Alabama: 15 Road Trips Ideas for Every Interest

No matter what your interest is, Alabama has a trail for that

Take a journey back in time, explore Alabama’s rich cultural heritage, see the wonder of the spring or fall bird migration, or just enjoy a peaceful drive through a blend of brilliant autumn foliage. Alabama has great adventures for every interest on the many tours and trails just waiting to be discovered.

Alabama Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No matter what your interest is, Alabama has a trail for that. I’m not talking about hiking, biking, or walking trails. I’m talking about road trips that wind their way across the state and highlight the state’s diversity and history. There is a trail for every interest. Are you into art? There is a trail for that. History? There is a trail for that.

The Alabama Department of Tourism has established 19 different trails that take visitors to incredible history, natural wonders, dining, and more. Let me introduce you to the fabulous trails of exploration in Alabama.

Audubon Bird Sanctuary on Dolphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nature Trails 

We’ll begin with a collection of stops that highlight Alabama’s incredible beauty and wildlife.

Dauphin Island Sea Lab © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. A Circle of Colors Trail

As the greens of summer surrender to glittering yellow poplars, scarlet dogwoods, orange maples, and golden hickories, Alabama unfolds its patchwork quilt of color. Fall colors begin showing in the mountains of North Alabama in early October and then sweep across the region. Colors will be at their peak from late October to early November.

The Circle of Colors Trail is a winding circuitous route that takes you across the northern half of the state from Oak Mountain State Park in Birmingham to the Bankhead National Forest near Huntsville and points in between to experience glorious fall colors in the Southern Appalachians.

Audubon Bird Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Alabama Birding Trail 

Alabama is a birding paradise with forests, mountains, meadows, swamps, and beaches creating a plethora of avian habitats. Even if you aren’t a diehard birder, you will love visiting one of the 280 stops along the Alabama Birding Trail that takes you to some breathtaking landscapes and of course, opportunities to spot over 430 species of birds—bald eagles, osprey, a variety of tanagers, well, you get the idea. 

The birding trail has been divided up into eight separate geologic regions: the Appalachian Highlands, Black Belt, Coastal, North Alabama, Piedmont Plateau, Piney Woods, West Alabama, and Wiregrass Regions.

Flower Trails

Alabama is dotted with gorgeous botanical gardens that brighten every season with brilliantly colored and fragrant blooms. And there is a trail for that.

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Alabama Garden Trail

Gorgeous, immaculately-maintained landscapes are on display all across the state, and thanks to the wide range of climates and types of soil in Alabama, you will find a variety of stunning settings as you travel.

The Alabama Garden Trail takes you to six spectacular gardens from Bellingrath Gardens near Mobile where over 300 species of azaleas light up the 35-acre estate and rows of live oak bring a Southern charm to the grounds of the Huntsville Botanical Garden in the north where limestone columns from the old historic courthouse act as the focal point for the expansive grounds.

The trail also makes stops at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Mobile Botanical Gardens, and Dothan Botanical Gardens as well as Aldridge Gardens in Hoover near Birmingham.

Art and Antique Trails 

Whether you are looking to purchase antiques, collectibles, or an inspiring work of art, travel the backroads of Alabama on these aptly named trails.

Alabama mural © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Alabama Mural Trail

Towns and cities big and small across Alabama have embraced mural art to grace the sides of buildings and bring a sense of community to the town.

The Alabama Mural Trail leads you to a diverse set of detailed mural art that brings to life moving moments in the town’s history like a depiction of the Freedom Rider’s bus from the height of the Civil Rights Movement in Anniston, historical figures like the almost photo-like mural of the Temptations lead singer Eddie Kendricks who was born in Union Springs, or the dazzling nightlife of Mobile brought to life in the Bar Light mural along the city’s Dauphin Street.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Alabama Antique Trail

From upscale galleries to multivendor malls, the Alabama Antique Trail provides a mixture of antiques and vintage collectibles throughout the state. Discover items from Alabama family estates, original pieces from antebellum homes, and European and Oriental imports selected from abroad by antique dealers or brought by early settlers. The trail offers glassware, pottery, silver, porcelain, military items, books, art, signs, historical papers, and American, French, Japanese, Chinese and English furnishings from the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries.

Stop highlights include visits to the Antique Mall of Memories in Alexander City, rummaging through the aisles in the historic 1935 Bank of Dadeville at Old Bank Antiques, and Winter Valley Antiques in Cullman that spans two buildings, one of which was once a chicken coop.

Fort Toulouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History Trails 

Alabama’s many history trails lead to spectacular ornate antebellum homes, sites from the Civil Rights Movement, Native American historical sites, and more, all with helpful and knowledgeable guides.

Mobile walking tour© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. April Walking Tours

Many of the towns across the state hold annual historic walking tours annually in April where you will visit historic antebellum mansions such as the Oakleigh and Conde-Charlotte mansions in Mobile, centuries-old cemeteries including the Florence City Cemetery that was established in 1819, and sites of the Civil Rights Movement such as the Rosa Parks bus stop and the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church in Montgomery.

Community leaders will guide these free tours through the historic districts or courthouse square areas of their hometowns. The hour-long tours start at 10:00 a.m. on April 2, 9, 16, 23, and 30.

Creek Indian houses © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Civil War Trail 

The Alabama Civil War Trail not only includes battlefields but also many other historic locations that bring the story of those tumultuous years to life.

Stops along the route include visits to the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery where Jeff Davis was sworn in as the president of the Confederacy, the Winter Building (also in Montgomery) where the order to fire on Fort Sumter in South Carolina was sent by telegraph thus beginning the war, and Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park in McCalla where the enormous stone furnace that once made munitions for the Confederacy has been completely rebuilt.

Along the coast, the Battle of Mobile Bay Civil War Trail spotlights Fort Morgan and historic Fort Gaines.

Jasmine Hill Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Native American Trail 

For thousands of years before white settlement, the place that is today called Alabama was home to many different cultural groups of Native Americans.

The history of Native Americans in Alabama is bittersweet. The Native American Trail allows us to explore their bittersweet history in the state from its earliest residents 10,000 years ago at Russell Cave National Monument in Bridgeport and Mound Island in Mobile to the tragedies that led to the Creek Indian War at Fort Mims in Stockton and the eventual start of the Trail of Tears with the Battle of Horseshoe Bend.

Fort Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Covered Bridge Trail 

Along the dusty backroads of Alabama, you will be treated to a rare sight. The state once had many covered bridges that took horses and pedestrians across narrow gorges. Today, the number has dwindled but these bridges are still exciting pieces of history to view.

Some have been moved to historic locations like the oldest bridge, the 1850 Coldwater Creek Covered Bridge in Calhoun County while others remain in place where they have stood the test of time including the longest remaining in the state, the 324-foot Swann Bridge over the Black Warrior River in Blount County.

The Covered Bridge Trail takes you to these and several other bridges in the northern half of the state. Be sure to make plans to attend the annual Covered Bridge Festival (October 8, 2022) where the three bridges of Blount County are celebrated—Swann, Easily, and Old Horton—with a good old-fashioned fall festival featuring plenty of music, arts, and crafts, and food.

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. U.S. Civil Rights Trail

The U.S. Civil Rights Trail spans the country but is primarily centered in the Southeast where marchers and activists challenged segregation and social injustice in the 50s and 60s, often facing violence and death in the process as they tried to make the country live up to its promises.

Wetumpa Historical District

11. Alabama Civil Rights Museum Trail

The Alabama Civil Rights Trail is part of the larger, nationwide trail, leading you to a collection of historic sites from that period including the infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church from where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led the historic Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the incredibly moving National Memorial for Peace and Justice that honors the over 4,000 blacks who were murdered across the South. The memorial features giant steel columns hanging from the ceiling with the names of victims listed by county.

Auburn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sports Trails

There is more to sports in Alabama than football. These sport trails show you what I mean.

Fishing at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Alabama’s Hunting and Fishing Trail for People with Disabilities 

The state has made it possible for people with physical disabilities to hunt and fish by joining together state and private landowners to establish this string of outdoor locations called the Alabama Hunting and Fishing Trail where they can enjoy their favorite sports just like everyone else.

