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3 Alabama state parks to visit for that summer movie feeling

Have you ever heard the phrase “life is a movie”? It’s a classic cliché that helps us romanticize our lives and see beauty in the mundane. The phrase is a nice way to look at things, and we enjoy seeing our lives through a cinematic lens.

For many, their summertime “movie” would include some combination of swimming in a lake, paddleboarding with friends, hiking to a waterfall, and eating ice cream on the beach. After all, when we think of childhood summer vacations, those are the things we tend to remember most vividly and the type of things we seek to replicate in our own nostalgic way.

If you, too, crave that summertime aesthetic, here are three state parks in Alabama that nurture nostalgia.

(Blair Thornton/Contributed)

Oak Mountain State Park

Voted one of TripAdvisor’s Traveler’s Choice Award in 2020, Oak Mountain State Park is an Alabama staple. The state’s largest park, located 20 miles south of Birmingham, offers everything one could want. For traditional outdoor activities, Oak Mountain offers hiking, mountain biking, camping, and horseback riding. The Peavine Falls hike is one of Oak Mountain’s most popular trails because of its picturesque waterfall, as well as the King’s Chair Loop, which features a beautiful lookout.

The most unique activities Oak Mountain provides are its watersports. Visitors can participate in cable skiing, an inflatable aquapark obstacle course, and rentals for paddleboarding and kayaking. The park also has two beaches for those who prefer to soak in the rays or cool off in the lake. For the competitive folks, they also offer archery, pickleball, and a beautiful 18-hole golf course.

Please note that Oak Mountain does have an admission fee. Details can be found here.

(Gulf State Park-Alabama/Facebook)

Gulf State Park

Found on the Gulf of Mexico, Gulf State Park is a 6,500-acre park encompassing the land behind the Gulf Shores beach community. For beach lovers everywhere, this park is an amazing resource. Gulf State Park has free admission and offers over 28 miles of hiking and biking trails. The park is located right on the beach and helps protect the area from overdevelopment.

Activities include spending time on the public beach, swimming, canoeing, biking on the Backcountry trail, hiking, fishing, geocaching, paddling, and beach vendors for parasailing and kayaking. The park also provides plenty of choices for accommodations, including campgrounds and a new lodge available for reservation.

Gulf State Park is conveniently close to many popular travel destinations, including Orange Beach, Foley, Fairhope, and Mobile.

(Cheaha State Park-Alabama/Facebook)

Cheaha State Park  

Finally, Cheaha State Park is located in Delta, Alabama, and was voted one of TripAdvisor’s Traveler’s Choice in 2023. Cheaha is known for its prime location on the Appalachian trail, on the southernmost tip. The park is a popular end or start point for Appalachian hikers and holds the highest point in Alabama. As the oldest state park in Alabama, Cheaha is a scenic destination for hikers, drivers, and mountain bikers. For hiking, the Pinhoti Trail is highly recommended for its scenic hike through the Talladega Forest. Cheaha also boasts a prime location, just 30 minutes from the historic towns of Oxford, Heflin, Anniston, Talladega, Lineville, Munford, and Ashland.

To get to Cheaha, there are several routes available. The recommended route is along Talladega Scenic Drive (Alabama Highway 281) for large recreational vehicles. For a more adventurous option, take the Cheaha Road (County Road 42) from Munford. For those equipped with nimble SUVs, Cheaha Road provides a curvy, scenic route that will take travelers through the forest.

Admission is not free, although it is inexpensive. See here for admission prices.

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