Discover 6 Unconventional + Really Cool Winter Road Trip Destinations in Northeast Alabama
We’re based in Chattanooga, TN so most of our van adventures and road trips start and end in the scenic city. We feel pretty lucky to have access to so many great outdoor recreational activities right in our hometown, but it’s also fun to explore beyond your own backyard, and having a campervan makes it easy to take spontaneous road trips.
Some vanlifers chase powder and enjoy snow sports in the winter months. Some head south to find warmer weather and escape the cold. We found a way to do both! Most people don’t have Alabama on their radar as a skiing destination, but just an hour outside Chattanooga, in Mentone you’ll find Cloudmont Ski Resort – the only ski resort in Alabama!
Yep, you read that correctly, there’s skiing in Alabama! Located on Lookout Mountain in Northeast Alabama, Mentone is a quick getaway from Chattanooga that offers plenty of outdoor adventure opportunities year round and is touted as a cool winter destination for hiking, paddling and snow skiing!
Since 1970, folks in the Deep South looking to ski or snowboard ventured to Cloudmont Ski Resort in the winter for its two 1,000-foot slopes. These beginner to intermediate level slopes are the perfect spot to learn the basics, and get in some fun runs. Two “pony” lifts are used to transport skiers and boarders back to the top of the mountain. The resort has an interesting story and was featured at Lookout Wild Film Fest in 2016. Check out the trailer below!
Things to know: The ski resort is open December 15 to March 15 weather permitting. It must be below 28 degrees for the machines to make snow and it can’t be raining. If you travel here outside the winter months, the resort also includes a golf course and the Shady Grove Dude Ranch, which offers horseback rides to Desoto Falls in the warmer months.
Stay & Play in Mentone
Desoto State Park This 3,502-acre park provides a variety of lodging facilities including: Mountain Chalets, Log and Rustic Cabins, Motel Rooms, and an Improved Campground with 94 full-hookup tent and RV sites. This campground puts you close to the ski resort, and Desoto falls. Despite the name, Desoto falls is not located within the state park, but there are over 35 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails within the state park to keep the adventure seeker busy.
At 104 ft, Desoto Falls is the second largest waterfall in Alabama. Visitors can easily access the top of the waterfall along a short paved trail from the parking area. There is a $4 parking fee so we recommend staying awhile and taking the 2-mile out and back trail to the base of the waterfall. The steep and challenging hike takes about an hour to complete. Stop to enjoy the bluff views and ice box cave along the way.
Little River Canyon National Preserve is a popular destination for whitewater paddlers from November through April, when the rain-fed Little River is navigable. Members of the US Olympic kayak team have trained on the little river which boast Class IV and V runs appropriate only for advanced kayakers, as well as Class II and III runs that are suitable for beginner to intermediate whitewater paddlers. Be sure to check water levels at americanwhitewater.org before making the drive.
Eat & Drink Mentone
Wildflower Cafe – known for its famous tomato pie and eclectic atmosphere, which includes local art and a charming country store.
Mentone Market – Mentone Market is a great place to pick up locally made goods and provisions for camping. The market is one of the few places in Dekalb County that offers beer on tap. The restaurant offers quick bites such as pizza, nachos and sandwiches.
Stay & Play Sand Rock
Cherokee Rock Village formerly known as Sand Rock is a popular climbing destination with world famous routes and a wide range of opportunities for all skill levels of climber. Cherokee Rock Village is also an amazing van camping destination with campsites right along the cliffs and nestled into the giant rock formations.
Stay & Play Gadsden
Continue your road trip to Gadsden, AL and check out Noccalula Falls Park and Campground. Noccalula Falls Park is a 250-acre public park located in Gadsden. The main feature of the park is the 90-foot waterfall. Trails wind through Black Creek Gorge past caves, an aboriginal fort, an abandoned dam, pioneer homestead, and Civil War carvings. Plenty to do here so plan to spend a day. The campground and waterfall are best to visit in the winter to avoid peak summer camping crowds and view the waterfall at maximum flow.
Stay & Play Anniston
Just 45 minutes from Gadsden is the historic town of Anniston, AL which is teeming with recreational opportunities. Coldwater Mountain Bike Trail is a world-class destination trail system for mountain bikers, trail runners and hikers. The impressive trail system is located on 4,000 acres of pine and hardwood forest nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and is designated a Forever Wild Land Trust Property. Currently more than 37 miles of the planned 60 miles are open to the public.
Alabama’s first Rails to Trails project follows the former Seaboard/CSX Railroad and connects to Georgia’s 63 mile Silver Comet Trail, making Ladiga part of the longest paved rail trail in the U.S. The trail provides a safe, non-motorized and family oriented pathway to travel, exercise, and relax while enjoying the outdoors.
Eat & Drink Anniston
Classic on Noble is Anniston’s #1 ranked restaurant on TripAdvisor, offering American fare in a fine dining setting.
Effina’s Downtown offers gourmet Italian food, great for pre or post ride carb loading.
Coldwater Mountain Brew Pub offers a comfortable atmosphere, extensive bar and food menu, and excellent craft beer.
Stay & Play Guntersville
Lake Guntersville State Park is situated on the banks of the Tennessee River in Northeast Alabama in Guntersville, AL. The scenic state park offers 6,000 acres of natural woodlands and lots of recreational opportunities including an 18-hole championship golf course, the Screaming Eagle Zipline, a beach complex, an outdoor nature center, excellent fishing in Alabama’s largest lake, 36 miles of hiking and biking trails, weekly guided hikes, and a day-use area. During our most recent stay in January, we saw more deer than people in the campground. If winter solitude and wildlife viewing is what you seek, this is a perfect destination.
Eat & Drink Guntersville
City Harbor is a new development situated on the shores of Lake Guntersville that offers the best eateries, drinks and shopping.
Stay & Play Woodville
Cathedral Caverns State Park in Woodville, AL, just 40 minutes from Guntersville is home to Alabama’s “Coolest” Underground Adventure. Daily cave tours allow visitors to travel 1.3 miles through one of the largest show caves in the U.S. The massive cave entrance leads to stunning stalagmite and stalactite formations, a Mystery River, “frozen” waterfalls, a prehistoric shark’s tooth embedded in the ceiling and a large cathedral-like cavern. This is a fun winter destination because no matter the outside temps, a cave’s internal temp remains a constant 58-60 degrees year round.
We hope this inspires you to travel further this winter. For more travel inspiration and ideas, check out our other blog posts.