Whether you’re looking to explore the outdoors or simply need an activity that allows for safe social distancing, Tuscaloosa is a hidden gem, especially as we work our way through the summer and come upon a beautiful fall season. If you’re planning a trip to Tuscaloosa, we encourage you to check out the many local trails within our community. To help, we’ve identified a few uniquely local top picks below!
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Lake Lurleen is a favorite of locals looking for relaxation and recreation alike! The park’s trails are open to hikers and mountain bikers, and the park offers 91 campsites for those looking for an extended stay. If that isn’t enough to draw you in, the park also boasts fishing, swimming, boating, and a beach. Whether it’s walking your dog along the shoreline or renting a kayak, Lake Lurleen truly has something for everyone!
About 20 minutes from Tuscaloosa lies another paradise for those looking to enjoy the outdoors: Lake Nicol. This local favorite offers a chance to get off the beaten path and explore the wonder of mother nature. The many species of birds that call the area home make for excellent birdwatching. Visitors also enjoy kayaking, paddleboarding, and picnicking on the shore.
Hurricane Creek has been an important part of the Tuscaloosa community for decades. In fact, the park’s popular Eagle Scout Trail was planned and blazed by local scouts. Explore this local favorite by canoeing down the creek, traversing the park’s biking and hiking trails, or simply taking in the native plants and wildlife.
Located just 10 minutes east of The University of Alabama campus, the Arboretum has grown to become a perfect spot for an outdoor getaway. Dozens of native and non-native trees provide a nice shade to enjoy the nearly 60 acres of land, situated in the heart of Tuscaloosa. It’s also located adjacent to the former University golf course and VA Center.
Munny Sokol Park trails offer over 11 miles of trails where the locals enjoy running, walking, or mountain biking. Located a short drive from downtown Tuscaloosa, Sokol Park offers scenic views and is good for all skill levels. The trail offers a number of activity options, where dogs are also allowed but must be kept on a leash. This park also contains a brand new all-inclusive playground so kids of all ages and abilities can enjoy Sokol.
The Riverwalk is perfect for those who don’t want a strenuous hike. This is an excellent paved trail located along the southern bank of the Black Warrior River near Downtown Tuscaloosa. The pathway has plenty of benches, gazebos and hammock-friendly trees for quick breaks and picnics. and offers a playground near River and Another Broken Egg, and a splash pad near the old Bama Belle dock. The trail is well lit.
The Cliffs at Lake Nicol
Lake Lurleen State Park
The Harrison Taylor Splash Pad
Living in town, it can feel you have to get used to the highs and lows of tourists. Fall and sometimes spring can see heavy amounts of visitors from all over, taking control of the town. Bringing with them big city crowds to our small college town, it’s easy to feel like you want to leave when they start coming in. Summer, however, is open roads and clear skies. Why not take advantage of this quite season down home and finally see the side of Tuscaloosa all those visitors get to enjoy. Not to mention going on trips can be costly! Why risk the pain of travel when your backyard is a growing destination? Embrace the serenity of summer and explore town like a true tourist. The wait times downtown are dwindling, the roads are clearing up, and you can enjoy the finer side of Tuscaloosa.
Explore the cool waters
Living here, it can feel like you’ve seen it all, but I can assure you there is something out there you still haven’t done. Every local by now has experienced something on the campus grounds, but Tuscaloosa is far more than just the University of Alabama.
There’s a good chance you may have skipped or even forgotten that there are great choices for some waterside adventures. Our natural beauty offers a wide arrange of places and hidden gems to get out into some cool and refreshing waters without having to head always to the Gulf.
Just 20 minutes outside of town is the grand dame of lakes – Lake Lurleen. Take a quick drive out and explore the rustic beauty of the woods with the shimmering waters gracing the shorelines and beaches. It’s a perfect day getaway for any family or friends who want to be close to the waters without the crowds of Gulf Shores
While a popular hangout for students, there’s no denying the beauty found up along the cliffs of Lake Nicol. The lake is left open to explore with meandering paths along the cliffs and the open waters to canoe or swim around. It can feel like a totally different world far from any civilization without having to go too far from home.
Explore this rugged creek that feeds the Black Warrior and gets lost among the towering trees and rustic old rail bridge that looms over the waters. Hurricane Creek is an untamed stretch of rolling waters that feels like you’re the first person to ever see it while being a quick drive out east from town. Be careful, as some of it cuts through private property, but there are many online guides for how to safely see this untouched stretch of water and wetlands
Sip and Sample
Around town and at many local bars you may be noticing more and more labels of craft beer being made in our fair city. Microbreweries have found their way into Tuscaloosa and have made quite a home here. Take advantage of this wealth of wheaty waters and sample the best of t-town’s brewers.