Each location has special ramps and access points and when it comes to hunting, days are restricted to only allow those with disabilities to participate. Hunting and fishing licenses are required.

Alabama Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail     

A golf trail is just that—a collection of courses that together promote a certain state to the world as a golf destination. Just about every state has them from California to New York, from Wisconsin to Florida, and every state in between. But there had to be a first—the granddaddy of them all—Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail!

The trail features 26 courses and 468 incredible holes across the state with each course designed by the famous course architect Robert Trent Jones Sr. to fit that particular region’s stunning landscape.

Jim ‘Nick’s BBQ © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dining Trails

College football and barbecue are probably the first things that come to mind when Alabama is mentioned. But there’s so much more to the local food scene. In a state that is home to rich farmland and game hunting and is also bordered by the Gulf of Mexico, food and mealtime are a semi-sacred part of life.

Lambert’s Cafe in Foley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Food and Wine Trail

Any way you slice it—be it the fried green tomatoes at the Irondale Cafe in Irondale, crawfish pie at Ca-John’s Bar and Grill in Faunsdale, or meatloaf at G’s in Huntsville—Alabama has culinary boasting rights to some of the most distinctive cuisine in the country.

Dreamland in Tuscaloosa and Big Bob Gibson’s in Decatur top Alabama’s list of award-winning barbecue joints where you will never get tired of licking your fingers. When it comes to deliciously different you’ve got choices ranging from freshly squeezed lemonade at Toomer’s Drugs in Auburn, key-lime milkshakes from Stacey’s Old Tyme Soda Fountain in Foley, and orange rolls at All Steak in Cullman.

Music

Fusing the sounds of Rock, Country, Blues, and other genres, Alabama possesses a distinctive musical identity all its own.

Alabama Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Hank Williams Trail

Hank Williams was born in Mount Olive on September 17, 1923. By the time of his death 29 years later, he had left behind a monumental legacy of such hits as “Hey, Good Lookin’,” “I Saw the Light,” “Jambalaya” and “Cold, Cold Heart.”

With his band the Drifting Cowboys, he played engagements across the South. Hank became country music’s first superstar selling 10 million records from 1947 to 1953.

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For more on Alabama, check out these articles:

Worth Pondering…
Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet home Alabama
Lord, I’m coming home to you

—Lynyrd Skynyrd (1974)

America’s Least-Visited States and Why You Should Go To Each

You’re likely missing out on some of the most beautiful places in the US

Even the most traveled RVers have inevitable gaps on their “where I’ve been” map. It’s a big country out there and clocking all 50 states is a fairly universal bucket list goal. Still, some of the less known states are passed over—and that is a shame. Now more than ever, we’re daydreaming about hitting the Interstate in search of wide-open spaces, desert expanses, serene beaches, stunning mountain vistas, and near-empty hiking trails.

After crunching the numbers I’ve identified 11 of the less-visited states, many of which were obvious, some of which were shocking. Digging deep to find out what makes each a destination in its own right: small-town charm, amazing food, fantastic beer, and sweeping landscapes.

Looking for a hidden gem? Then make a plan to visit these roads less traveled!

Snake River at Twin Falls © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Idaho

Annual visitors: 34.3 million

Why you should visit: For some ungodly reason, Idaho is forever associated with its primary agricultural product. And look, I love taters as much as the next person. But find yourself on the shores of Redfish Lake with the snow-capped peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains reflecting in clear waters and you won’t be thinking about your next meal. You’ll be thinking about how Idaho is darn near perfect and wondering where all the people are. 

Lava fields in Idaho © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s got all the jagged mountains, wild whitewater, and pristine lakes of places like Colorado or California but it doesn’t pack in the hordes of tourists. While everyone else is clogging up Jackson Hole, an easy jaunt over the Tetons and the Wyoming state line will drop you by two of the best small towns in the state, Driggs and Victor. Spots like Stanley and Coeur d’Alene are also cool resort towns with friendly people and spectacular scenery. And of course, there’s brewery-packed Boise that’s one of the most underrated places to live in the US.

Massachusetts State House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Massachusetts

Annual visitors: 29.3 million

Why you should visit: There are sports to be watched, history to be learned, and great food to be had in Boston but it’s the boatloads of seaside towns that make shockingly under-touristy Massachusetts such a gem.

Hyannis harbor © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amble around little Cape Ann fishing villages like Rockport where you can hang with lobstermen and chow down on some fresh, fresh seafood. Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard are the more well-known escapes with spectacular seal- and shark-watching opportunities along the National Seashore.

For a whirlwind tour, hop on a train from Hyannis to Buzzards Bay on the Cape Cod Central Railroad, an oceanside journey that ambles through cool little towns and cranberry bogs. The town of Salem is extra fun to visit around Halloween; history nerds should also visit Plimoth Plantation and Old Sturbridge Village, two living museums from the colonial era.

Historic Jacksonville, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oregon

Annual visitors: 29.1 million

Why you should visit: Oregon’s presence on this list proves that many have yet to discover this Pacific Northwest dreamland and even those who know Portland likely have no clue to the scope of the state’s wonders. Oregon packs a massive diversity of ecosystems into its borders from a coast overflowing with natural beauty and shorelines to the dense forests blanketing the land.

Oregon Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here, the Columbia River Gorge forms a border with Washington made of sheer cliffs and waterfalls. Mountains like Hood, Bachelor, and the Three Sisters cast shadows over green valleys, roaring rivers, and high-desert landscapes. You’ll find the continent’s deepest lake at Crater Lake National Park.

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama

Annual visitors: 28.7 million

Why you should visit: In Alabama, you can drink in two states at once at the Flora-Bama bar near Orange Beach or participate in its famous annual mullet toss (fish, not hair). If you’re not into throwing fish and/or drinking, you can explore 35 miles of gorgeous coastline, most notably, Gulf Shores, the prettiest place in the state and home to Gulf State Park. Truly, this is a state that at once embraces its stereotypes (“roll Tide!!”) and shatters them. 

USS Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are landmark historical sites from the Civil Rights movement all across the state including the Civil Rights Institute and the famous 16th St Baptist Church in Birmingham plus the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma. There’s also baseball history—the oldest stadium in America is Rickwood Field in Birmingham. And pay homage to one of the greatest to play the game at the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum in Mobile (located at Hank Aaron Stadium).

Finally, the largest space museum in America is in Huntsville. The U.S. Space & Rocket Center is home to the famous space camp.

Newport Ocean Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rhode Island

Annual visitors: 26.2 million

Why you should visit: Get some inspiration by taking the cliff walk through Newport’s historic mansions. Rhode Island boasts 400 miles of coastline (it’s not called the Ocean State for nothing) and some of the warmest water in New England.

Historic Newport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re still hanging in Newport, Second Beach is your move for a day on the water. To round things out, you’ve got the Pawtucket Red Sox (or Pawsox)—a fun minor-league alternative to Fenway—way more breweries and distilleries than a state its size needs. Oh yeah, and Del’s Frozen Lemonade. Do NOT leave without trying a Del’s Frozen Lemonade.

Ole Miss © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mississippi

Annual visitors:  24.7 million

Why you should visit: This is the birthplace of American music. Start your sonic education in Tupelo (Elvis did) where you can walk up three different music trails—through cotton fields, churches, train depots, and nightclubs—to learn about the roots of blues and country music.

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mississippi is also home to three of the five driving trails on the Americana Music Triangle, a 1,500-mile highway route through five states with historical stops related to countless genres of music from the region including blues, jazz, country, rock & roll, R&B/soul, gospel, Southern gospel, Cajun/zydeco, and bluegrass.

There are also 26 miles of pristine water and white sand beaches here without anywhere near the number of tourists or tacky T-shirt shops you’d find in Florida. And unlike other beach towns on the Gulf, Biloxi, Gulfport, and Bay St. Louis have casinos.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Dakota

Annual visitors: 22.6 million

Why you should visit: Teddy Roosevelt loved North Dakota so much that he bought a ranch here then made it a national park. Today, North Dakota has 63 national wildlife refuges and 13 state parks and offers visitors the chance to see not only pronghorns and buffalo but the world’s largest buffalo—Dakota Thunder—can be seen at the National Buffalo Museum in Jamestown.

