Looking for a new place to explore? Visit one of the oldest and most historic parts of Alabama: the Black Belt of Southwest Alabama. There’s much to see and do–and it is close enough to make the trip with less than a tank of gas. Here’s a simple, one, two or three night getaway into the true heart of Alabama for an authentic experience of the Deep South. Don’t have time to get away for a night? Well, you should, but if you just can’t pry yourself away, try a daylong trip exploring one part of the adventure.
Begin your weekend getaway heading to Selma, Alabama. Approximately 85 miles from Birmingham (or a little over 200 miles from Atlanta, Georgia). Once you’ve arrived in Selma, plan to park near the river and stroll around the downtown area. Park near the historic and recently renovated Saint James Hotel, directly on the river along Water Street and less than a block away from the famous Edmund Pettus Bridge.
Be sure to take time to visit the National Park Service’s Selma to Montgomery Interpretive Center, located at 2 Broad St. The Interpretive Center offers a 25-minute film, exhibits, and bookstore on the historic Selma-to-Montgomery march.
Try some down home cooking at one of the local eateries in Selma (during the week, try the Downtowner for a good “meat-and-three,” a true Southern staple). There are excellent dining choices in Selma for a variety of traditional Southern fare, including BBQ, fried chicken and catfish, along with more exotic choices.
Enjoy a quiet afternoon shopping in some of Selma’s antique stores and specialty shops. Don’t miss an opportunity to explore the Voting Rights Museum. Located near the foot of Edmund Pettus Bridge, the museum offers a pictorial history of the voting rights struggle. It displays an exceptional record of events and participants that made Civil Rights history. Try the “windshield tour” or the “ghost tour” brought to you by the official website of Selma. (You can pick up information about each of these and other events by visiting the Selma Public Library, 1103 Selma Ave, Selma, AL 36703.)
Other sites of interest in Selma include the Slavery & Civil War Museum, Old Depot Museum, Smitherman Museum, Sturdivant Hall and many historically significant homes. Don’t miss the opportunity to stroll through one of the most beautiful cemeteries you’ll ever have a chance to visit, the Old Live Oak Cemetery for a fascinating look at old tombstones, genealogy and even wildlife (the cemetery is a spectacular stop on the Black Belt Birding Trail).
Enjoy a relaxing evening in one of Selma’s hotels (the St. James, mentioned above, is certainly the most historic). You can enjoy dinner in the hotel or venture out to one of the restaurants open for dinner in Selma. Tally-ho is a local favorite and has been around for years.
From Selma to Gee’s Bend, plan on a little over an hour of travel time and approximately 45 miles. But don’t miss the opportunity for a side trip to visit Old Cahawba, Alabama’s state capital from 1820-1826 and now an archeological site. Nature has reclaimed much of Old Cahawba, but historians and archaeologists from the Alabama Historical Commission are working hard to uncover Cahawba’s historic past and to create a full time interpretive park. Explore the area, learn about early Alabama history and enjoy beautiful scenery. In spring and fall, Old Cahawba may be a ghost town, but it is alive with migratory birds and is a featured birding site.
Once in Gees Bend, take time to appreciate the significance of the quilts that have come from here. After reflecting on their sheer beauty (you can see representations of them along the roadside), take a 20-minute ferry ride on the Alabama River (geesbendferry.com). Along the way, enjoy the scenery and watch for birds. You’ll often see herons and egrets. Several Bald Eagles nest nearby. And, in January and February, White Pelicans gather in the hundreds along the river. You’ll also likely see an occasional American Alligator floating lazily at the water’s edge.
Once you land at Miller’s Ferry, approximately 10 miles from Camden, drive into town and stop by Black Belt Treasures (www.blackbelttreasures.com) for some outstanding shopping. The gallery offers artists throughout the Black Belt a place to sell their goods. From Gees Bend quilts and other textiles to beautiful hand-carved duck decoys (along with paintings, furniture, pottery and specialty food items), you can get all of your Christmas shopping done in a hurry.
If you feel adventurous, spend the night at rustic Roland Cooper State Park for riverside camping. Gaines Ridge, an old plantation-era home turned restaurant, provides a gourmet option for dinner (call ahead to confirm hours). There are also two hotels located in the county.
Be sure to enjoy the outdoors while in Wilcox County. One of the best places in Alabama to fish, outstanding opportunities for hunting and amazing wildlife-watching locations (including 4 stops along the Black Belt Birding Trail).
Next, head north toward Marion, Alabama, first up Highway 28 before it intersects Highway 5. The trip up Highway 5 through Marion offers good antique shopping opportunities and the chance to see some additional Alabama originals: Judson College and the Marion Military Institute to name just two. Also located in Marion, the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame and the Alabama Military Hall of Honor. Most of the antique stores are located in downtown Marion in the Courthouse square. Be sure to listen along to the Perry County driving tour–you can access over 50 1-4 minute recordings that tell the history of the place by visiting the Perry County Chamber website.
With over 50 stops on their “Discover Perry County” audio tour, you can spend as much time as you’d like learning about history. From the early days of Perry County, established in 1819, the same year as Alabama became a state, to the Civil Rights struggles of the 1950’s and ’60’s (Martin Luther King Jr’s wife was born and raised here), this area holds the keys to understanding Alabama, then and now.
But don’t think that the area has only history: Perry Lakes Park is just minutes away from downtown Marion, and holds world’s of natural beauty. Perry Lakes Park, the State Fish Hatcheries and Barton Beach Preserve is a 800 acre mosaic of habitats that offer a unique birding experience-old growth floodplain mixed hardwood bottomlands, four oxbow lakes, sandy swales of the Cahaba River, cypress/tupelo gum swamp, man-made ponds (some drained and muddy), wet tangles of vines and 7 miles of trails.
This road trip just scratches the surface of the many offerings in Alabama’s Southwestern Black Belt region. Join us and discover more!Resources