An RV Trip to Central Alabama: Top Sites & Campgrounds
An RV Trip to Central Alabama: Top Sites & Campgrounds
From great museums to historic places and scenic views.
By: Sue Ann Jaffarian
I love it when my travels unearth new gems and places to add to my list of favorites. This definitely happened when I decided to spend a chunk of time in Central Alabama.
In the four years I have been living and traveling full-time in my Winnebago Travato, I have been in every state except Hawaii and Alaska. Most of the time I am driving through states, only stopping to camp a day or so or to see a specific attraction. In the past year, I started rethinking my explorations and have decided to spend more time in areas to get to know them.
RV Camping in Central Alabama
This winter, I decided to spend time in Central Alabama. There were a lot of things I wanted to see in and around Montgomery, so decided to head there. Unfortunately, I could not get a campsite at Gunter Hill Campground, a very popular Army Corps of Engineers campground on the western edge of Montgomery that is one of my favorites. I looked into other campgrounds in the area and found one that would do: Fort Toulouse-Jackson Park.
Fort Toulouse-Jackson Park is a historical park with a campground. The park is the location of the ruins of two forts. Fort Toulouse was originally a French fort and Fort Jackson was an American fort built on top of it. The park also contains recreated Creek Indian houses and a 1,000-year-old Indian mound, as well as hiking trails.
The campground is set amongst mature trees and is first-come-first-served and operated by the historical park. Within hours, I knew I had stumbled upon a hidden gem. Having stayed here a few times now, I call it my Sweet Home Alabama home.
The Fort Toulouse-Jackson Campground is in the town of Wetumpka on the northeast edge of Montgomery. Although it is first-come-first-served, as soon as you pay for your campsite, it is secure with no danger of it being jumped by other campers while you are out sightseeing. This has happened to me and many others over the years.
It has two camp hosts, with one of them on duty at all times. The campground has a bathhouse that is older but clean, electric and water hookups at every site, and a decent dump station. It is a very quiet and well-maintained older park.
The cost is $20 a night ($18 for seniors) or $115 for a week. The campground is within minutes of shopping, restaurants, and other services needed by travelers. There is even a nice casino three miles away.
I was there three different times, and the campground was never full, so no trouble getting a spot. I imagine it would be much busier in the summer, but the camp host told me it is rarely filled.
Touring the Museums of Montgomery & Other Sites
Each of the times I stayed at this campground, I used it as a home base to visit the attractions in Montgomery and the surrounding area. The campground is only about a twenty-minute drive from the heart of Montgomery, which is home to many important museums.
There are so many museums in Montgomery that it is overwhelming, if not impossible, to try and see them all in a short time, so having a great campground nearby was perfect. Gunter Hill Campground is also a great home base for checking out Montgomery.
In Montgomery, I visited the Rosa Parks Museum, the Legacy Museum, and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. I drove by the F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Home and Museum, the birthplace of Nat King Cole, the historical Cloverdale area, and the Alabama State University.
I was disappointed in my attempts to see the F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald home. Even though the website said it was open, it was closed every time I tried to view it. I heard that they have a volunteer shortage for the tours. I suggest if you want to view the home and museum that you call before you go to make sure it is indeed open. You can also make reservations to stay the night in the house.
My mother loved Hank Williams, so a trip to his grave and memorial was a must, although I skipped the Hank Williams Museum.
Another drive took me past the Capitol Building and the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was pastor. A few blocks away was the parsonage where Dr. King lived with his family. There is also a small museum at the parsonage. All of these places were fairly close together and were far from the only places to visit.
The Legacy Museum & the National Memorial for Peace and Justice
Plan on taking a full day to view the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. The museum and memorial are so moving and emotional that you cannot visit them on the fly. They are incredibly designed and educational.
The museum has many exhibits, a number of which are interactive, plus short beautifully produced videos. I was blown away. I suggest going to the Legacy Museum first, then grabbing the free shuttle to the Memorial.
The Memorial is made up of steel planks, some hung vertically and some laid horizontally on the ground. Each one represents a county in the United States where people were lynched or killed for racial reasons. Each one is inscribed with the names of the victims in that county.
Scattered through the grounds are many excellent sculptures. I cannot truly describe what an emotional experience these two sites were for me. Admission is only $5.00 and includes entry into both.
The Rosa Parks Museum
The Rosa Parks Museum has two parts to it, the main museum and the children’s wing. I found great metered parking on the street which gave me plenty of time to view it. The children’s section should be visited first and has a separate entrance, but it was well worth the visit.
