Michael McPheeters mural of Yellow Horse in Decatur, Alabama

Explore the South’s Cultural Heritage via the North Alabama Mural Trail

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This last year of staying close to home has given us ample opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with the magic of the South, in particular its lush terrain, rural charm and cultural heritage. And few trips have been as fulfilling—checking all the boxes of our favorite attributes, including the outdoors, small towns and public art—than the new North Alabama Mural Trail.

On the North Alabama Mural Trail: DeSoto Falls in Mentone

The featured image is a mural by Michael McPheeters of Jimmy “Yellowhorse” Webster in Decatur, Alabama.

About the North Alabama Mural Trail

As a way to knit together its 16 counties, boost tourism during a time when towns across America need it the most and provide fun, safe activities for Millennials, Boomers, families and solo travelers alike, the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association pieced together various pieces of art across the region in a trail that will take you through some of North Alabama’s most fascinating topography.

North Alabama Mural Trail

This post is in partnership with the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association.

The best way to follow along on the trail is by using the interactive mural map on this page where you can read about the artist behind each piece and get exact location information and coordinates for all murals you want to visit. You can also use the app feature to check in at 25 of the sites, and receive a reward from Visit North Alabama once you complete the challenge. Don’t forget to use the hashtag #NorthALMurals if you share any snippets of your journey on social so others (including SVV and me!) can enjoy your travels virtually.

Huntsville mural by Kim Radford

This Girl Can mural by Kim Radford

What to expect along the North Alabama Mural Trail

What you’ll find along the North Alabama Mural Trail is a mix of original murals, ghost signs, painted signage for centuries-old establishments, graffiti-style art and, yes, wings murals (lots and lots of wings murals!).

Wings by Kelsey Montague in Decatur, Alabama

wings mural in Decatur by Kelsey Montague

The trail is very much in its infancy, having just launched this year, so new art is being added all the time in towns across the region. In fact, the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association has been awarding grants to communities who want to participate, so if you’re a town in North Alabama who wants to do more art, this is a great funding avenue to pursue.

North Alabama Mural Trail in Cullman, Alabama

And if you’re a mural artist in the South, this is an equally compelling opportunity to check out some of the towns involved and pitch your services. Murals are such a vital driver of tourism and important in keeping small towns alive and thriving. Despite my Alabama roots—my dad and his entire side of the family are from the Yellowhammer State—I hadn’t visited many of these rural areas at all until this trail popped up, so a lot of this terrain was new even to me.

Veterans mural in Athens, Alabama

mural by Athens State University students at Alabama Veterans Museum 

How long do I need to drive the North Alabama Mural Trail?

If you’re a traveler who wants to drive the trail in its entirety, you’ll want to devote a solid week or more to your Alabama travels as this region is vast and there’s a lot to stop and see along the way. The largest airport in North Alabama is Huntsville International Airport (HSV), so you can fly into Madison County and plan a loop of the area that begins and ends in Rocket City.

Alabama 200 mural in Gadsden by Christian Dunn

Alabama 200 mural in Gadsden by Christian Dunn

Because we live just over the Alabama border in Tennessee, a mere hour from Huntsville, we split up our trip along the North Alabama Mural Trail into three separate overnight trips—western, central and eastern North Alabama—that added up to a full week of travels over the course of a month.

DeSoto Falls on the North Alabama Mural Trail

Highlights along the North Alabama Mural Trail

Many of the towns along the North Alabama Mural Trail may only have a mural or two—or else be en route to a bigger, more bustling destination—so if you’re pressed for time and don’t have time to physically see all 140+ murals, I’m rounding up our favorite highlights in the North Alabama region, many of them with far more than public art to offer.

North Alabama Mural Trail in the Shoals

The Shoals

The Shoals—comprising Muscle Shoals, Florence, Sheffield and Tuscumbia—has become one of our go-to weekend spots in the South thanks to the charming Florence downtown, its great outdoors and position along the Tennessee River, the abundance of notable music studios and the overall accessibility of the area. Most notably, the Shoals is home to studios that birthed the careers of such greats as the Swampers and also was where artists like Cher, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Rolling Stones, Bob Seger, The Staple Singers and Rod Stewart all recorded hits.

A Fall Alabama Road Trip with Enterprise

The Shoals murals on the North Alabama Mural Trail
The Shoals murals on the North Alabama Mural Trail
The Shoals murals on the North Alabama Mural Trail

If you’re driving the North Alabama Mural Trail from west to east, the Shoals is also a great place to start your art adventures and the Stricklin an excellent hotel to make your base.

