Are you looking for a unique and interesting road trip – with some of the best food you’ve ever tasted in your life? Then consider adding the Alabama Black Belt to your travel plans. With familiar names like Montgomery, Selma, Tuscaloosa and new gems yet to be discovered, Alabama is calling to you. Although, this part of the south has a rich – and at times complicated history – there are so many amazing stories to be told and unforgettable things to learn. Let’s hit the road!
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Table of Contents
- Where is the Alabama Black Belt Region?
- How to Visit the Alabama Black Belt Region
- Road Trip the Alabama Black Belt
- Compelling History
- Quaint Small Towns
- Educational Civil Rights Sites
- Public Lands in the Alabama Black Belt
- Mouth Watering Food
- Exciting Outdoor Adventures
- Incredible Architecture
- How Much Time Do You Need For an Alabama Black Belt Road Trip?
- When’s the Best Time to Visit the Alabama Black Belt Region?
- Where to Stay in the Alabama Black Belt Region
- Sweet Home Alabama
Where is the Alabama Black Belt Region?
The Alabama Black Belt is part of the larger “Black Belt” region of the United States. This agricultural section of the country is called the Black Belt because of the rich color of the dirt. Most southern cotton – and other crops – in Alabama are grown in this area. The Alabama portion of the Black Belt is made up of twenty-three counties in central Alabama that stretches from one side of the state to the other. No matter on which side of the state you start your road trip, you can experience a piece of the Alabama Black Belt.
How to Visit the Alabama Black Belt Region
For out of state visitors, it’s most practical to start an Alabama Black Belt road trip by flying into Montgomery Regional Airport (MGM) and renting a vehicle. Full disclosure, this airport is a smaller regional facility so flights might be limited and a tad more expensive.
Another option is to arrive via Birmingham Shuttlesworth Airport (BHM) or even Hartsfield Jackson International Airport in Atlanta (ATL). Both are good alternative options. The distance from the Atlanta airport to the Alabama state line via interstate 85 south is approximately 100 miles and it’s about the same distance from Birmingham to Montgomery. A road trip to the Black Belt Region of Alabama could be combined or added on to a larger southern road trip.
Road Trip the Alabama Black Belt
Once in Alabama, the best way to experience and enjoy everything the Alabama Black Belt offers is by taking a scenic road trip through the area. Having a vehicle gives you control to stop and see the things that interest you most and explore a little bit more off the beaten path.
You can follow Alabama Highway 80 across the state and add other back roads and country byways to your itinerary for your favorite experiences. And there’s plenty to choose from. The Alabama Black Belt Adventures has a variety of ideas for themed road trips to tailor to your interests on their website. Here’s just a sampling of the interesting things you’ll find along the way.
The Alabama Black Belt is full of life changing history. Whether that history is Native American, African American or Civil War, lovers of what happened here will find something to appreciate in this extraordinary area. Just a few of the significant sites are:
Fort Mitchell National Historic Landmark
Russell County’s Fort Mitchell was built in 1813 on what was once the center of the Creek Nation – the most influential Native American tribe in the southeast. The fort served as an important trading post and was later used to quell conflict and house members of the Creek Nation before they were sent to reservations in Oklahoma. More than sixteen hundred Creeks spent time at Fort Mitchell and ultimately 8,522 Native Americans were removed from Alabama. Today visitors can tour the fort, see parts of the Old Federal Road that ran from Washington DC to New Orleans and visit the Carriage House that contains carriages, buggies and wagons from years past.
Chattahoochee Indian Heritage Center
The Chattahoochee Indian Heritage Center is adjacent to the Fort Mitchell Historic Site and commemorates the Creek Nation. A twenty-five foot metal and bronze eternal flame monument on the property, symbolizes the sacred ceremonial fires the Creeks built in their village town squares. Even though they were forced to leave their homes, their spirit lives on in this place forever. The Center also has an accurate replica of a stickball field on site and plenty of walking trails with interpretive signage highlighting traditional and native plants used by the Creeks.