Medora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But it’s not all rural land and Bull Moose. Fargo is one of America’s most underrated cities tucked into an overlooked state. Amid its highly walkable streets, you’ll find a food scene that goes beyond hot dish and into fine dining and international fare plus a vibrant brewing community. 

Sky Mountain Gulf Course, Hurricane, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah

Annual visitors: 20.7 million

Why you should visit: While it’s easy to make a case for Utah being America’s most stunning state, surprisingly it remains under-visited. Yet it’s been at the forefront of daydreams thanks to its otherworldly landscapes, unmatched stargazing, and relative isolation. Time to pack up the RV and see what the fuss is all about!

Utah Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah’s open landscapes can be tackled in several ways whether it’s via a journey through the Mighty Five— Zion and Bryce among them—hiking its equally mind-blowing state parks or cruising a scenic stretch of road like the Hogsback (Scenic Byway 12).

For a more metropolitan experience, the cities are stereotype-smashers: Against the backdrop of its gorgeous namesake, Salt Lake City has emerged as a preeminent western destination placing it on the top tier of relocation wish lists. Park City, meanwhile, is so much more than Sundance: a world-class ski destination and postcard-perfect mountain town. Regardless of where you land, one thing remains constant: Wander in any direction and you’ll likely be greeted by an image that will sear itself into your memories.

New River Gorge Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

West Virginia

Annual visitors: 15.9 million

Why you should visit: They don’t call the Mountain State “almost heaven” because of the strip clubs though the state does boast the most per capita of any state in the Union. It’s because of stunning outdoor attractions like the 25-mile North Fork Mountain Trail—one of the few trails labeled as “epic” by the International Mountain Bicycling Association—where you can ride backcountry ridges whilst soaking up the views over Seneca Rocks.

Glad Creek Grist Mill, Babcock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re into water sports, brave the Gauley River, one of the five best whitewater rivers in the world and home to a 14-foot raftable waterfall. Or visit the newly-minted New River Gorge National Park. If you’re into land sports, catching a football game at Mountaineer Field in Morgantown (especially at night) is one of the most unique experiences in college football.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Dakota

Annual visitors: 13.5 million

Why you should visit: South Dakota is one of the country’s most beautiful states. It’s also one of its most misunderstood. But once you’re here, you’ll discover why all those Smash Mouth fans keep coming to Sturgis every summer.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a drive along the Needles Highway near Mount Rushmore National Memorial through fascinating rock formations or drive any stretch of the Badlands to see scenery like nowhere else in the world. Custer State Park is one of the few places in America where buffalo on the road can cause a traffic jam; the annual Buffalo Roundup takes place here when thousands thunder through the park as rangers round them up for medical checks and counts.

SoDak’s roadside attractions are also among the quirkiest in America. Take I-90 east from the Black Hills and you’ll pass ghost towns, a dinosaur sculpture park, the famous Wall Drug, and the World’s Only Corn Palace in Mitchell. You’ll end up in Sioux Falls, one of those small cities that feels a hell of a lot bigger than it is, and a great place to spend a weekend.

Montpelier © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vermont

Annual visitors: 13 million

Why you should visit: More or less everything you’ve heard about Vermont is true: This is a state that takes tremendous pride in its artisan everything, so much so that if you sit down for a meal at one of Burlington’s fantastic restaurants, you’ll likely discover everything from the garnish to the cheese to the chair you’re sitting in was made by some master craftsman in the same zip code. The craft beer scene is unparalleled, a true destination for beer nerds where hazy IPA pioneers The Alchemist holds court alongside legends like Hill Farmstead and the actual Von Trapp family who ensure the hills are alive with lagers. 

Ben & Jerry’s © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s a land of general stores, covered bridges, sugar shacks, ski towns, and vast wildernesses. There is no place where the leaf-peeping is as vivid. It’s exactly what you expect, yet somehow so much more.

Worth Pondering…

My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been.

The Ultimate Coastal South Road Trip: From New Orleans to Savannah

Discover the sights, sounds, and tastes along this Coastal South road trip

The dog days of summer are the perfect time to embark on a great American road trip.

One such road trip links two of the South’s most historic and poetic cities: New Orleans and Savannah.

Cajun cuisine © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along the route, explore the Gulf Coast—balmy shores full of quirky beach towns, Cajun culinary magic, and breweries—as well as the white-sand beaches of the Eastern Seaboard between Florida and Georgia.

Pack your sunscreen and bathing suit, and throw on a blues and Southern rock playlist. This weeklong road trip through America’s warmest (both in climate and culture) region awaits.

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Start your trip in New Orleans

The Big Easy. N’awlins. The Birthplace of Jazz.

New Orleans is one of America’s most storied and with deep French, Spanish, and African roots culturally distinctive cities. As the saying goes, New Orleanians are perpetually either throwing a party or recovering from one. For those seeking revelry, look no further than the French Quarter or Frenchmen Street—the latter is also one of the best places in New Orleans for live music.

Like Las Vegas, New Orleans doesn’t have open-container laws. So snag yourself a daiquiri while you stroll and admire the city’s inimitable architecture, street music, and local characters.

Related article: The Ultimate Deep South Road Trip: Savannah to Charleston

Dine at one of New Orleans’ legendary restaurants—perhaps Commander’s Palace, Arnaud’s, or Galatoire’s.

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Bay St. Louis is about an hour and a half east of New Orleans.

As with Louisiana, the French colonized these shores in the late 17th century. I recommend taking Highway 90 from New Orleans. This route follows the coastline and is far more scenic than the slightly more expedient Interstate 10.

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After the revelry of New Orleans, Bay St. Louis, a quiet and breezy beach town is the ideal place to catch your breath.

For those interested in blues history visit 100 Men Hall. This hallowed music venue has hosted the likes of James Brown, Etta James, and Muddy Waters. The current owner, Rachel Dangermond continues to host musicians and uses the hall for events in support of coastal Mississippi’s African American community.

The gorgeous Pearl Hotel overlooks the ocean and sits within easy walking distance of the restaurants, beach bars, and ice cream parlors of Bay St. Louis. Right across from Pearl Hotel is The Blind Tiger, a beach bar serving up delicious “royal reds,” deep-water shrimp, a coastal Mississippi delicacy.

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulfport, Mississippi

Driving east from Bay St. Louis, you’ll soon arrive in Gulfport.

Be sure to start the morning with a coffee and plate of biscuits at Fill-Up with Billups, an old-fashioned gas station converted into a diner.

Related article: The Underrated Coast

Boasting a dozen well-known casinos, Gulfport is a popular gaming destination. But if gambling isn’t your thing, Gulfport also boasts world-class charter fishing and is home to Chandeleur Island Brewery.

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Biloxi, Mississippi

About 30 minutes down the coast from Gulfport is Biloxi, the Playground of the South.

Long renowned for the abundant shrimp, oysters, and crabs of its warm waters Biloxi suffered tremendous destruction from Hurricane Katrina.

Now, nearly 20 years later, Biloxi is on the rise again with a slew of busy casinos, booming commercial and recreational fishing industries, and killer dining and drinking. If you’ve had your fill of gambling, take a shrimp boat tour with Capt. Mike at Biloxi Shrimping Trip. He takes passengers out into Biloxi Bay to learn about the world’s favorite crustacean.

Mississippi Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Just east of Biloxi Bay, this small town is a leafy artists’ colony that punches well above its weight for dining, coffee, and nightlife. It’s sprawling with live oaks and buildings bedecked with wrought-iron balconies and the old French influence is palpable.

Buccaneer State Park, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ocean Springs comes alive at night. To find a bustling patio bar and live music, just walk up Main Street after dark. Check out Maison de Lu for excellent French-inspired seafood with a Gulf twist. And don’t leave Ocean Springs without getting a cup of joe at Bright-Eyed Brew Co., a local roastery adored by both visitors and locals.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile, Alabama

Continuing east and crossing state lines, Mobile is about an hour from Ocean Springs.

Related article: Experience the Alabama Gulf Coast along the Coastal Connection Scenic Byway

If you have time, keep to coastal Highway 90—it’s a much prettier drive than the inland Interstate 10 as noted previously.

