Alabama’s third-largest city as far as population (the city is home to more than 195,000 people), Mobile is a saltwater port located on the Mobile River in the southwestern corner of the state. Known as one of the cultural centers of the Gulf Coast, the city offers multiple art museums, along with a symphony orchestra and both a professional opera and ballet company. In addition to art museums, the city is home to Battleship Memorial Park, a military park that includes the USS Alabama, a battleship from the time of World War II, as well as memorials from the Korean and Vietnam Wars and military equipment from years past. Located in the Old City Hall is the History Museum of Mobile, which presents more than 300 years of the cities’ history.
Regardless of all there is to do in this Alabama city, a road trip is a great way to explore other parts of the country. With about eight and a half hours of drive time, a road trip to Great Smoky Mountain National Park offers the opportunity to see some of Alabama and Georgia before arriving in Tennessee and the National Park, which also extends into North Carolina.
Why visit Smoky Mountain National Park? The most visited of all US National Parks, Great Smoky Mountain National Park welcomes millions of visitors each year. Within the Park, you will experience amazing scenery, including the Great Smoky Mountains and a number of rivers and streams. There are plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventure and to learn about the area as well. And with camping available within and around the Park, plan to stay a few days and take some time exploring!
The first part of your road trip will be the longest time on the road before a stop; after two hours and 20 minutes you will arrive in Montgomery, Alabama, where you can check out the Legacy Museum. Opened to the public in 2018, the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarcerationincludes 11,000 square feet located on the site of what used to be a warehouse that imprisoned enslaved African Americans.
Within the Museum is the most extensive collection of information on lynching in the country and shows archival information about the domestic slave trade that was not seen before. Visitors can view first-person accounts of the slave trade and learn about how racial inequality is related to current issues like mass incarceration and police violence. Expect a powerful experience that will educate on the past and bring about thoughts for solutions in the future.
An hour and twenty minutes from Montgomery is Birmingham, where you can visit the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. An excellent opportunity to get out of the car and stretch your legs, the Botanical Gardens include 67.5 acres of land next to Lane Park at the base of Red Mountain. Within the gardens, you can view more than 12,000 different varieties of plants, along with over 30 outdoor sculptures.
As you view the many colors and experience the many smells of the garden, you can stroll along multiple miles of walking paths. Also within the Birmingham Botanical Gardens is a library, auditorium, lecture hall, education center, and the Arrington Children’s Plant Adventure Zone. Admission to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens is free to visitors.
About an hour and a half from Birmingham is the Little River Canyon National Preserve in Fort Payne. Located in the northeastern part of Alabama, the National Preserve was created to protect the Little River Canyon. Within its boundaries are 15,228 acres of land which include the Little River Canyon and the Little River.
At the Cumberland Plateau’s southern edge, the area is made of sandstone and sedimentary rocks and has experienced millions of years of erosion which has resulted in ridges and gorges. Within the area are a very diverse number of plants and animals, and visitors can engage in a variety of recreation, from swimming to fishing to climbing, and paddling. There are also scenic drives for those seeking to view the scenery from their vehicle. Enjoy the sites and have some fun during this break from the road!
An hour away from the Little River Canyon National Preserve is Chattanooga and the Raccoon Mountain Caverns. Leo Lambert, a local caver who discovered Ruby Falls, make the official discovery of the Raccoon Mountain Caverns in 1929. Visitors can take a loop tour called The Crystal Palace Tour which is a half-mile long. Visitors are also able to check out undeveloped areas of the cave; there are 5.5 miles of passageways that have been found and mapped so far.
Within the cave, there are multiple species of salamander and a spider species that is known as the Crystal Caverns Cave Spider, which is thought to only be found in the Raccoon Mountain Caverns. In addition to the cave, the property has a campground and cabins, so visitors can stay a night or more.
An hour and forty minutes from Chattanooga is Knoxville, where you will encounter your next stop; McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture. Located on the campus of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, the museum is home to exhibits in a number of areas, such as natural history, archaeology, and local history. There are both permanent and temporary exhibits, so you can have a new experience during each visit.
Check out the Civil War Experience, a permanent exhibit focused on the Civil War in Knoxville, as well as Archaeology and the Native Peoples of Tennessee, another permanent exhibit within the museum. The museum also features art; during your visit check out the Decorative Arts Gallery, where you can view art in different media from multiple countries and time periods.
Less than an hour from Knoxville is your destination; Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Great Smoky Mountains National Park includes 522,419 acres of land and is a major attraction in the area. The Park has two main visitors’ centers inside the park; one near the Gatlinburg entrance and one near Cherokee, North Carolina at the Park’s eastern entrance, where you can view exhibits on the Park’s history as well as its wildlife and geology. Elevation in the Park ranges from about 875 feet to 6643 feet, with 16 mountains at a height of more than 5000 feet. About 95% of the park is forested, much of it with old-growth forest.
When it comes to things to do within Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you will find plenty of options. There are historical attractions, like Cades Cove where you can find historic buildings like log cabins, barns and churches, and experience how life was in the area many years ago. In addition, there are a number of recreation opportunities for visitors, including hiking (there are 850 miles of trails and unpaved roads in the Park), fishing, and horseback riding. Plenty of water flows through the park, making it easy to take a quick dip to cool off.
Visitors will find plenty of opportunity for camping both within the Park and its surrounding areas, you can stay a few days and explore all that this amazing destination has to offer.