The Edmund Pettus Bridge
The Alabama Black Belt is home to one of the most well known historical cities in the south – if not the country. The Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma is a significant part of history and one of the top things to see the Alabama. Visitors can walk the same route that notable civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr and John Lewis walked on their famous march in 1965. There’s also a National Voting Rights Museum and the Museum of Slavery and Civil Rights to round out your visit to Selma..
Quaint Small Towns
If you’ve never had the opportunity to experience a small southern town in real life – you’re in for a treat. The south is well known for cute town squares and historic main streets and the Alabama Black Belt has a number of those. Make sure to include some on your road trip.
Phenix City (Russell County) is located on the Chattahoochee River that separates the the state of Alabama from Georgia. Because of its advantageous location on the water, the city has a rich Native American and Civil War history. Outdoorsy travelers will love the opportunity to “shoot the Hooch” year round and foodies can enjoy BBQ from one of the top 100 places to eat in Alabama before you die.
Football fans will recognize Auburn (Lee County) as tiger country and the home of Auburn University. More than just a college town, Auburn has an adorable downtown and historic district with restaurants and trendy stores. Nature lovers will enjoy gardens to wander around in and state parks to visit.
Auburn’s sister city, Opelika, (Lee County) was once called the trading center of east Alabama because of its important railroad hub. That hub has been turned into one of the most lovely downtown areas in all the Alabama Black Belt. Spend your day in hip shops and thrift stores. Have afternoon tea or stop in for happy hour at John Emerald Distilling. After that, it’s time for dinner in one of many restaurants that can be found downtown.
Eufaula (Barbour County) is one of those southern towns that just oozes with charm. It has it all – a gorgeous lake side setting, dreamy century old trees and jaw-dropping houses that look like they’re straight out of a movie set. All of this in surprisingly – the bass fishing capital of the world.
Union Springs (Bulloch County) may be one of the smallest towns in the Alabama Black Belt but don’t underestimate it. The town is best known for its annual dog field trials and is home to impressive theater, vibrant murals and one of the best red velvet cakes in Alabama.
Educational Civil Rights Sites
Although it’s a history we’d often like to forget, at one time, the south was the epicenter of slave trade. Tens of thousands of individuals and families entered the country through cities in the southern part of the U.S. However, with the help of the non-profit Equal Justice Initiative, Montgomery – the capital of Alabama – is educating others about the real history of African Americans in this country. Here’s three museums that should be at the top of your list.
National Memorial for Peace and Justice
800 steel monuments with the names of 4400 lynching victims across the country can be found at The National Memorial for Peace and Justice. This memorial “is the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved Black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence”. It’s a sobering experience and a place everyone should visit at least once.
The Legacy Museum focuses on the issues of enslavement to mass incarceration in ironically, a building that was used to hold slaves upon their arrival to Montgomery. Through film, interactive content and first hand narratives, the museum teaches the visitor about the legacy of slavery and “its impact on the north and coastal communities across America through the Domestic Slave Trade”. Another enlightening experience not to be missed when visiting the Alabama Black Belt.
Rosa Parks Museum
At Troy University – also in Montgomery – visitors to the Alabama Black Belt can tour the Rosa Parks Museum – the only one of its kind in the United States. The museum takes you back in time to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The minute you enter, you are transported – via a 1950’s bus on display – to the street in Montgomery where Mrs. Parks was arrested. Multiple exhibits and artifacts on display educates the public about the boycott and the crucial role people behind the scenes played in this significant event in American history.
Public Lands in the Alabama Black Belt
Public lands lovers will find an assortment of parks and recreation areas to enjoy in the Alabama Black Belt. There are 10 state parks, 5 Wildlife Management Areas, 2 National Wildlife Refuges, 1 National Forest and numerous rivers and lakes. Start your visit with these.
Wehle Nature Center
Wehle Nature Center, near Union Springs, is a wildlife refuge with over 1500 acres of southern pine trees and hardwoods. Visitors can camp, fish, hike, hunt and even paddle a canoe. Part of the Forever Wild Land Trust Program – a program that acquires land for public use – the preserve is also a popular place to spot some native Alabama birds.
Chewalca State Park
Located near Auburn, Chewalca State Park – with it’s beautiful waterfalls, lakeside hiking trails fishing and cozy cabins – is just one more reason to include the Alabama Black Belt on a road trip. In addition to the cabins, Chewalca has a primitive campground and group picnic areas. It’s also a great area for mountain biking.
Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Site
After the Army Air Corps tested African Americans to determine their ability to fly fighter jets for the U.S. military during World War II, their training began at Moton Field in Tuskegee. The National Park service now manages the Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Site at the airfield. Visitors to the the park can tour the field, visit the hangars and watch a educational movie. There’s also a full-sized replica Red-tail P-51 Mustang on site and a park book store with memorabilia and souvenirs.
Mouth Watering Food
No visit to the south would be worth it without indulging in some decadent southern food. Whether you’re looking for barbeque, tasty fried chicken or real county biscuits – you’ve come to the the right place. Here’s just a sampling of the famous restaurants that make the Alabama Black Belt so special.
Cahawba House – named after the original capital of Alabama – certainly knows how to cook southern food. They serve what might just be the best biscuits in Montgomery. And you can add just about anything to them. Their breakfast is legendary. In fact, their breakfast sandwich was named the best in the state. With cute sidewalk seating – it’s a great place to start your sightseeing for the day.
Bow & Arrow
Auburn’s Bow & Arrow is everything anyone could want in a southern restaurant. Not only do they have delicious dishes such as barbeque and mac n cheese, they also serve a bit of Tex-Mex and have a tortilla machine for fresh tortillas to accompany their queso dip. The diversity on their menu definitely makes it hard to decide what you’re in the mood for. With a James Beard semifinalist for Best Chef: South – three years in a row – it’s no wonder the restaurant is a huge success.
French Press Home Bakery
Have you ever been to a restaurant where you wished you could order one of everything to take home? Well, French Press Home Bakery is one of those places. Located in Union Springs, this small bakery or what I like to call a southern patisserie, is a local favorite and people drive from all over just for dessert. When I say the cakes are the prettiest and the best I’ve ever had – I mean it. Stop by for lunch – which is just as good as the sweets – or Saturday Brunch.
Exciting Outdoor Adventures
If you feel the need to get your adrenaline flowing a bit on your road trip, the Alabama Black Belt can take care of that too. There’s an abundance of outdoorsy things to do in the air, on land, and in the water. There’s something for everyone.
Phenix City is the only place in the United States where you can zipline across states lines. Imagine flying through the air over the Chattahoochee River from Georgia to Alabama and back again, at speeds up to 40 miles per hour. On the Alabama side you’ll glide through the trees on a series of small ziplines and bridges along the Phenix City shoreline. This is an experience not to be missed.
White Water Rafting
After you finish ziplining, it’s time to “shoot the Hooch”. Instead of zooming over the river, this time you’ll be on – and hopefully not in – the river enjoying Class-IV rapids. Whitewater Express has been taking people down the Chattahoochee River since 1980. This section of the river at Phenix City – and Columbus, Georgia on the other side – is one of the only places in the United States where you can white water raft all year long. In fact, it’s such a epic place, professionals come from all over the world to take advantage of the winter training season.
Canoe and Kayak
In addition to the Chattahoochee River, the Alabama Black Belt is home to some of the most diverse rivers in the state. Classic Alabama waterways like the Cahaba River, the Tombigbee River and the Black Warrior are all part of the Alabama Scenic Trails. You can canoe or kayak by day and sleep under the Alabama stars on the river banks at night.
The Alabama Black Belt has been blessed with beautiful historical buildings and southern architecture. Every where you turn, you’re sure to find another a picturesque scene. Examples of stunning architecture include:
You don’t have to be a student at Auburn University to appreciate the architecture of the college’s buildings. Hargis Hall is one of the prettiest buildings on campus. It opened in 1888 and has survived numerous fires. It’s now part of the Graduate School at the university. No visit to Auburn would be complete without seeing it.
If you enjoy touring gorgeous houses then you’ll love Shorter Mansion in Eufaula. Built in 1884, this Neo-classical home on National Register of Historic Places, was once a private residence and is now the town’s welcome center. You can tour the home as well as visit the small museum of Alabama history and memorabilia they have on the top floors.
How Much Time Do You Need For an Alabama Black Belt Road Trip?