Mobile Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As with New Orleans, Biloxi, and most older Gulf Coast settlements, the French founded Mobile in the late 17th century. Mobile also claims to be home to North America’s oldest Mardi Gras.

Beer aficionados should check out Braided River Brewing Co., a recently opened brewery that’s already garnering national awards.

Hank Aaron Childhood Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re a sports fan be sure to pay homage to one of the great ones at the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum located adjacent to Hank Aaron Stadium. Aaron was one of the best to ever play this game. Aaron played 23 seasons. He came to the plate almost 14,000 times. He hit .305 with 755 home runs and 6,856 total bases—more than 700 total bases beyond everyone else. The gap between Aaron and No. 2 on the list, Stan Musial, is more than 12 miles worth of bases.

Fairhope © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fairhope, Alabama

Consistently ranked as one of the nation’s coolest small towns, Fairhope is an upscale beach town about an hour southeast of Mobile. With wooden piers stretching out over blue waters, white-sand beaches, and gorgeous architecture, Fairhope is a town that seduces visitors to stay permanently. What’s more, Fairhope boasts some of the South’s best restaurants. Check out Tamara’s Downtown for scrumptious Gulf Coast delicacies.

Fairhope is undeniably posh (golf carts are the preferred means of transportation here). However, it also has a funky side, evidenced by the ample coffee shops, breweries, and the fact that the town once had a flourishing nudist colony.

Tallahassee, Florida

Welcome to the Sunshine State!

Tallahassee is about three hours east of Fairhope. Home to nearly 35,000 college students, Florida’s capital is one of the country’s most notorious college towns. As you would expect with an overpopulation of 18-to-22-year-olds, Tallahassee brims with rowdy bars, late-night eateries, and youthful verve.

Amelia Island near Jacksonville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jacksonville, Florida

Another 2½ hours of driving will take you from Tallahassee to Jacksonville and the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Jax is the largest city in the U.S. in terms of geographical breadth. It’s also the hometown of Southern rock legends the Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

In Jacksonville, the characteristic form of the Florida beach—that is, powdery white sand against placid, turquoise water—is fully realized. Not to mention that Jacksonville’s beaches are far less crowded than those farther south. For fun in the sun, head to Neptune Beach near downtown Jacksonville.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah, Georgia

Head north up the coast for about two hours to reach Savannah, the final stop on our jaunt through the coastal South. Savannah is one of the oldest cities in the U.S. and boasts some of the most stunning examples of the South’s grandiose pre-Civil War architecture.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unlike Atlanta, a city Gen. Sherman burned to the ground during the Civil War, the Union Army spared Savannah its torches—some say because Sherman had a local mistress who convinced him that her city was too beautiful to destroy. Either way, posterity is grateful that Savannah remained intact as the Historic District—with its stately fountains, mansions, and lush public parks—is a national treasure.

Related article: The Perfect Georgia Coast Road Trip

St. Marys, Georgia (just north of the Florida/Georgia state line) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bottom line

Whether your thing is American history, beautiful cities, fabulous cuisine, or gorgeous beaches, the coastal South makes for a fantastic road trip.

This route links the old and superlatively poetic cities of New Orleans and Savannah. It shows you the best of coastal Mississippi, the Gulf Coast, North Florida, and the southern reaches of the Eastern Seaboard.

Worth Pondering…

The journey not the arrival matters.

—T. S. Eliot

Where the Rivers Meet the Sea: Mobile-Tensaw River Delta and Meaher State Park

Second only to the Mississippi River Delta in size, the Mobile-Tensaw Delta is an environmental showplace that is 45 miles long and over eight miles wide

“It is arguably the biologically richest place,” scientist E.O. Wilson said, describing the importance of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta on a global scale. “The delta floodplain forest and swamp, and the area immediately around it including the Red Hills to the north has more species of plants and animals than any comparable area anywhere in North America … it is a place yet completely unexplored, sort of like the upper Amazon.”

Fishing in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Delta proper is a vast jungle wilderness where dozens of river channels braid together and twist apart creating hundreds of islands large and small. Those islands and channels are populated with numerous creatures capable of killing a grown man: bears, alligators, bull sharks, bobcats, feral hogs, and five species of venomous snakes.

There are 300 bird species and an untold variety of insects, amphibians, and reptiles. But more than anything, the Delta is the place where all the water running downhill from the rest of the state meets the sea.

Camping at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Mobile-Tensaw River Delta is Alabama’s largest wetland ecosystem and the nation’s second-largest river delta. It is approximately 45 miles long, averages eight miles wide, and contains over 400 square miles of wetland and associated upland ecosystems. The Delta is characterized by a large number of tributary rivers, streams, bayous, and creeks which form a maze of waterways including the waters of the Tensaw, Mobile, Tombigbee, and Alabama rivers.

Related: Mobile Bay: Gateway to the Gulf

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meaher State Park

A 1,327-acre state park is situated in these wetlands and is a day-use, picnicking, and scenic park with modern camping hook-ups for overnight visitors. Meaher’s boat ramp and fishing pier will appeal to every fisherman. A self-guided walk on the boardwalk will give visitors an up-close view of the beautiful Mobile-Tensaw Delta.

Camping at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meaher State Park is the perfect access point to this massive natural wonder. Since the Delta empties into Mobile Bay, it is a productive estuary with numerous species of fresh and saltwater fish which makes Meaher State Park an angler’s dream. And, you might also see an alligator or two.

The park offers a 300-foot pier with a 200-foot “T” for your fishing pleasure. Access to the pier is included in the park admission fee. An Alabama freshwater fishing license is required. The most common freshwater and saltwater fish are abundant in the area.

Camping at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is also a boat ramp with access to Blakeley River located on the east end of the park. Entry is $4 per boat. The ramp is accessible from 7 a.m. until sundown.

You may also choose to walk the park with your camera, binoculars, or even your favorite pet. There is a second boardwalk for walking only where you might see some of the delta’s most unique flora and fauna.

Camping at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meaher’s campground has 61 RV campsites. Each site is paved, roughly 65 feet in length with 20-, 30- and 50-amp electrical connections as well as water and sewer hook-ups. You have a grill and picnic table at your site and plenty of space between you and the next camper.

Related: Marvelous Mobile Bay: Dauphin Island

The campground features an air-conditioned/heated main shower house equipped with laundry facilities and a smaller bathhouse equipped with restrooms only.

Camping at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are 10 improved tent sites with water and 20-amp electrical connections. All of the tent sites have a grill/fire pit and picnic table available. Primitive camping is also offered (group and individual).

The park also has four cozy bay-side cabins (one is handicap accessible) overlooking Ducker Bay.

Meaher State Park is stop #26 on the Coastal Alabama Birding trail guide. This trail will take you on over 200 miles that loop around Mobile and Baldwin counties.

There is a $2 per person park entry fee to enter Meaher State Park for day use only. You might choose to go fishing, hiking, picture taking, birding, etc. If you choose to go boating there is a $4 per boat entry fee. Camping fees vary.

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile-Tensaw Delta Wildlife Management Area

The Mobile-Tensaw Delta Wildlife Management Area is comprised of a variety of habitats-from flooded hardwood bottoms to freshwater marshes. The area has a variety of habitats for birders to explore.  Located along the east bank of the Tensaw River is an 850- acre parcel comprised of flooded hardwood bottoms along the river to upland hardwoods and pines. Additionally, there is a lake and peripheral freshwater marsh. During the breeding season, common species include a red-shouldered hawk, barred owl, red-eyed vireo, prothonotary warbler, and northern parula. In the summer months, swallow-tailed kites may be spotted flying along the river banks just above the tree line.

Related: Sweet Home Alabama: Mobile

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5 Rivers Delta Resource Center

5 Rivers Delta Resource Center’s name recognizes the five rivers of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, which include the Mobile, Spanish, Tensaw, Apalachee, and Blakeley Rivers (from west to east) that flow into Mobile Bay. The Center itself sits on the banks of one of the canals of this vast delta. These drainages encompass over 250,000 acres of meandering waterways, floodplain forests, and extensive wetlands. The center features an exhibit hall, theater, gift shop, Delta boat tours, canoe and kayak rentals, hiking trails, and picnic areas.

