of the state’s longest downhill runs. For a real challenge, park at the Anniston Trailhead and climb through beautiful hardwood forest to the top of Bomb Dog. From here, you’ll begin a classic descent with plenty of rollers, table-top jumps, and a few optional black-diamond lines.
11. Climb and dance at the CukoRakko Music & Arts Festival.
Normally, we wouldn’t include a destination twice in a list, but the CukoRakko Music & Arts Festival at Horse Pens 40 deserves its own mention. CukoRakko is the Creek Indian word for ceremonial ground, stomp ground, big house, and dance ground—all good descriptors for this 3-day mix of music, activities, and arts that takes place in an ancient field of boulders. During the day, there are programs for yoga, rock climbing, glass blowing, blacksmithing, disc golf, and hiking, while evening music acts include jam bands, electronica, funk, hip-hop, rock, country and newgrass.
12. Run the Monte Sano Mountain Mist Trail.
A top-rated trail run in Alabama, the Mountain Mist explores the hardwood coves and hilltops near Huntsville’s Monte Sano State Park. Beginning at Bankhead Parkway, the 7.5-mile route climbs to O’Shaughnessy Point at 1,500 feet and scrambles through the “stone cuts”—a narrow corridor of split boulders. In winter, this route is part of Alabama’s toughest trail race, the Mountain Mist 50K, which is a bucket list competition for U.S. trail runners.
13. Ride the zip line at Red Mountain Park.
Don’t just stare at the fall colors—immerse yourself in the foliage with a zip-line tour. During Red Mountain Park’s 90-minute tour, you’ll zoom through the forest on zip lines, traverse bridges, swing on ropes, and climb walls. On the 1,300-foot Mega Zip, you’ll reach 30 miles per hour as you fly through the sky head-first like Superman.
14. Feast at the National Shrimp Festival.
Now in its 45th year, the National Shrimp Festival is one of the most popular celebrations in Gulf Shores. Held each October, the festival draws top chefs who serve up unique dishes starring the popular crustaceans, such as Blackeye Pea Battered Fried Shrimp and Crispy Shrimp Sausage. When you’re not eating, you can listen to live music and browse an art fair. If you do plan to visit the area during this festival, book your accommodations well in advance, because it draws about 300,000 people.
15. Immerse yourself in subterranean spookiness in a haunted cave tour.
As darkness falls, you step into Cathedral Caverns State Park and the massive entrance—126 feet wide and 25 feet high—swallows you whole. During the tour, guides share spooky tales as you wind through dimly lit stone corridors with stalagmites measuring 45 feet tall and more than 240 feet around. While Cathedral Cavers offers daytime tours all year, these special night tours, from 6:30 to 11:30 pm, are only offered for a few days in October, so plan ahead to take advantage.
Originally written by RootsRated for BCBS of AL.
Featured image provided by Alby Headrick