10 reasons to visit Alabama this summer

Little River Canyon National Preserve in Fort Payne, Ala. Contributed by John Dersham

Little River Canyon National Preserve in Fort Payne, Ala. Contributed by John Dersham

If you have a bad case of spring fever, there’s just one cure — a road trip!

Why not drop by and say hello to our neighbor to the west, Alabama. If it’s been a while, you’ll have some catching up to do because much has changed — for the better. Here are 10 reasons to visit now.

U.S. Space & Rocket Center

Young, aspiring astronauts are over the moon about the recent opening of Intuitive Planetarium and digital theater, a state-of-the-art facility that whisks viewers away on a thrilling exploration of the cosmos. Advanced technology that makes IMAX look about as cutting-edge as a manual typewriter provides a breathtaking tour of the Milky Way and a flight through Saturn’s rings. That’s not the only reason to visit this massive space museum. “Apollo: When We Went to the Moon,” is a new exhibit that celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. It chronicles space exploration from the turbulent Cold War Space Race era to the first footprints on the moon and takes a look at how that historic achievement brought nations together to work toward a common goal of learning more about what lies beyond our Earthly boundaries. (Planetarium combo ticket $32-$29, free for children 4 and younger. One Tranquility Base, Huntsville, Ala. 800-637-7223, www.rocketcenter.com)

A visitor feeds a giraffe at the Alabama Safari Park in Hope Hull, Ala. Contributed by Alabama Safari Park

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Kids may leave this new drive-through park believing unicorns are real. Arabian oryx have two long horns that align so perfectly, they look like a single horn from the side, and some believe these very real creatures gave rise to stories of a mythical one. By the early 1970s, this antelope was extinct in the wild due to over hunting, but captive breeding programs in American zoos saved the species. Calves grazing quietly in a verdant pasture are a welcome sight to those familiar with the species’ struggle for survival. But eventually, you’ll have to tear yourself away from these cuddly babies because, with more than 700 animals on 350 acres, there’s much to see. In the walking section of the park, kids can feed giraffes and get acquainted with small, gentle birds at the Budgie Adventure Aviary. ($16.95-$14.95, free for children younger than 2. 1664 Venable Road, Hope Hull, Ala. 334-288-2105, www.alabamasafaripark.com)

Noccalula Experience

The Noccalula Experience is an outdoor performance at Noccalula Falls Park and Campground in Gadsden that recounts the legend of Indian princess Noccalula and her true love. It debuts May 31 and runs for five weeks this summer. The audience physically follows the action, which takes place in the state park’s most scenic spots and concludes at Noccalula Falls, a natural marvel that seems to have all the power and strength of the Indian maiden herself. (2 p.m., 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. Friday-Sunday, May 31-July 7. $22.50-$20, free for children younger than 3. Discounted pre-sale tickets are available. Noccalula Falls Park and Campground, 1500 Noccalula Road, Gadsden, Ala. 256-549-4663, www.noccalulafallspark.com)

The Hangout Music Festival in Gulf Shores, Ala., attracts music lovers from all over the country. Contributed by the Hangout Music Festival.

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The only thing better than a music festival is a music festival on the beach. The annual three-day Hangout Music Festival rocks Gulf Shores May 17-19 with headliners Cardi B, Travis Scott, the Lumineers and Khalid. Come for the music and stay for the party. Boogie down in a ‘70s-style roller disco rink, show off your beach volleyball skills or bust a move in the Malibu Beach House. For a bird’s-eye view of the action, hop on the giant Ferris Wheel. ($299 for three-day pass, $1,099 VIP ticket, $1,699 Super VIP ticket. 101 E. Beach Blvd., Gulf Shores, Ala. www.hangoutmusicfest.com)

Bellingrath Gardens in Theodore, Ala., abloom with spring color. Contributed by Bellingrath Gardens.