USS Alabama Memorial Park on Mobile Bay © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s the ultimate place to begin your adventure into over 250,000 acres of scenic waterways, woods, and wetlands. Or, simply soak up the natural beauty and history of the region with plenty to do and see at the facility itself.

USS Alabama Memorial Park on Mobile Bay © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The decks of the Delta Hall and the perimeter trail around the facility provide excellent vantage points to observe birds that are representative of the lower Mobile- Tensaw Delta marsh and waterways. In spring and summer, look for brown pelican, osprey, king rail, marsh wren, and several species of herons and egrets. Occasionally, the least bittern and purple gallinule may be encountered along the margins of the emergent marsh. Painted bunting may also be possible in the thickets near the buildings. In fall, you may see rafts of American white pelicans foraging. In winter, the vegetation along the water’s edge is good habitat for gray catbirds and a variety of sparrows. Across from the Delta Hall are hiking trails that meander through a grove of live oaks.

Related: Going Mobile

Mobile-Tensaw Delta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile Tensaw River Delta Facts

  • Habitats include: Bogs, bottomland hardwoods, freshwater and hardwood swamps, freshwater wetlands, maritime forests, mesic flood plains, pine savanna, riparian buffers, submerged aquatic vegetation, and tidal brackish water marshes
  • It contains one of the most extensive and significant wetlands in the United States and represents one of Alabama’s most intact preserved areas
  • It is one of the few breeding localities in the state for the mottled duck and purple gallinule
  • The Delta plays a vital role in maintaining the area’s ecological balance by filtering impurities from up to approximately 15 percent of the nation’s fresh water
  • The Tensaw and Mobile rivers are named after local tribes that once inhabited the area, the Taensas and the Mauvillas
Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Delta was also the site of the initial settlement of the town of Mobile, established in 1702 by a French expedition led by Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville

Worth Pondering…

In the end, we only conserve what we love.

We only love what we understand.

We will understand what we are taught.

—Baba Dioum, Senegalese poet

The Best States for Snowbird Camping

One of the best parts of the RV lifestyle is the ability to simply follow warm weather wherever it may lead

While the pandemic increased the appeal of camping and outdoor recreation in the last 18 months, Google Trends data confirms that interest has in fact been growing rapidly for longer than that. Overall search interest in RVing was flat or on a slight decline for most of the 2000s and early 2010s. In more recent years, interest has grown rapidly, reaching an all-time high in 2020. Now, search interest in RVing during the offseason is comparable to peak season search interest from a decade ago.

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This interest is also apparent across different demographic groups. The population of older Americans and Canadians—who have long been a major segment of the RV market—is growing as more Baby Boomers reach retirement age. But demand for RVs is also strong among Millennials and Gen Z, 49 percent of whom grew up with RVing and tend to be married, educated, and full-time working parents. Around two in five RV owners are aged 18 to 44, showing that camping and RVing have wide appeal.

Jekyll Island, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While overall interest has increased, camping and outdoor recreational activities still follow seasonal patterns with most campers venturing outdoors during the summer months when temperatures are warmer. However, many states have excellent camping options year-round. Southern states from east to the west offer temperate winter climates, less precipitation, and ample natural attractions and parklands to entice outdoor recreation enthusiasts.

Laughlin, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

However, there is considerable variance across the Sunbelt states and within each state. For instance in Arizona expect freezing temperatures and snow in Flagstaff and sunny and warm temperatures in Phoenix, Yuma, and Tucson.

Rockport-Fulton, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While there are many factors to consider when determining the best states for warm winter recreation, I selected average maximum temperature, average minimum temperature, average monthly precipitation, and the total land area allocated to parks and wildlife.

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weather statistics are long-term averages for December–February, sourced from NOAA, and land area statistics are from the USDA. In the event of a tie, the state with the higher average winter maximum temperature was ranked above.

Related: The Absolutely Best State Park Camping for Snowbirds

Based on the above model, here are the 10 best states for warm winter camping.

Dauphin Island, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Alabama

Composite index: 62.6

Average maximum temperature: 57.7

Mobile, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Average minimum temperature: 35.3

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 5.2

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 548,000

Okefenokee, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Georgia

Composite index: 67.5

Average maximum temperature: 58.6

Cumberland Island, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Average minimum temperature: 35.9

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 4.3

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 747,000

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. North Carolina

Composite index: 67.8

Average maximum temperature: 51.9

Average minimum temperature: 30.3

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 3.8

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 1,575,000

Related: Parks That Snowbirds Should Explore This Winter

Mainstreet Downtown Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. New Mexico

Composite index: 69.9

Average maximum temperature: 49.3

Elephant Lake Butte State Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Average minimum temperature: 21.2

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 0.7

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 2,720,000

Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Nevada

Composite index: 70.5

Average maximum temperature: 42.8

Above Hoover Dam, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Average minimum temperature: 20.7

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 1.1

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 6,580,000

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Louisiana

Composite index: 74.5

Average maximum temperature: 61.4

Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Average minimum temperature: 40.4

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 5.1

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 1,276,000

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. California

Composite index: 79.3

Average maximum temperature: 53.5

Related: 10 RV Parks in the Southwest that Snowbirds Love

Coachella Valley Preserve, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Average minimum temperature: 33.6

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 3.9

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 19,623,000

Corpus Christi, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Texas

Composite index: 83.3

Average maximum temperature: 59.7

Padre Island, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Average minimum temperature: 34.9

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 1.6

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 3,167,000

Ajo, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Arizona

Composite index: 85.7

Average maximum temperature: 54.9

Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Average minimum temperature: 29.7

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 1.2

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 7,704,000

Related: What Makes Arizona Such a Hotspot for Snowbirds?

Venice, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Florida

Composite index: 87.5

Average maximum temperature: 69.9

Average minimum temperature: 47.4

Average monthly precipitation (inches): 2.9

Total parks and wildlife area (acres): 3,920,000

Mount Dora, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While this model provided useful fodder for further discussion, it yielded both predictable and surprising results. It is no surprise that Florida, Arizona, Texas, and California ranked 1-4, but I had to wonder how North Carolina made the list while South Carolina and Mississippi did not.

Worth Pondering…

As Anne Murray sings in the popular song, “Snowbird”:

“Spread your tiny wings and fly away

And take the snow back with you

Where it came from on that day

So, little snowbird, take me with you when you go

To that land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow…”

History Comes Alive At Fort Toulouse-Fort Jackson State Historic Site

History comes alive at Fort Toulouse-Fort Jackson State Historic Site where Creek Indians, French Marines, and American Soldiers all left their marks

Good morning on the last day of May. Or is it June? Are we in 2022 yet? What is time? Honestly, the only thing we know is that it’s Saturday. Have a great weekend everyone—thanks as always for reading. 

Located just south of Wetumpka on a forested bluff where the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers meet to form the headwaters of the Alabama River, we enjoyed 165 acres of living history and natural beauty. The park showcases recreated Creek Indian houses, a 1751 French fort, the partially restored 1814 American Fort Jackson, a nature trail, and a campground. This historic site is operated by the Alabama Historical Commission.

Graves House Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After paying our $2/person admission fee, our first stop was the early 19th-century Graves House Visitor Center. Restored to its original appearance, the building now houses a small gift shop and museum.

Creek Indian houses represent two primary types of domestic structures used in the historic period. The fully enclosed buildings are winter houses and the open structure is for summer use. Until 1763, the lands within the park boundaries were home to the Alabama. This tribe was a member of the Creek Confederacy and eventually left with the French at the end of the Seven Years War (French and Indian War). The state of Alabama was named after this tribe.

Creek Indian homes © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1717, when this region was part of French Louisiana, the French built a fort near the strategically vital junction where the Tallapoosa and Coosa Rivers form the Alabama River. The fort was primarily a trading post where Indians exchanged fur pelts for guns and household items. There were no battles at the post as French diplomacy forged allies with the natives. The surrounding Indians wanted peace so they could trade with both the French and British.