Travel the North Alabama Mural Trail

Related article: From Music to Design, the Shoals is Alabama’s Cultural Secret Weapon

Decatur

We have passed through the riverside city of Decatur no fewer than three times in the past year, and each time I’m drawn in by bold, beautiful art that immediately greets drivers as they’re entering the downtown, first the tribute to Jimmy “Yellowhorse” Webster, then other beauties like this Adam Stephenson mural memorializing his late sister that reminds me of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz.

Murals in Decatur, Alabama

Decatur’s downtown itself is absolutely thriving, and there are few things that appeal to me more than a well-done Main Street corridor. You know what they say: Bring in the art and the industry will follow! Every time we’re in Decatur, we discover a new favorite shop or eatery, though you can’t ever go wrong with The RailYard. I’m also eager to check out Cross-Eyed Owl Brewing Company, but have yet to visit Decatur on a day the brewery is open.

Decatur murals in Alabama

Decatur mural by Decatur High fine art students and teacher Robert Belcher

Don’t miss: Bankhead National Forest. It’s one of just four national forests in the state of Alabama and you can easily detour through it en route to Decatur from the Shoals. On a dry, sunny day, there are plenty of waterfalls like Turkey Foot Falls and Mize Mill Falls in the forest to see, too!

On the North Alabama Mural Trail: Bankhead National Forest

Athens

I assumed Athens would be a quick stopover on our drive, but I assumed wrong—there’s actually a lot to see and do in this town of 26,000 people, from parks and 17 trails to ogling the stately antebellum homes that line the downtown to poking in and out of the shops that line the well-preserved courthouse square.

Mural in Athens, Alabama

Mural in Athens, Alabama
Mural in Athens, Alabama

murals by Adam Stephenson and Athens High School art students 

Huntsville and Madison County

My love for Huntsville is no secret. While I was always excited about going on my annual school trip to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, it wasn’t until around five years ago that I fell in love with Huntsville for more reasons—namely the mindful growth and artistic boom that’s taken place across industries.

Little Richard mural in Huntsville by Logan Tanner

Huntsville murals on the North Alabama Mural Trail
Huntsville murals on the North Alabama Mural Trail
Huntsville murals on the North Alabama Mural Trail

Mural in Huntsville by Daria Hammond

murals by Logan Tanner, Gracie Lenox Designs, Red Brick Strategies, Daria Hammond

Huntsville is the ultimate creative city, which given its large aerospace technology footprint is not that surprising as creativity, engineering and problem-solving often go hand in hand. It also easily boasts a couple dozen murals—and we find new additions every time we take a weekend trip down to Huntsville.

Weekend in Huntsville, Alabama

Mural in Huntsville, Alabama
Mural in Huntsville, Alabama

Mural by Jessie Andrews in Huntsville, Alabama

murals by Jahni the Artist, Robert Bean, Jessie Andrews 

While in Huntsville, be sure you check out Downtown and its courthouse square—seriously dreamy, y’all—and allot ample time to see the ultimate artist base camp, Lowe Mill Arts, where you’ll not only find a few rad murals, but also see where more than 200 artists make magic happen in their studios and storefronts.

Lowe Mill Arts in Huntsville

And even though there aren’t murals in Madison (yet), the other major city in Madison County just 10 minutes outside of Huntsville, the town that lays claim to the Rocket City Trash Panda is well worth a stopover just to see the adorable railroad town and have lunch in an old jail at Main Street Cafe.

Madison, Alabama
Madison, Alabama

Related Article: Art, Brews & Rockets: Your Itinerary for a Weekend in Huntsville, Alabama

Cullman

Upon approaching Cullman from the north, we were greeted by the most darling park with interactive art, murals and a lovely little waterfall. I wish every town had this, as it was such a warm welcome to Cullman.

Murals in Cullman, Alabama
Murals in Cullman, Alabama
Murals in Cullman, Alabama

Cullman’s downtown seemed to stretch on for blocks and blocks even though the population is less than 20,000 people. I loved the restored brick buildings, the fading ghost signs and the abundance of farm land just beyond the city center. We stayed at a creekside cottage just 10 minutes outside of Cullman as fall was finally beginning to peek through, and I wanted to stay forever.

Murals in Cullman, Alabama
Murals in Cullman, Alabama

Don’t miss: Ave Maria Grotto. The masterful work of a monk from Germany, Brother Joseph Zoettl, this four-acre park just five minutes from downtown Cullman is a miniature wonderland that you’ll want to see for yourself.

Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman, Alabama

Don’t miss: the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament. As if the grotto weren’t enough of a cool, unexpected attraction in rural Alabama, just 15 miles south of there in a pastoral piece of heaven is this Catholic place of prayer and spiritual renewal a bit outside of Hanceville. It’s open the public, you just have to dress appropriately if you plan to enter into the premises.

the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Alabama

Oneonta

Perhaps the best surprise on the North Alabama Mural Trail was Oneonta, a small rural town in Blount County not far from Birmingham.

Oneonta, Alabama on the North Alabama Mural Trail

Welcome To Oneonta mural by Sam Sanflippo

What makes this town of just 7,000 residents so special? It’s got an alley, the OBA Artwalk, bypassing the 200 block of downtown with dozens of colorful murals of all styles. You can see all the pieces and read about the artists who painted them here.

Oneonta, Alabama on the North Alabama Mural Trail

Murals in Oneonta, Alabama
Murals in Oneonta, Alabama
Murals in Oneonta, Alabama
Murals in Oneonta, Alabama
Murals in Oneonta, Alabama

Don’t miss: Miller Drug. This old-fashioned soda shop is a great stopover spot for lunch—and it also sits at the entryway to OBA ArtWalk

Murals in Oneonta, Alabama
Murals in Oneonta, Alabama

Gadsden

I knew Gadsden was full of life and culture, but I didn’t know how big of an artistic mecca this 35,000-resident Alabama city truly was until we pulled up to its downtown core.

Murals in Gadsden, Alabama
Murals in Gadsden, Alabama

 

Gadsden postcard mural by Ali Hval

Our day in Gadsden was one of my favorite on the mural trail: We had burgers and Back Forty beers at The Rail Public House—next time I hope to visit the actual Back Forty brewery—we shopped the sweet boutiques of downtown Gadsden and we found ourselves in one of the nicest contemporary art museums in the rural South.

Murals in Gadsden, Alabama

Gadsden music mural by Joseph Giri

The Gadsden Arts Center & Museum is free to enter and its exhibits rotate out every few months. I wasn’t expecting such world-class art in a small city of Alabama, but I continued to be surprised around every bend on the mural trail—during our visit last month, the art center featured four centuries of female artists, including a women in the Sudan photography exhibit.

Art Museum in Gadsden, Alabama
Art Museum in Gadsden, Alabama
Art Museum in Gadsden, Alabama

Don’t miss: Noccalula Falls. This stunning waterfall cascades over 90 feet into the Black Creek ravine. It’s also the centerpiece for Noccalula Falls Parks, which has campsites, trails, mini golf and green space galore. It’s truly a magnificent and enviable piece of property right smack in the middle of Gadsden proper.

Noccalulu Falls in Gadsden, Alabama

Mentone

Mentone is one of those mountainy towns sitting on the western rim of Lookout Mountain, 1,000 feet from the valley floor, with tiny home vacation rentals and cabins galore, and I’ve always wanted to spend a weekend there. While I didn’t get a full weekend (yet), I did get a taste of just how sweet this outdoor oasis is.

DeSoto Falls on the North Alabama Mural Trail

Don’t miss: DeSoto Falls. Did I mention North Alabama is rife in waterfalls? They’re everywhere! But few (other than maybe Noccalula) are as impressive as DeSoto Falls with its 104-foot fall into a glimmering pool and limestone canyon.

DeSoto Falls on the North Alabama Mural Trail
DeSoto Falls on the North Alabama Mural Trail

DeSoto Falls on the North Alabama Mural Trail

North Alabama has a whole host of other trails, from waterfalls to craft beer, so if you’re planning a trip, why not combine murals with other things you love? You can see a full list of North Alabama’s trails here.

Drive the North Alabama Mural Trail

For more North Alabama travel tips, start here:


 

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Driving the North Alabama Mural Trail
Driving the North Alabama Mural Trail
Driving the North Alabama Mural Trail
COMMENTS
  • November 16, 2021

    Hi Kristin,

    I really enjoyed reading this article. After reading a few of your posts, I find myself checking your blog for new articles. After reading this article I find myself wanting to go to Alabama Mural Trail. I have added it to my bucket list, and have bookmarked your article as well. Can’t wait to take a break and visit this town. I hope I have a great experience as well. Thanks for this amazing share.

  • November 29, 2021

    Hi Kristin,

    I loved your article! The mural trail sounds amazing, all the things you shared fascinate me, and I really want to visit this place myself. I didn’t know there were so many places to explore in the area. Thanks for sharing all the essential information about this place along with the information on how to reach it. I will share this article with my sister and we will make a plan to visit this beautiful place together.

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