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For many, a stroll through Bellingrath Gardens is a rite of spring. The 65-acre fragrant oasis is the legacy of Walter and Bessie Bellingrath, prominent members of Mobile society that opened their gardens to the public in 1932. More than 1,000 delicate white Easter lilies bob in a soft breeze, while hydrangeas the color of a summer sky stretch as far as the eye can see. But for many, the highlight will always be the award-winning rose garden blooming with dozens of varieties. It’s whimsically shaped like a Rotary Club emblem because Walter Bellingrath was a founding member of the Rotary Club of Mobile. Allow time to tour the Bellingrath home, a 10,000-square-foot English Renaissance mansion that houses an impressive collection of antiques. ($22-$14, free for children younger than 4. 12401 Bellingrath Gardens Road, Theodore, Ala. 251-973-2217, www.bellingrath.org)

In the spring, Little River Falls gushes forth in all its glory, a powerful force of nature that cascades 45 feet to the river below. Nature lovers come to admire the falls and take in the colorful carpet of mountain laurel, daffodils and rhododendrons that bloom along Little River, unique because it flows most of its length along the top of Lookout Mountain, the only river in the country to run along a mountaintop. Hard-core hikers welcome the challenge of descending into the canyon, the deepest in Alabama, from Eberhart Point. Step-by-step, they navigate past rugged rock formations, the sound of the river below growing louder as they overcome each obstacle. What goes down must come up, and climbing out of the canyon is a true test of strength and endurance. For something less challenging, Canyon Mouth Park offers easy access to the water, picnic tables, restrooms and an easy one-mile hiking trail alongside the river. (Free, $15 per vehicle for Canyon Mouth Park. 4322 Little River Trail NE, Fort Payne, Ala. 256-845-9605, www.nps.gov/liri/index.htm

“The Miracle Worker” is performed at The Helen Keller Birthplace in Tuscumbia, Ala. Contributed by Dennis Sherer

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Ivy Green, the modest clapboard house where the blind and deaf Helen Keller spent her early years, is open for tours year round, but live performances of “The Miracle Worker” only take place in spring and summer. The powerful drama by William Gibson relays the miracle at the water pump when teacher Anne Sullivan finally gets her unruly young pupil, frustrated by her disabilities, to comprehended that everything has a name. Understanding language sparked Helen’s transformation from a feral child with a violent temper to an intelligent woman who earned a college degree and devoted her life to helping others. (“The Miracle Worker,” 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, June 7-July 13. $15-$10. The Helen Keller Birthplace, $6-4, free for children 4 and younger. 300 North Commons St. W., Tuscumbia, Ala. 256-383-4066, www.helenkellerbirthplace.org)

The F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum in Montgomery, Ala., offers overnight stays. Contributed by the F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum

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If you’re struggling with that novel you’ve been writing for years, stay in F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s former home in Cloverdale, Montgomery’s historic district, and see if you can channel some of the Jazz Age couple’s literary magic. Two apartments above the F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum are for rent through Airbnb – The Zelda Suite and the Scott Suite. This stop on the Southern Literary Trail is where F. Scott wrote “Tender is the Night” and Zelda penned her only novel, “Save me the Waltz.” Among the museum artifacts are first editions of all of F. Scott’s novels, childhood photos, Zelda’s flapper headband and 11 of her paintings. ($135, Zelda Suite; $75, Scott Suite. $10 museum admission. 919 Felder Ave., Montgomery, Ala. 334-264-4222, www.thefitzgeraldmuseum.org)

Warmer weather means it’s time to dust off the golf clubs and see if your swing got rusty over the winter. Capitol Hill near Montgomery boasts three 18-hole courses and is one of the most popular sites on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, a collection of championship-caliber courses spread throughout the state. Bring your “A” game if you are facing the Judge, the most difficult of the three Capitol Hill courses. The moment you tee off at the first hole 200 feet above the fairway, you’ll know this is not your average country club course. Set along the scenic Alabama River, it’s a mine field of water hazards that frustrates some and thrills others. The Senator, a Scottish links-style course with a maze of bunkers and mounds, presents its own challenges. If you’re really just out for the fresh air and picturesque views, play the Legislator, a traditional, more forgiving course with play in and out of pine trees. ($98, the Judge; $88 the Senator and the Legislator. Golf packages available. 2600 Constitution Ave., Prattville, Ala. 334-285-1114, www.rtjgolf.com

What kid isn’t up for some wringing-wet fun, especially when water slides are involved? Take the plunge on two new ones this season at Splash Adventure, which opens for the season on May 18. The Twister spirals through a series of turns and thrilling drops, while the FreeFall is a flume-style ride with a heart-in-your-mouth vertical drop that splashes down in six inches of water. If you prefer to stay dry, Adventure Amusement Park has lots of exciting rides that don’t require a bathing suit. The Galleon is a new swinging ship that sends riders on a voyage that, with a little imagination, mimics sailing a stormy sea. ($32-$27, free for children younger than 2. Season passes are available. 4599 Splash Adventure Parkway, Bessemer, Ala. 205-481-4750, www.alabamasplash.com)

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