Creek Indian homes © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We wandered Fort Toulouse, a re-creation of the last or 3rd French fort built between 1749 and 1751. A National Historic Landmark, the outside walls are constructed of split timbers that were not strong enough to stop a cannon shot but were ample protection against musket fire. Fences enclose the sides and rear of the building. On the inside, posts sunk into the ground were joined with mortise and tenon joints. There were two barracks in the fort each had four rooms for use by the troops. Along the southern wall is an igloo-shaped bread oven.

Fort Toulouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The French lost the French and Indian War and the fort in 1763. The site was abandoned by the French and the lands reverted to native occupation. Few vestiges of the French post were visible when a new large earthen fort was erected in 1814 and named by General Thomas Pinckney for his subordinate General Andrew Jackson.

Fort Toulouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Following the French abandonment of Fort Toulouse in 1763 at the end of the French and Indian War, the river valley was peaceful as first the British and then the American nations claimed the region but few white men came to the area. Relations between the white settlers and Native peoples deteriorated in the first decade of the Nineteenth Century. The U. S. and Great Britain were at odds and by late 1813 the Creek War and the War of 1812 were underway. 

Fort Toulouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Jackson had a moat that was seven feet deep and dirt walls ranging in height from 7 ½ feet to 9 feet high. When finished the fort contained barracks space to house 200 soldiers. A garrison was kept here as the focus of these armies changed to the war with the British and activities occurring on the Gulf Coast. During this time thousands of troops passed through the site on their way south.

Fort Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In August of 1814, the Treaty of Fort Jackson was signed officially ending the Creek War. The Creeks agreed to give the U. S. more than twenty million acres as reparations for the war. This land was the majority of what became the State of Alabama.

Fort Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The one-mile-long William Bartram Nature Trail winds along the ridgeline and river bottoms at the southern end of the park. Of particular note along its path is a marker dedicated to Sergeant Jean Louis Fontenot who served at Fort Toulouse from 1735 to 1754. Next, we saw a cemetery just off the trail. Only one marker remains. There is also a marker dedicated to William Bartram, the famous naturalist who passed through this area in 1775, further down the trail. The nature trail offers wonderful bird-watching opportunities. During the spring and fall, migrants are present thought out the site. 

Fort Toulouse-Fort Jackson State Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A 39 site RV campground overlooks the Coosa River. Each site includes an electric and water hook-up, a grill, and a concrete picnic table. There is a centrally located shower and bathhouse, plus a refuse facility at the campground entrance. Current RV Rates are $20.00/night; $18.00/night for seniors age 65+ and active or retired military with ID.

Worth Pondering…

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

—René Descartes

The Inspirational Transformation of Wetumpka, Alabama

HGTV Home Town Takeover showcases Wetumpka

Known as “The City of Natural Beauty,” Wetumpka, Alabama is located just northeast of Montgomery on the banks of the Coosa River. The name Wetumpka is a Creek Indian word meaning “rumbling waters,” describing the sound of the nearby Coosa River. The Coosa River flows through the middle of the city, dividing the historic business district from its residential counterpart.  Bibb Graves Bridge, a focal point of the City was built in 1937. Designed by state bridge engineer Edward Houk and named after Governor Bibb Graves, it is reputed to be one of two bridges in Alabama to be suspended by reinforced concrete.

Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wetumpka has a population of 8,371 and has been on a bit of a roller coaster ride of late. An ambitious downtown revitalization effort was started about three years ago. Then in January of 2019, a powerful tornado swept through the historic downtown area causing widespread damage but thankfully no deaths. The tornado damaged 35 homes throughout Elmore County and destroyed or damaged multiple buildings in the city’s downtown including the police station and Wetumpka’s celebrated First Presbyterian Church. The city completed the revitalization a year ago to rave reviews.

Bibb Graves Bridge, Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It was 14 months before the tornado ripped through the town that we visited Wetumpka. Proceeding across Bibb Graves Bridge to the largely residential west side, we first stopped on West Bridge Street, across from the First Presbyterian Church organized in 1834. It was the site of the gathering of the Wetumpka Light Guard as they departed their families when they went to do battle in the Civil War on April 16, 1861. We discovered a number of historic and beautiful homes within a five block area mainly on Tuskeena Street (one block north on West Bridge and to the left down Tuskeena). 

First United Methodist Church, Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our next stop was the First United Methodist Church at 306 West Tuskeena Street. The building was completed 1854. In 1845, an historic session of the Alabama Conference delegates voted to become part of the Methodist Episcopal Church South and so it remained until 1939.

Wetumpka L & N Depot© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Directly behind the church we noted the L & N Depot. Established in 1906 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, the station served as a passenger and freight depot until 1973. Used for several years as the first home of the Wetumpka Depot Players, at the time of our visit it was used as a place of worship and for youth activities and owned by First United Methodist Church. Next door to the Methodist Church stands a house built by Benjamin Fitzpatrick, a local attorney and circuit solicitor and son of 9th Governor of Alabama, Benjamin Fitzpatrick.

Bibb Graves Bridge, Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crossing the Bibb Graves Bridge to the largely historic business district east side we wandered this area before proceeding to the Wind Creek Casino. Overlooking the beautiful Coosa River, Wind Creek is the home of a new hotel.

In July 2020, Erin and Ben Napier, stars of HGTV’s Home Town, reported that they were taking over the entire town of Wetumpka for their home-renovation show. As a spinoff of the network’s popular home renovation show “Home Town,” which features Ben and Erin Napier renovating old and sometimes neglected homes for new owners, “Takeover” is also focused on renovations but this time the couple revamps a town. When it airs later this spring, “Home Town Takeover” will showcase 12 renovation and upgrade projects in and around Wetumpka’s downtown and historic district. Viewing dates are yet to be announced.

Wetumpka Historic District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wetumpka was selected from among 2,600 entries to be the subject of the new HGTV cable TV program called “Home Town Takeover.” The six-part documentary will show Ben and Erin Napier leading a team of renovation pros to breathe new life into Wetumpka including several homes as well as some locally grown businesses and historic treasures unique to the city.

The experience was special for the film crew. Producers, directors, camera operators, audio, and lighting specialists and others spent six months in Wetumpka not just working but living there from August 2020 through January. Months on-site is nothing new for them, but many were surprised by what they found when they arrived in Wetumpka.

Wetumpka Historic District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“You never know what to expect, but right when I got to town, it was so pretty,” Carissa Sison, line producer for the show, told Alabama Newscenter. “Our offices had the Coosa River right behind them and it was such a tranquil setting. But the best thing was the people. They were so happy to meet us. I’ve never experienced that kind of friendliness in my life and definitely not in my career.”

Liz Kerrigan, the show’s executive producer, agrees, saying the residents’ community spirit added an extra layer of charm to a city that had already impressed her. “Looking at photos, I knew the town was adorable,” she said. “But a city can look one way and then feel different. Not here. The good vibes just make Wetumpka even cuter.”

Wetumpka Historic District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kerrigan was taken aback by leaders’ open arms and residents’ desire to pitch in. “I just didn’t expect people to be so grateful and so willing to help,” she said. “It was actually an emotional experience. Everyone was thrilled to work with us.”

Sison stressed that the city’s reaction inspired her and the rest of the show’s team to get more invested than normal. “Their outpouring of love motivated us to really want to help this town,” she said. “We’re always passionate about our work but this was different. I don’t think I speak for just myself when I say we felt like we were a part of Wetumpka.”

Wetumpka Historic District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kerrigan and Sison hope the emotion evoked in the show’s creation comes through TV screens and that viewers get a sense of the Wetumpka they came to know and that interest in the city keeps rising. “It’s going to be great when the show airs. I hope even more people fall in love with Wetumpka, Sison added.”

But it’s also part of the show’s wider vision, Kerrigan said. “The entire intention behind this series was to create forward momentum for change, to be a catalyst for an even bigger transition,” she said. “The desire was that the city would take this ball and run with it. What’s so awesome is after being there we know that Wetumpka will do just that. They will build on this and take it 1 million steps farther. Seeing what we imagined fulfilled is really rewarding.”

Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And if watching Wetumpka’s journey on “Home Town Takeover” spurs other small towns to pursue their own progress, that’s the ultimate prize. “We’re showing how positive change in small towns everywhere is possible,” Kerrigan said. “We hope this causes a national movement for small towns across America to come together and do the same thing, even if it’s on a smaller scale.”