Since the Alabama Black Belt encompasses a huge area of Alabama, you could literally spend weeks exploring. The things mentioned here barely scratch the surface of all the things there are to do in this area. A long weekend to a week would allow you to see Montgomery and several smaller towns. Plan at least a day in each small town and up to two or three days in Montgomery and Tuscaloosa – since they are larger cities. If time is limited, then split the region up. Personally, my road trip focused on Montgomery east to the Georgia line and I have plans to return to see more of Montgomery and west to Mississippi.
When’s the Best Time to Visit the Alabama Black Belt Region?
Since Alabama – and much of the deep south – has fairly moderate weather all year long, there’s no bad time to visit the Alabama Black Belt. Spring is lovely with leaves and flowers popping out everywhere. But you know what they say about April showers – so pack a rain coat and umbrella just in case.
Summers are hot and humid and perfect for sweet tea. And while you might not get much color in fall as in other parts of the country, the temperatures are just right. Plus you’ll have the opportunity to see the fields full of billowy cotton just before harvest in late fall. Although cooler, winter is also a fine time to to visit. In late winter, enjoy the flowering camellias that brighten the landscape.
Where to Stay in the Alabama Black Belt Region
Whether you prefer a trendy hotel or a cabin on the water, there are plenty of options of where to stay in the Alabama Black Belt. Based on my personal experience, this is what I recommend.
Montgomery – Springhill Suites Downtown
Overnighting in Montgomery allows you to be centrally located, see Montgomery and then day trip to some of the surrounding Alabama Black Belt areas. Alternatively, you could fly into Montgomery, stay the first night in downtown and then choose a cabin or something else in a smaller town.
Phenix City – Courtyard by Marriott
Located right on the beautiful Chattahoochee River, the Courtyard by Marriott in Phenix City is the perfect place to stay if you start your Alabama Black Belt road trip on the east side of the state. It has spectacular views, spacious rooms and a pretty sweet pool if you visit in summer.
Union Springs – Dream Field Farms
Dream Field Farms is approximately 15 minutes from Union Springs in Fitzpatrick, Alabama. Conveniently located close enough to explore Montgomery – 37 miles – this property is a little bit of everything. Part wedding venue, part pumpkin patch and farm with some of the cutest donkeys I’ve seen – it’s a special place. Their cabins are perfect. Quiet, on a private pond, with full kitchens and porches that yell welcome to the south.
Auburn – Chewalca State Park
Choosing to stay at Chewalca State Park near Auburn gives you the best of both words. You can get outside and enjoy a bit of nature but you’re still close enough to the action of downtown and some of Auburn’s best spots. It’s a win win.
Eufaula – Lakepoint State Park
For a relaxing resort type feel, Lakepoint State Park in Eufaula fits the bill. Plus it’s the ideal place to catch a sunset. The property has a lodge, cabins, cottages and campground options. Located right on Lake Eufaula, there’s plenty to do – or not do – at this lakeside retreat.
Sweet Home Alabama
Thank you Alabama Black Belt Adventures for putting this trip together and hosting me on my road trip through this fascinating area. Other hosts along the way include:
- Sweet Home Alabama
- Capital Cool Montgomery
- Russell County Tourism
- Auburn Opelika Tourism
- Eufaula Barbour County Chamber of Commerce
- Union Springs Bullock County
Even though I was hosted, every experience and opinion – as always – is my own. Alabama is where I was born and I’m always excited to learn more about my home state and share it with others. I sincerely hope you’ll add the Alabama Black Belt to your travel wish list too. Have you already road tripped in the Alabama Black Belt or live there? Tell me your favorite thing to do – or eat – in the Alabama Black Belt.
Are you ready to plan an Alabama Black Belt road trip? Here’s some resources to help you with your planning:
- Flight info and airplane tickets – Skyscanner.com
- To book a package all at once – Expedia.com
- Hotels and hostels – Booking.com
- Home stays – VRBO.com
- Vehicle rentals – Rentalcars.com
- Check reviews and what other travelers are saying – Tripadvisor.com
- Browse a variety of travel insurance plans – TravelInsurance.com
- For local tours & experiences – Viator.com