Yes, we’re deep into another, long, sultry Alabama summer. And yes, you won’t feel a refreshing jolt of crisp fall temperatures for a good while to come.
Do not despair; there are countless creative ways and places to find your cool, in every corner of the state.
We asked the Alabama NewsCenter team to share some of their favorite cool Alabama spots. Here’s what they came up with, listed alphabetically by location. Some are free, some have paid admission and some are seasonal, so check ahead for operating hours and prices:
Birmingham/Irondale – Ruffner Mountain
This amazing, 1,100-acre nature preserve in the heart of Alabama’s largest city offers shady trails, awesome views and an air-conditioned nature center that tells about the native critters that roam the hillsides, and the mountain’s industrial history. Ruffner is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year; be sure to check out the cool, edgy mural in the outdoor pavilion that pays tribute to the small group of city residents and other supporters who first saved the mountain from development. Take a hike early in the morning to catch a cool summer breeze from the famed Hawk’s Nest overlook. There’s no admission charge, but this nonprofit will happily accept a donation, or your membership. https://ruffnermountain.org/
Blountsville – Spring Valley Beach
This 25-acre water park is family owned with rides for all ages. Try the 360 Rush, which sends you down a 58-foot tube at up to 30 mph, or the Blackout, which propels you into a dark place where you can’t see a thing, until the end. And if you want to secure your own piece of the place for a day, there are gazebos and pavilions for rent; bring your own picnic basket or grill – or patronize the concession stand. Don’t fret if you forget the suntan lotion; the park provides it free. Learn more at http://www.springvalleybeach.com/.
Coffee Springs – J & J’s Place at the Springs
This cool spot offers swimming in a beautiful, natural spring, with some of the coldest water on the planet. J & J’s also features a playground, concessions and an event venue. They also have cabins available to rent. Call 334-470-0448 or visit them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/JJs-Place-The-Springs-737151973081227/.
A causeway drive away from the hustle and bustle of urban Mobile, you’ll feel the difference as soon as you arrive and take in a breath of fresh sea air. Forget road congestion – the island doesn’t have a single traffic light. Instead, envision bike paths, walking trails, seven miles of white, sandy beach and simplicity centered on outdoor recreation and the environment.
Historically significant, Dauphin Island’s Fort Gaines was active in the Civil War. Now open to visitors, it stands guard over Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. A few steps away, the Dauphin Island Sea Lab Estuarium highlights the four key habitats of coastal Alabama: the Mobile Tensaw River Delta, Mobile Bay, the Barrier Islands and the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Check out the 7,000-gallon sting ray touch pool and the Living Marsh Boardwalk, among other exhibits. http://dauphinisland.org/
Dothan – Water World
Unlike the notoriously panned movie with a similar name, Water World will truly entertain you, with numerous options for getting wet and wild. Try the Rip Tide Wave Pool with 450,000 gallons of water that bursts into 3-foot waves every 10 minutes. There are also two serious water slides: the Great White, a four-story, steep, chilling, high-velocity ride, and the 400-foot-long, twisting and turning Bonsai Pipeline Triple Flume. The children’s play area has its own, kid-friendly waterslides plus the Tadpole Hole featuring floating lily pads and a raintree. Call 334-615-3750 or visit http://waterworlddothan.com/.
Fayette – Fayette Aquatic Center
This family water park is equipped with three water slides, a lazy river, a pool and a splash pad. A concession stand serves pizza, cheese sticks, hot dogs and more. It’s a cool oasis where you can seek that perfect balance of wet fun sustained with tasty summer treats. The center is open every day through August 8, and then weekends through Labor Day. http://fayetteaquaticcenter.com/
Gadsden – Noccalula Falls
Many know this historic site because of its annual Christmas light show, but there’s plenty to do and see in summer. The Black Creek Trails offer eight routes with varying terrain for hiking, biking, running or just a pleasant walk. There’s a petting zoo, botanical gardens, wedding chapels and mini golf. Campgrounds and cabins are also available if you want to stay a while. http://www.noccalulafallspark.com/
Lineville – Flat Rock Park
This unique 25-acre park sits on a giant slab of granite along Lake Harris (Lake Wedowee), with swimming, fishing and hiking trails. It’s a great place to catch some quiet and a summer breeze off the lake. http://toureastalabama.com/attraction/flat-rock-park/
Pelham – Blue Water Park
Situated on 27 lush acres, this 130-foot-deep rock quarry filled with aqua-hued water is the perfect venue for paddle boarding, kayaking or scuba diving. You can rent equipment – check first on availability – or bring your own. Those in the know say you’re more likely to find paddle boards available on Thursdays and Fridays, when there are fewer visitors. Call 205-663-7428 for more information. http://www.bluewaterparkal.com/
Phenix City – Whitewater Alabama
This is the place for whitewater rafting, from mild to wild, on the Chattahoochee River. Whitewater Alabama is also home to the Chattahoochee Outdoor Academy, which offers guests the chance to learn and experience an array of outdoor activities including ziplining, a treetop experience with an aerial course, and kayak and stand-up paddleboard lessons. Reservations can be made at 800-298-9521 or via the website at https://whitewateralabama.com/.
Piedmont – Terrapin Creek
This quiet waterway is a great place for casual canoeing or kayaking, wildlife watching or fishing. Use your own vessel or rent one from among several local outlets, including the Redneck Yacht Club or Terrapin Outfitters. The Yacht Club also offers RV and tent camping sites, and cabin rentals. Call ahead for reservations or more information.
Pinson – Turkey Creek Nature Preserve
Not only is this oasis north of Birmingham home to two endangered fish species, it’s also one of the coolest places in the region to get wet, with kid-friendly shallows and rushing waters that will deposit you and your inner tube (or your tubeless derriere) into a pleasant pond below. The secret for tackling the slippery slopes? Wear old tube socks, which grip better than any fancy footwear.
The preserve also has great hiking and biking trails and offers periodic educational programs about the environmental significance and history of the creek. https://turkeycreeknp.com/
Smith Lake – (Cullman and Winston counties)
For more than 50 years, Smith Lake has served as an Alabama summertime getaway. With more than 21,000 acres of cool, clear water and 500 miles of shoreline, Smith Lake has an abundance of fishing spots, boat launches, picnic spots and campgrounds with cabins and sites for tents.
Tuscaloosa – Summer Snow shaved ice
This spot has been serving its famous shaved-ice “snowballs” in the Alberta neighborhood of Tuscaloosa since 1988. Choose among 40 flavors. For a twist, top yours with “cream,” or ask for two flavors, split down the middle. Either way, you’ll get yours served with a spoon and a straw, which comes in handy when the ice turns to luscious liquid. Don’t fret about the sometimes-long lines or jammed picnic tables; savor the scene, and your snowball, and hang out a while. https://www.facebook.com/summersnowest1988/