But this spring, eyes will be focused on one specific small town and while Wetumpka leaders and residents have made their enthusiasm obvious, the show’s team seems every bit as excited as the city.

“We just feel so lucky to be able to shine a light on the people and the places of Wetumpka,” Kerrigan said. “We want a huge spotlight on them.”

Coosa River, Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the summer, you can visit the city’s River and Blues Music & Arts Festival. In the winter, bundle up and gawk at its New Year’s Eve “Asteroid Drop” (via The City of Wetumpka). If you have a thing for golf clubs, granaries, barbecue places, nature trails, and botanical gardens—or if you need to visit the place that the Hollywood epics Big Fish and The Rosa Parks Story were filmed—Wetumpka, Alabama is your place. And it’s exactly this small-town magic that drew the Napiers to Wetumpka in the first place.

Wind Creek Casino Hotel, Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Surely it is the right wish that draws us to the right place.
Nothing of importance happens accidentally in our life.

—Lama Anagarika Govinda, The Way of the White Clouds

Spotlight on Alabama: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

Known for its beautiful southern Appalachian Mountains, meandering blackwater rivers, and pristine white Gulf beaches, Alabama has become a popular vacation destination

This Southeastern state bordered by Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida is often overlooked as a travel destination in favor of its more crowd-pleasing neighbors but that’s what makes it so special. It has a raw and authentic edge which lacking in some states and is also home to some gorgeous scenery too. Known as “Heart of Dixie” and being synonymous with the American Civil Rights movement, Alabama packs a punch with its collection of proud historic buildings, Franco-Caribbean architecture, stunning forests, and lakes, and jaw-dropping beautiful coastlines and beaches.

There isn’t a single amazing thing about Alabama. There are about ten zillion. So start poking around and figure out what to put at the top of your list.

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile Bay

Along the northern perimeter of Mobile Bay, a network of rivers forms a wildlife-rich delta that beckons canoeists and nature-lovers. The Mobile Delta consists of approximately 20,323 acres of water and Meaher State Park is a perfect access point to this massive natural wonder. Formed by the confluence of the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers, the Mobile Delta is a complex network of tidally influenced rivers, creeks, bays, lakes, wetlands, and bayous. For more outdoor adventures, the nearby Mobile-Tensaw, W.L. Holland, and Upper Delta Wildlife Management Areas offer hunting and wildlife viewing opportunities for those visiting the Delta.

Coastal Connection Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Coastal Connection Scenic Byway

Everyone loves a good long drive and there is nothing like a spellbinding and coastal route. For these reasons the Alabama Coastal Connection is one of the treasured places to tour not just in Alabama but in the whole of the US. A National Scenic Byway the Coastal Connection connects the places and people of the Baldwin and coastal Mobile counties. It is also a true testimony to the diverse and rich culture of the state’s Gulf Coast region.

Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dauphin Island

A stunning place to visit, Dauphin Island provides a getaway atmosphere with attractions aimed at the family.Dauphin Island Park and Campground offers an abundance of recreation offerings and natural beauty. The campground is uniquely positioned so that guests have access to a secluded beach, public boat launches, Fort Gaines, and Audubon Bird Sanctuary. The Estuarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab allows visitors the opportunity to explore the four ecosystems of coastal Alabama—the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, Mobile Bay, the barrier islands, and Gulf of Mexico.

Orange Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Orange Beach

Orange Beach is a small and stunning coastal city located on the Gulf. Nicknamed as the water sports hub, it has a huge fishing pier and several picnic areas. The scenic coastal city has a museum named Orange Beach Indian and Sea Museum and you can explore the history of Native Americans and fishing. A mesmerizing vacation is on your cards, if you choose this stellar place. Some other places if you wish to look around Orange Beach are Backcountry Trails, Canoe Trail, Waterfront Park, Public Boat Launches, and Disc Golf Course Park.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile

Mobile is more than 300 years old and from that fact alone there must be a lot of history associated with a city of that age. The many museums and historical homes help tell Mobile’s story. Eight National Register Historic Districts make up what is known as downtown and midtown Mobile. Explore the mighty WWII battleship USS Alabama, winner of nine battle stars, and the submarine USS Drum. Both are National Historic Landmarks. Mobile is the home to the oldest carnival or Mardi Gras in the United States.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park

Gulf State Park is home to miles of pristine white-sand beaches along the Coastal Connection Scenic Byway. Use the in-park camping and full hookup RV sites as your base camp for hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking, and canoeing. Or stay in one of the cottages or cabins found around the park. With more than 3.5 miles of white sand beaches and 28 miles of paved trails or boardwalks, there’s plenty of space to spread out and enjoy.

Fairhope © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fairhope

Shangri-La may be a fantasy but you can find a real-life utopia on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. The village was created by a group of hardy souls seeking adventure and being practical, also wanted a “fair hope of success”. This experimental community has come a long way from those “old days”. It’s still entirely unique and keeps a small town ambience with a large and active arts community. If you love the Gulf Coast, there are few places more scenic with antebellum homes, streets lined with live oaks, and a charming, walkable downtown. With a population of about 17,000, Fairhope sits on bluffs that overlook Mobile Bay, so you’re never far from a view of the water.

Gulf Shores © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf Shores

As it goes by the obvious name, the city is located on Alabama’s Gulf Coast and all you beach lovers, this is your chance. Gulf Shores Museum features several permanent exhibits including “Portrait of a Fishing Village”, “Drawing a Line in the Sand”, and “Hurricanes: What You Need to Know”. Rotating special exhibits are also on display. Butterfly enthusiasts will love the museum’s butterfly garden. Benches and tables are nearby so visitors can rest their feet while they observe the colorful butterflies.

Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wetumpka

In 1776 William Bartram, the legendary naturalist, when visiting Wetumpka proclaimed, “This is perhaps one of the most eligible situations for a city in the world, a level plain between the conflux of two majestic rivers.” The strategic location (just minutes from the State Capitol), natural resources, and hospitable atmosphere continue to attract residents and tourists today.
Wetumpka has played a significant role in the history of Alabama. As the Bibb Graves Bridge quickly identifies Wetumpka, the Coosa River flowing beneath offers limitless opportunities for recreation and tourism. Additional attractions at Fort Toulouse/Jackson State Park, the eroded remains of a pre-historic meteorite crater, and the Poarch Band of Creek Indian reservation gaming facility increase the daily traffic flow. Would Bartram be disappointed? Never!

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge

The Jeff Friend Loop Trail at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge is one of the best places in the area for bird-watching and observing other critters. Park in the refuge’s parking lot and be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring bottled water, binoculars, and camera. The trail, a mix of crushed limestone and a boardwalk, is a relatively flat 0.9 miles. Allow 2 hours to explore this sliver of paradise. You’ll love the colorful birds that frequent the area.

Worth Pondering…

Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet home Alabama
Lord, I’m coming home to you

Lucky A: USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park

Dive into history as you explore the “Mighty A”: 79 years strong and open to the public for tours

Visitors walk the decks and cabins in respectful silence. They read the historic papers and scan the old photographs and try to imagine what it was like. But it’s impossible to envision the roaring thunder and smoke, the ear-shattering shouting and scrambling, the unspeakable horror and death that happened on the USS Alabama, not once but through 37 months of active duty. She earned not only nine battle stars but also the nickname “Lucky A” from her crew of 2,500 because she emerged unscathed from the heat of each battle. The Alabama saw action in the Atlantic for a year before joining the Pacific Fleet in mid-1943.

USS Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There she fought at such key locations as Leyte, the Gilbert Islands, and Okinawa. The Alabama served in every major engagement in the Pacific during World War II. After the signing of the war-ending surrender documents in September 1945, the Alabama led the American fleet into Tokyo Bay. The sixth vessel to bear the name, Alabama, the battleship was launched February 16, 1942.

USS Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first Alabama, a 56-ton Revenue Cutter built at New York and acquired in 1819 at a cost of $4,500, was active in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico in the 1820s. The second and third Alabama (1849 and 1861), both U.S. Steamers, also pre-dated the American Civil War. The Legendary Confederate Commerce Raider, CSS Alabama, captured or sank 69 Union ships during the War Between the States. The fifth Alabama, BB-8, was a battleship commissioned in 1900, and was a member of the Great White Fleet. She was the flagship for Division 1, Battleship Force, Atlantic Fleet, during World War I.

