Spotlight: Alabama Scenic River Trail
Touring the Deep South’s Alabama River and historical attractions
What You’ll Find
Visitors to this short stretch of the Alabama Scenic River Trail, roughly one hundred miles from Montgomery, Alabama, to Camden, will find gorgeous scenery, a twisting river shaded by huge oaks and a treasure trove of museums. Explore the fascinating history of this cradle of both the U.S. Civil War Confederacy and the Civil Rights Movement. You’ll also find plenty of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recreation areas, including picnic spots, campgrounds and places to paddle. This section of the Alabama River is part of a 3,000 mile long accessible blue trail made up of several Alabama rivers, stretching from the Georgia/Alabama border to the Gulf of Mexico.
Located at the intersection of Interstates 65 and 85, Montgomery is a great start for this roughly 100-mile tour of the Deep South, where winters are mild and the history is rich. From Montgomery, follow the looping contours of the Alabama River by heading west on Montgomery County Road 54 (which winds close to the river) or U.S. Route 80 (the faster route) to Selma, and continue south on Alabama Highway 21 to Camden. Use this U.S. Army Corps of Engineers map to view the area and its many attractions.
Set up your base camp at one of the many campgrounds along the Alabama River. Just upriver from the Robert F. Henry Lock and Dam along the shores of Bob Woodruff Lake sits the picturesque Prairie Creek Campground, offering 62 full-service campsites with numerous amenities and recreational opportunities. Even a basketball court! For more information about the area and additional campgrounds, visit the Corps Lakes Visitors Gateway website.
Paddlers can travel downriver to Selma and Camden along the Alabama River and take in the historical attractions of this area.
Alabama’s capital, where Rosa Parks wearily kept her seat on a city bus and started a movement, hosts numerous civil rights museums and other attractions, all of which are within a four-block radius. Visit the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Civil Rights Memorial and Center, located across the street from this organization’s headquarters. The Maya Lin-designed memorial welcomes visitors to a museum filled with artifacts from the Civil Rights Movement. Then visit the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church and Parsonage, where Martin Luther King, Jr. preached from 1954–1960 and began leading the Civil Rights Movement. Then go to the Freedom Rides Museum at an old Greyhound Bus Terminal, marking an important site in the effort to desegregate the South in the closing years of infamous Jim Crow laws.
Selma is the location of the Edmund Pettus Bridge and “Bloody Sunday,” where some 600 civil rights demonstrators intending to travel from Selma to Montgomery in March of 1965 made it as far as the bridge. There, the demonstrators were attacked by state and local police who were ordered to stop the march for public safety reasons, by then-Governor George Wallace.The site, named a national historic landmark in 2013 by the National Park Service, now hosts the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute honoring the passage of the Voting Rights Act just months after Bloody Sunday. The march is re-enacted each year in the spring by civil rights advocates. On the same site is The Slavery and Civil War Museum, where visitors can view “Footprints of Our Ancestors” and gain a better understanding of the treatment of slaves.
Further downriver is the Gees Bend Quilt Mural Trail,a globally interesting attraction in the rural community of Gees Bend. Using whatever material was available, the women of this community created quilts to help support their families in the 1960s. They developed a bold and unique style which has passed on through the generations. After a series of postage stamps were developed in 2006 recognizing the history and artistic qualities of the quilts, murals were painted of each stamp and now dot the way through this community. Drive to Camden and cross the Alabama River on the Camden Boykin Ferry, which was restored in 2006, more than 40 years after officials closed it in 1962 in an attempt to keep Gee’s Bend residents from crossing to Camden to register to vote.
Or try this! Fans of white water paddling should head upriver from Montgomery to Wetumpka. Bring your own watercraft or rent from Coosa River Adventures or Coosa Outdoor Center, which offers a variety of options for paddlers.
Make Sure You
Take a moment and explore the ruins of Cahawba, Alabama’s first capital. This once-thriving town was frequently flooded (less so now thanks to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ dams and reservoirs), and an Alabama Historical Commission’s visitor center now marks the location.
Did You Know?
The Alabama Scenic River Trail is considered to be the longest river trail in a single state in the U.S.