Looking for a charming getaway? Consider Decatur, Alabama, a city of 50,000 people nestled conveniently between Nashville, Tennessee, and Birmingham, Alabama, right on the Tennessee River. Established in 1823 and named after Commodore Stephen Decatur, this city boasts incredible natural resources and exciting industries thanks to its lucky location.
While Decatur is happy to have you splurge at its shops, attractions, and restaurants, there’s plenty to do for free! Grab your walking shoes and binoculars, download a few trail maps from decaturcvb.org, pack a lunch and some water, and spend a day exploring the city’s many fun and beautiful sights without spending a dime.
1. Fish on the Tennessee River
Discover Decatur’s vibrant identity by experiencing the lively activity at the Wheeler Lake portion of the Tennessee River. Observe an array of boats and barges of all sizes or take your own boat out for a fun-filled adventure. With numerous public launches available, it’s easy to explore this picturesque river.
For those who prefer to fish, grab your favorite lures and head to one of many ideal spots along the bank to snag a catch. Bass, crappie, catfish, and bream are abundant in this area and have attracted hundreds of anglers to Wheeler Lake’s bass-fishing tournaments where large cash prizes await.
2. Hike, Bike, or Picnic in Area Parks
Discover a summer destination like no other at Point Mallard Park, home to Alabama’s first wave pool. Join the festivities during Memorial Day weekend at the Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Classic or on the 4th of July at the Spirit of America Festival.
With added value from our well-equipped campground and golf course, Point Mallard Park offers an unforgettable experience for all. Gather your friends and family and make memories that last a lifetime.
Delano Park on Gordon Drive is 130 years old and comprises 28 acres of carefully maintained landscaping. It is a beautiful, shady place for walking, playing and picnicking.
Rhodes Ferry Park is located on the river with plenty of space for walking, jogging and enjoying that sandwich you brought from home while you watch the boats and the trains.
3. Go Birdwatching and Hiking
Welcome to Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge’s 35,000 acres of protected wildlife habitat! There are five well-marked and maintained nature trails, ranging from 200 yards to 2.5 miles. For the best viewing experience, visit during early morning or late afternoon. Be sure to keep an eye out for the winter migration arrivals of sandhill and whooping cranes – they’re local favorites!
On the refuge, they’re committed to preserving and protecting the region’s natural beauty. The habitat is home to 13 endangered or protected species, 295 bird species, 30 different waterfowl, 115 kinds of fish, and dozens of mussels, snails, and mammals. Explore and discover the wonders of Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge for yourself!
4. Follow the Turtle Trail on 2nd Avenue
Looking for a fun and educational activity in Decatur? Check out the Turtle Trail! This trail connects the wildlife refuge and the Cook Museum of Natural Science, and features ten bronze turtles strategically placed near local businesses with historical significance.
Download the clue map before you go and embark on a one-hour scavenger hunt to learn more about the area. Once you find all ten turtles, head to the Cook Museum or Decatur Convention and Visitors Center to claim your prize.
And while you’re there, don’t miss the chance to tour the Cook Museum of Natural Science, named one of the top new museums in the country since its opening in 2019. It’s a must-see for anyone with a love of nature and science.
5. Admire Carnegie Visual Arts Center Exhibits
Welcome to the Carnegie Center! Admission is free to explore a range of exciting and engaging exhibits throughout the year. Mark your calendar for the annual Carnegie Carnival, a fun-filled event held each year during Mardi Gras season that helps keep the center running smoothly.
6. Take an Architectural Driving Tour
These two sections of Decatur are said to provide the largest concentration in Alabama of Victorian era homes in the craftsman and bungalow styles. A number of the houses comprise Decatur’s version of “The Painted Ladies,” which are admittedly less well-known than the ones in San Francisco, but still strikingly beautiful.
Old Decatur and New Albany are technically on opposite sides of 6th Avenue. Houses in Old Decatur date back to 1829, and many in New Albany were built in the late 1800’s and early 1900s.
7. Find the Murals on the Morgan County Mural Trail
Exciting news- the streets of Decatur and Morgan County are adorned with astonishing public art installations! With 10+ already completed and numerous others in the works, visitors and locals alike can anticipate an eye-catching and thought-provoking stroll around the town.
Some of the remarkable pieces to discover include “Homecoming” on 2nd Avenue, “Jimmy ‘Yellow Horse’ Webster” on 6th, “Heron Today, Gone Tomorrow” on 6th, and “Heavenly Muse-ic” on Bank Street.
So, put on your walking shoes and get ready to discover the beauty and creativity sprouting up around every corner!
8. Window Shop in Historic Shopping Districts
Again, if you have your credit cards, the merchants will gladly sell you one or more of their treasures, but if you’re committed to a free day, then window shopping will suffice.
If you’re looking for one-of-a-kind finds, skip the mall and head to Bank Street and 2nd Avenue in Decatur. You’ll discover a treasure trove of unique shops like Urban Atlas, Old River Interiors, and Tammy Eddy Antiques.
Don’t miss out on the tasty treats at the Tennessee Valley Pecan Company or the vintage collectibles at 810 Antiques and Absaroka. Book-lovers can get lost in Second Read Books, and cooking enthusiasts will love exploring The Cupboard.
With so many options to choose from, you’re sure to find something special on this charming street.
Drive 15 minutes south of Decatur and park near the Historic Train Depot in Hartselle (also in Morgan County). Then go down one side of Main Street for about four blocks, cross the street, then peruse the windows of the other side of Main Street.
I double dog dare you to get through this particular activity without spending any money.
9. Follow Decatur’s Civil War Walking Trail
Attention all history buffs, especially those fascinated by the Civil War! Discovering sites linked to the four-day battle in Decatur during October of 1864 is a must-do activity. Stop by the Decatur Visitors Center to pick up your map, then set out to explore starting at the iconic Old State Bank on Bank Street.
Don’t miss this chance to step back in time and experience the historical significance of Decatur.
10. Find the Churches on the Amen Trail
Discover the Amen Trail in Morgan County – a tour that highlights 19 beautiful churches of historical significance, with two also included in the North Alabama Hallelujah Trail. These cherished landmarks hold services to this day and showcase various architectural styles and denominations.
From charming 100-year-old chapels to breathtaking cathedrals, this trail is a must-see for anyone interested in the region’s rich religious history.
11. Drive 2 Miles North to the Tiny Town of Mooresville
Step back in time and experience the charm of Mooresville, Alabama, where all 12 blocks are proudly listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Founded in 1818, this small community predates Alabama statehood by a year.
You’ll feel transported to another era, surrounded by white picket fences, majestic trees that have sheltered generations of locals, and maybe even a U.S. President or two.
Don’t miss the must-see landmarks, like Alabama’s oldest continuously used post office, Lyla’s Little House, Stagecoach Inn and Tavern, and the Church of Christ and brick church, which hold stories of years gone by.
Before you leave, be sure to check the hours of operation for 1818 Farms, where you can return for organic eggs, goat milk products, flowers, and fresh herbs!
With these 11 activities, you’ve seen and learned a lot, and I’ll bet you’ve picked out places you’ll want to revisit. Maybe you’ve seen an interesting restaurant, too, in case that sandwich didn’t quite last for the whole day. The people of Morgan County will be happy to have you any time.
This article was originally written and published by Connie Pearson of There Goes Connie in 2019. It has been updated partially in 2023 by staff.
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