USS Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Displacing more than 44,500 tons, the USS Alabama Battleship measures 680 feet from stem to stern, half as long as the Empire State Building is tall. Armed with nine, 16-inch guns in three turrets and 20, 5-inch, .38-caliber guns in 10 twin mounts, her main batteries could fire shells, as heavy as a small car, accurately for a distance of more than 20 miles.

USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Her steel side armor was a foot thick above the waterline, tapering to one half inch at the bottom. Her four propellers, each weighing more than 18 tons, could drive her through the seas up to 28 knots (32 mph). Loaded with 7,000 tons of fuel oil, her range was about 15,000 nautical miles. The USS Alabama was built to fight.

USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1964, a campaign was launched to bring the “Mighty A” home to Alabama, as a memorial to the state’s sons and daughters who had served in the armed forces. Alabama school children raised almost $100,000 in mostly nickels, dimes, and quarters to help bring her home to her final resting place.

On January 9, 1965, the “Mighty A” was opened to the public as an independent agency of the state of Alabama. Since then, more than 14 million visitors have walked her decks and stood in awe of her majestic presence.

USS Drum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While onboard, see the museum displays and hear first-hand the remembrances of crew members who served aboard the Alabama. A continuous-running film showcases the recollections—some humorous, many poignant and painful—of the crew. The interviews are interspersed with startling footage of aircraft attacks.

USS Drum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The submarine USS Drum (SS-228), a World War II veteran with 12 Battle Stars, joined the USS Alabama on July 4, 1969. The USS Drum is credited with sinking 15 ships, a total of 80,580 tons of enemy shipping, the eighth highest of all U.S. submarines in total Japanese tonnage sunk.

USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 2001, Drum was moved onto land for permanent display, the project winning several engineering awards. USS Drum is the oldest American submarine on display in the world.

At the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park, the World War II battleship and submarine are the highlights of the bayside park. Many historic warplanes are also on display. A Vietnam Memorial and a Korean War Memorial honor veterans of those wars on the park grounds.

USS Drum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On self-guided tours of the 175-acre military attraction you can view the cockpits of some two dozen aircraft, check out tanks from years gone by, inspect a Vietnam patrol boat, and take the controls of a lifelike flight simulator.

Worth Pondering…

You can talk about teamwork on a baseball team, but I’ll tell you, it takes teamwork when you have 2,900 men stationed on the USS Alabama in the South Pacific.

—Bob Feller (1918-2010), all-star pitcher, Cleveland Indians

Top 10 States with the Best Winter Weather

Here are 10 states that will make your winter warmer

It’s winter! Welcome to the season when conversations center around the weather and how unbelievably cold and miserable it is outside.In most of America, winter sucks. It is cold out. Pipes freeze. Lips, noses, and cheeks get chapped and raw. Black ice kills. It’s horrible.Growing up in Alberta, I have experienced the personal hell that is winter’s awkwardly long, frigid embrace. That’s why I’m a snowbird.

No. 10 is a state that might not come to mind when thinking of a safe haven from cold temperatures.

Golfing in Utah Dixie © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Utah

Below the rim of the Great Basin sits Utah‘s warm-weather retreat, the town of St. George. And there’s good reason they call this area Utah Dixie. Like New Mexico and Nevada, you can generally count on the fact that winters will be packed with sunshine. 

Main Street Downtown Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. New Mexico

Did you know that New Mexico is basically southeastern Arizona? I mean, in the sense of topography. They both have high plains, mountain ranges, deserts, and basins.

Laughlin, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Nevada

Other than in the northern reaches of the state, Nevada’s generally pretty well protected from the worst aspects of winter.

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Mississippi

While North Mississippi can get hit with a little blizzard action (snow tornadoes!) it’s far from the norm. And even when a cold snap does hit, people are generally back to porch-sittin’, sweet tea-sippin’ weather in no time. There are also 26 miles of pristine water and white sand beaches in Mississippi without anywhere near the number of tourists or tacky T-shirt shops you’d find in Florida. And, unlike the other beach towns on the Gulf, Biloxi and Gulfport have casinos. And don’t overlook funky Bay St. Louis. Overall, Mississippi is a state with reasonably painless winters.

Alligator in southern Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Louisiana

You think they’d have Mardi Gras in February if that wasn’t an ideal time for a party?!?!! Wait—what do you mean “it’s set by the church calendar to always fall the day before Ash Wednesday?” Well, you think they would’ve petitioned the pope for a change by now if that humid subtropical climate didn’t laissez les bon temps rouler?!?  Yeah, I have no idea either, I guess. 

If I could eat in only three states for the rest of my life, Louisiana would be in this select group.

Boudin at Don’s Specialty Meats in Scott, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More to the point, y’all know the high regard to which I hold the food culture of Cajun Country and the rest of Louisiana (thank you for Tabasco, po’ boys, gumbo, crawfish, jambalaya, boudin, and crackling) and nature abounds.

Alabama Gulf Coast near Gulf Shores © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Alabama

The people of Alabama asked the Lord that He make the climate of Alabama suitable to play football outside year-round and He listened to the people and granted them a mild winter climate for which to play His game. Except up in Huntsville. While mostly known for college football and slow cooked ribs, Alabama is actually geographically diverse with the rolling foothills of the Smoky Mountains in the North, open plains in the center, and the Gulf Coast’s sandy shores in the south. This makes Alabama an excellent destination for RVers.

Corpus Christi Bay, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Texas

According to a quick eyeballing of the globe, Texas is roughly the size of South America or something, and you can’t speak on the weather in Brazil like it’s the same as Chile, right? West Texas is mostly arid desert and you can get the occasional blizzard that shuts down Amarillo. East Texas is subtropical and humid even in the winter. At a spot where the U.S.-Mexico border and the Gulf of Mexico meet sits Brownsville. Warm winds blowing off the sea on 70-degree days make for an ideal scene in the wintertime especially if you’re dealing with stiff, frigid winds blowing feet of snow against the front door back home. With all that said, outside of the Northern Plains, the average temps in Texas in the winter usually stay in the mid-60s during the day, and that’s pretty darn nice.

Lovers Key, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Florida

It goes without saying that the warm weather is a major draw to Florida in December, January, and February. Look out the window… if it’s anything other than sunny and 75 degrees, you probably wish you were in South Florida right now. Just think—you could go from freezing in the cold to boating, golfing, or laying out in the sun. And Key West is the furthest from depressing Northern winter you can get in the Lower 48.

Near Desert Hot Springs in the Coachella Valley, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. California

Yes, California has issues and does a lot of things wrong. Lots of ’em. Let’s talk for a minute about how this state has every single kind of scenic beauty you could possibly want. Start in the south with the expansive, natural beaches set against towering cliffs. Then move inland to the moon-like desertcapes in the Mojave and Joshua Tree. Then it’s a short drive to Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, and the other desert cities of Coachella Valley where the winter weather is near perfect.

Usery Mountain Regional Park near Mesa, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Arizona

Ah, Arizona. Occasionally, retired executives from the northeast will accidentally move to Flagstaff and get very sad and angry when they realize the average winter temperature is somewhere in the 20s. But most of Arizona offers up that dry desert day heat (it was 75 in Phoenix last week) that is good for arthritis. Arizona is a warm-weather perch for snowbirds from around North America and one of the most popular getaway destinations in the Southwest.

Organ Pipe National Monument, Arizona

Home to cactus, prickly pears, rattlesnakes, the Grand Canyon, roadrunners, the world’s oldest rodeo, and the bolo tie, the state is rich in attractions that entertain the young and the not-so-young. From eroded red rock formations to large urban centers, from the Grand Canyon’s stunning vistas to small mountain towns, from Old West legends to Native American and Mexican culture, and from professional sporting events to world-class golf—Arizona has it all!

Worth Pondering…

As Anne Murray sings in the popular song, “Snowbird”:

“Spread your tiny wings and fly away

And take the snow back with you

Where it came from on that day

So, little snowbird, take me with you when you go

To that land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow…”