Down by the Drish house circle, Band of Brothers is the latest addition to the beer scene in Tuscaloosa. With a great space that is all too often filled with great events, live music, or both while food trucks make their way outside. Band of Brothers is a One and Only experience everyone needs to try.
In the same shopping center as local favorite Mr. Chens, this classic brewery is home to the iconic chalk murals. Admire the art over a frothy pint of local beer, and be sure to check when their awesome events like comedy shows and games are going on to add to the true Druid City Brewing excitement.
Their downtown location and second story game room make this brewery an outpost of grown up fun, with childhood games like full-size Jenga and Cornhole. For those who abstain from drinking, try their Root Beer made in house. It’s a soft drink classic that tastes like summer and is a far better choice than water.
Breakout and jump around!
Beat the heat by checking out these awesome local attractions that are sure to be both amazing memories and just all out fun
With their new location, Breakout Tuscaloosa offers more than just their puzzle rooms with a new laser tag section! Chase each other around, or band together to solve some of the trickier escape rooms set in abandoned hotels and haunted houses.
Go back to that old-school excitement of childhood summers bouncing around at Upsurge. Jump from each trampoline inside the giant warehouse with obstacle courses and deep foam pits to try to escape. It’s the ultimate indoor adventure you can find in town!
The greatest way to truly feel out of your routine is to get some much-needed pampering. Getting out, and having others take care of you is something everyone deserves to experience at least once, and one of the best ways is to head towards a spa. Tuscaloosa has several great spots ranging from the pinnacle of luxury, to more cozy and affordable that can give you that all so needed feeling.
Across the river, there is a luxurious oasis for self-indulging in some elaborate pampering. With facials, massages, and therapies like seaweed wraps and salt scrubs designed to wash away all your stress and give you a renewed relaxed state of mind.
Located down on 15th, this one and only spa offer wonderful services from beauty to message with a level of dedicated care and attention. From the standard massage services to Neuromuscular Therapy. This special service focuses on trigger points to work out the pain and bring back a calming sense of relief.
This hidden gem on the south side of downtown is tucked away in an old tiny brick home. The wellness spa specializes in massage and facials that cost in much more affordable range for those who want to treat themselves without having to hit their wallet too hard.
Redefine your Dining
It can be all too easy to want to avoid downtown, or any crowd when all the tourists come to town for Fall, or to simply settle down with the same local haunts. A Staycation is the chance to break out some fine clothes, and explore beyond just the entrees and turn dinner into a long flavorful event. With various plates and dishes, it’s a chance to truly enjoy the growing food scene here in Tuscaloosa
At the west end of Temerson Square, the Chophouse has brought downtown that old school steakhouse with modern takes on classic dishes. With all to addicting lobster mac n cheese, to one of the best steaks this side of Nick’s in the Sticks. Alongside all the far too tempting dishes, their cocktails almost outdo the food in terms of rich flavors.
While the whole interior of this latest eatery is beautiful, ask and wait to sit on the outdoor patio that overlooks the river at sunset and re-encounter what makes this southern city so special. The Black Warrior reflects the multiple shades of pinks and reds while each and every dish at River comes along with graceful presentation and overwhelming flavor. River blends the classic taste of Southern cuisine with global influences that bring the food scene in town to another level, with an atmosphere that can’t be beat
Yes, DePalma’s. This Italian classic has been sitting on that corner of University and 23rd Ave longer than the graduates of 2017 have been alive. However, I bet it’s been a good while since you’ve waited the infamous wait times during dinner for this Italian treat. When was the last time you’ve gone and really had a feast built for a Tuscan family of 10? Do more than glance over the starters and begin your extravagant dinner with a sea of bread and cheeses that’ll leave you stuffed and happy. Do DePalma’s the right way, Italian style.
A staycation can involve sleeping at home, but that’s not really a treat. Staying at home means you are the maid, room service, the bartender, and bell boy all at once. Plus you’re more concerned with the bills and maintenance than anything else when you’re at home, so why not break out of your rut and into some fresh linen. Hotel rates in Tuscaloosa drop once graduation is done with, and in the past couple of years, we’ve seen superior stays rise up in the skyline. Sample what it’s like to really come into town, and get away from always having to make your bed for a change
Treat yo’ Self
From Boutique to blissful, there are plenty of refined stays in town to feel ritzy in. With well-known names to a local hidden gem, you can really get away without the added costs of getting away.