I bought my entrance ticket at the main museum before going to the Children’s Wing. The Children’s Wing contains a unique educational experience. There is a bus like the city buses ridden by Mrs. Parks daily. You board the bus, and it vibrates as though it is moving.
During the time on the bus, there is an excellent video playing on the outside wall that you view from the bus windows, like you are driving by it. It is the history of segregation. This is not to be missed, whether you have a child with you or not.
From there, return to the main museum where you will learn the history of the famous Montgomery bus boycott by walking though a very well-designed timeline with photos and artifacts.
Sites of Tuskegee
Still using the Fort Toulouse-Jackson Campground as my base camp, one day I drove about an hour east of Montgomery to Tuskegee, the home of the Tuskegee Airmen Museum, the George Washington Carver Museum, and the home of Booker T. Washington.
Unfortunately, the Carver Museum and the Washington home, which are both on the grounds of Tuskegee University, were closed for renovations. They were due to reopen a couple of weeks after I was in the area.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Tuskegee Airmen Museum, which is located on Morton Field, where the original Tuskegee Airmen were trained. There were two parts to this museum. One was a small building in which were small planes and training equipment, plus information about the civilian and military administrators of the training project, including some interactive exhibits.
The other section is a large hangar that houses the actual Tuskegee Airmen Museum. There are wonderful videos and displays of equipment, artifacts, and historical information, including one of the famous Red Tail planes. I knew about the Tuskegee Airmen beforehand, but I learned so much more from this visit.
Another delightful surprise during my stay at Fort Toulouse-Jackson was the town of Wetumpka itself. I learned from one of the camp hosts that Wetumpka had been the subject of HGTV’s Hometown Takeover show.
I don’t regularly watch HGTV, but I did know about that show. I spent a couple of days leisurely exploring the area HGTV highlighted. It was great fun and so wonderful to see that a few years later the town has continued with renovations and maintained those made during the show.
Once a dead downtown, the historical downtown of Wetumpka is now a charming place to stroll and shop. One of the days I visited, I had a burger at Coaches Corner Bar & Grill, a restaurant that received a makeover from the TV show. The food I had was great, along with the service. I was seated next to a window and had a great view of the Coosa River and the bridge.
The famous Wetumpka mural is next to Coaches Corner and is still as bright as the day it was painted a few years ago. In fact, the town has added a couple of other murals in downtown. Jerry’s Barbershop, which was one of the featured renovations, closed when Jerry retired. The space is now Sweet Home Books and has retained the renovations made by HGTV.
The Big Fish House, which was used in the movie Big Fish and renovated by the show, is not open to visitors since it is a private residence, but it cheerfully overlooks downtown.
Places to Visit Near Montgomery
About an hour west of Montgomery is Selma, another city filled with history. While I was staying in Wetumpka, a tornado ripped through Selma, so I didn’t visit it this trip. But I did drive through it on my way west and saw some of the terrible damage.
I had been to Selma before and had walked the historical Edmund Pettus Bridge. It was the scene of Bloody Sunday in 1965, during which Civil Rights marchers were beaten badly by police on that spot, including the late Congressman John Lewis.
Being on that bridge was very stirring and the view of the Alabama River from it is quite nice. I have often found that visiting historical sites brings on great emotional responses, something you do not get from reading about them in history books.
To the west of Montgomery are several great Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds. I love COEs! There is the previously mentioned Gunter Hill, plus Prairie Creek, which is just east of Selma.
About two hours west of Montgomery in the town of Demopolis is Foscue Creek Campground, located on the confluence of the Tombigbee and Black Warrior Rivers, where you can view barges coming and going throughout the day. I stayed at Foscue Creek for two weeks in February, and it has become one of my absolute favorite campgrounds.
Other Alabama Campgrounds
I also visited several other Alabama campgrounds that I enjoyed. In Tuscaloosa checkout Deerlick Creek Campground. If you are more south, visit Isaac Creek Campground. Isaac Creek is close to Monroeville, hometown of Harper Lee, author of To Kill A Mockingbird.
It is also where Truman Capote spent his childhood summers and where he and Harper Lee became lifelong friends. The town celebrates the book with murals and other remembrances, especially around the town square where the courthouse depicted in the book is located.
The main courtroom was replicated for filming the famous movie. Harper Lee spent many hours as a child watching her lawyer father in this courtroom. The old courthouse is now a museum with two permanent exhibits, one on Truman Capote and another on Harper Lee.
Central Alabama was indeed a wonderful place to spend a couple of months. I met so many nice people and saw so many interesting things. I look forward to returning often.
Sometimes slowing your travel pace or changing up your routine can reveal real treasures. Perhaps you’ll find some new favorite places too!
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