You may forget that across the river is Tuscaloosa’s most serene and eclectic resort. Filled with historic antiques collected by Jack Warner, this resort style hotel is far from the hustle of downtown and acts as a wooded oasis. Inside the cozy and charming inn features comfy rooms and unique sights like the 1850 Apothecary Room. This dining lounge is an authentic hand carved paneled room from 1850 and was found in President Grant’s hometown Apothecary in Galina Il. From the Russian tea room to the gardens, this hotel is truly a Tuscaloosa experience to have.
Hard to miss as one of the recent additions to the downtown skyline, this hotel tends to be a popular choice and it’s hard not to see why. The suite-style lodging and free happy hour in the bar give the hotel a sense of comfort and hospitality while being right in the center of town. The indoor pool and Side by Side restaurant all contribute to why this hotel sits as an anchor in Tuscaloosa tourism.
In the new Riverfront Village development, this boutique style hotel offers incredible views of the Black Warrior with a refined sense of modern style. With chic rooms and intimate eatery in the lobby, Hotel Indigo brings a new level of hospitality to town. Be sure to relax atop the hotel in their roof top bar with some crafty cocktails and savory appetizers as the sun sets over town.
Ball on a Budget
All over town, we have amazing hotels representing national and regional chains that offer comfort on a budget. There are so many excellent choices that will be happy to bring you a hospitable stay without breaking the bank.
However you choose to do your staycation, there is something out in town that you may have never considered trying until now. With all the growth Tuscaloosa has seen, it can be easy to feel lost in your hometown, or pushed aside during the excitement of Fall. Don’t be afraid to try something new and change up how you see this amazing college town that offers so much in such little space. Leave the chores at home, silence your phone, and unplug without having to leave city limits. If there is something you’ve dreamed of doing that isn’t on this list, and can only be found in T-Town, by all means, do it! Life is short and meant to be enjoyed, and we, by all means, have amenities to enjoy. Vacations don’t have to break the bank, and there is more to the city than what meets the eye. Ask anyone who comes to visit, and they will likely share stories that you still have to try, so why not take advantage of being a local and see the other side of the city. While there is no wrong time to treat yourself, take advantage of the down times in in the Druid City and explore your local scene with the carefree attitude of a tourist!
Written By: Deven Wilson – Intern
Spring is coming fast this year in Tuscaloosa which means it’s getting to be perfect for a nice picnic day before the summer heat creeps up on us. Luckily there are so many great spots around town for a day in the great outdoors! From the city to the outskirts there’s a place to lay that blanket down.
Van de Graaff Arboretum
Across the river and north of downtown Northport, you’ll find the latest PARA development. The Van De Graff Arboretum is 33 acres of freshwater ponds and protected swamplands filled with natural southern beauty. The hidden gem held within the park is the reused 1882 King Bowstring Bridge. Once used to cross the Black Warrior, it was closed in 1896 to slowly disappear from the area until it was reclaimed for the park. With porch-style swings and the surreal look of the historic bridge over the creek, it’s surely the latest picturesque place to picnic.
No place around town comes to mind faster for a quick picnic than the Riverwalk. Along the trail, there is plenty of places to settle down and relax under the towering trees. There’s the secluded riverside grassland between Manderson Landing and the condos, or the lookout between the Tuscaloosa Bank and Riverfront Village. The best part is you’re not too far from after meal treats at Orange Leaf or some cocktails above the Black Warrior at River.
Across the river, you can find one of the most secluded and naturally beautiful places in Tuscaloosa. Lake Nicol is a man-made lake with a slew of trails that meander to Cliffside views of the lake. These ledges make for a perfect spot to get away from it all in under a 15 min drive. Take in the serene views and picturesque waters all while resting on a cliff.
An easy walk from downtown, you can find yourself in our own Romanesque ruins. The remains of the former capital building create a romantic sense of history and feel like they’ve always been that way. If you’re lucky you can lay down the blanket right inside the former rotunda under the shadow of the curved bricks. It’s a great quick getaway with easy access to great coffee and restaurants.
While not an official public park, this secluded natural wonder offers adventure alongside some impressively untouched parcels of land right outside the city. The best plan for Hurricane Creek is to take a canoe, load it up with your picnic, and paddle through the mouth of the creek, under the old trestle bridge, until you find a bank perfect to rest at. Fair warning, parts of this land are privately owned, but there a few spots open to the public. Be sure to check the Map on Hurricane Creeks website before setting off on your picnic adventure.