12 Attractions in Gadsden, Alabama

Last Updated on March 3, 2024 by Emily Johnson

Nestled in northeast Alabama along the Coosa River, Gadsden is a charming city with a rich history and plenty of things to see and do. From unique museums and historical sites that offer a glimpse into the past, to outdoor recreation and cultural attractions, Gadsden has something for everyone.

No.AttractionDescription
1Noccalula Falls ParkA park featuring a waterfall, trails, and historical displays.
2Downtown GadsdenHistoric district with landmarks and architecture.
3Gadsden Museum of ArtArt museum with local and regional artworks.
4Forrest CemeteryHistoric cemetery with notable graves.
5River Country Nature CenterNature park with trails and wildlife exhibits.
6First FridayMonthly street fair with music, food, and art.
7Historic Pitman TheatreRenovated theatre offering various performances.
8Lookout Mountain ParkwayScenic drive with views of the Coosa River valley.
9War Memorial ParkPark honoring American soldiers with memorials.
10Alabama City Welcome Center at Elliott StationVisitor center with a railroad museum.
11Hardin CenterCultural venue for concerts and events.
12Coosa LandingRiverfront park with recreational activities.

This article explores 12 of the top attractions that you don’t want to miss when visiting Gadsden. The attractions highlighted offer diverse experiences – from learning about the city’s prominent role in the Civil War, to exploring its musical heritage, taking in panoramic river views, and more.

Whether you’re a history buff, art lover, or outdoor enthusiast, the attractions covered in this article showcase some of the best that Gadsden has to offer visitors. So read on to learn about 12 can’t-miss Gadsden attractions to add to your Alabama travel itinerary!

Noccalula Falls Park

Name and Location: Noccalula Falls Park is a 250-acre public park located at 1500 Noccalula Road in Gadsden, Alabama.

History and Significance: The centerpiece of the park is the 90-foot waterfall of Black Creek, which flows over Lookout Mountain into a deep gorge. Park first established in 1835 and named for Native American princess. Rich natural and cultural history.

What to Expect: Guests enjoy views of the dramatic waterfall plus amenities like picnic areas, camping, playground, petting zoo, steam train rides, pioneer village, seasonal events and more set amid beautiful scenery.

Visitor Information: Noccalula Falls Park is open daily 8am-dusk. Entrance is $6 per person over age 12, covers attractions (extra fees some activities).

A stunning natural attraction, Noccalula Falls Park spans 250 acres and encompasses a 90-foot waterfalls along with trails, historical displays, mini golf, a petting zoo, train rides, and more. The star attraction is the dramatic waterfall that cascades over Black Creek Gorge.

Visitors can admire views from several platforms overlooking the falls and enjoy the serenity of the park. Walk across the swinging bridge spanning the gorge for more incredible vistas.

Interactive displays tell the Cherokee folktale legend behind Noccalula and her tragic leap over the falls after which the location was named. Kids will love feeding and petting domesticated animals in the petting zoo too. With stunning natural scenery and family-friendly amenities, Noccalula Falls Park is undoubtedly one of the top things to do in Gadsden.

Downtown Gadsden

Name and Location: Downtown Gadsden centers around Broad Street bordered by 1st Street to the west and 7th street to the east in Gadsden, AL.

History and Significance: As county seat since 1886, downtown Gadsden has been the cultural and economic heart of Etowah County for over 130 years. Its historic buildings house government offices plus unique local restaurants, shops and museums that celebrate Gadsden’s roots.

What to Expect: Visitors discover historic architecture along the downtown streets plus monuments, public artworks, and the Coosa River waterfront. The downtown district hosts community events year-round like art walks, street parties, and holiday celebrations.

Visitor Information: Downtown Gadsden attractions are open year-round during daytime, evening, and weekend hours. Free parking throughout the district.

For history fans and architecture lovers, an exploration of downtown Gadsden provides an enlightening glimpse into the city’s past. In the late 1800s, Gadsden was at its peak as a bustling port along the Coosa River as boats moved precious metals, cotton, timber and more through the wharf. Many of the historic buildings from this heyday still stand.

Must-see landmarks include the Old Gadsden High School (built in 1906), the picturesque Etowah County Courthouse erected in 1909 from pink marble quarried nearby, the 1927 Gadsden Public Library, and several old churches like the 1878 St. James Episcopal Church.

Downtown is comprised of three National Register Historic Districts packed with over 150 historic buildings. Visitors can pick up a self-guided walking tour brochure to hit the key landmarks while strolling downtown.

Gadsden Museum of Art

Name and Location: The Gadsden Museum of Art is located at 515 Broad Street in Gadsden, Alabama, 35903.

History and Significance: Founded in 1967, this was the first museum opened in Gadsden. It promotes appreciation of fine art with permanent collections, traveling exhibits, classes, and cultural events. The museum occupies an historic 3-story 1927 building.

What to Expect: The Gadsden Museum of Art features three floors filled with painting, sculpture, folk art and more from an array of Alabama artists and rotating national acts. The focus is on 20th century and contemporary American works.

Visitor Information: Open Tuesday–Friday 10am–5pm, Saturday 10am–3pm. Admission is free though donations welcomed. Free parking beside/behind building.

For art enthusiasts, the Gadsden Museum of Art showcases eye-catching works from local and regional talent. This impressive permanent collection includes more than 1,000 paintings, drawings, sculptures, and ceramics. Special exhibitions rotate to highlight new artists and types of work from conceptual pieces to fiber arts.

The museum hosts regular events like artist talks and family art days too. Located within a short walking distance from downtown Gadsden, it’s easy to visit the Gadsden Museum of Art in conjunction with a historic district walk. Let the artistic talent and creativity on display at this renowned museum inspire you during your time in Gadsden.

Forrest Cemetery

Name and Location: Historic Forrest Cemetery is located at 723 Chestnut Street in downtown Gadsden, Alabama.

History and Significance: Opened in 1856 with last burial in 2011, Forrest Cemetery inters Pershing, a dog buried with military honors in 1919 who became symbol of WWI patriotism and sacrifice. It holds over 13,000 gravesites of notable locals.

What to Expect: Visitors explore the picturesque Victorian-era cemetery, viewing elaborate headstones and mausoleums on scenic, tree-lined paths. Notable political and military leaders are buried here as is folk artist Thornton Dial.

Visitor Information: Forrest Cemetery open daily 8am-5pm free to walk or drive through. Guided group tours available via appointment by phoning 256-390-3360.

History comes alive within the serene, rolling hills of Forrest Cemetery. As the final resting place of many of Gadsden’s founding residents and most influential citizens, Forrest Cemetery provides an enlightening walk through the city’s past. Notable graves include those of Captain James M. Elliott (founder of Gadsden), Henry F. DeBardeleben (financier of early Gadsden industry), and Alabama Governor Thomas E. Kilby.

The cemetery acts as an open-air museum with captivating memorial statues and mausoleums on display amongst the lush landscape and towering trees. Visitors appreciate the tranquil, reflective setting while paying homage to those that helped build Gadsden over two centuries. Interpretive panels provide context on the key figures. Don’t miss this moving glimpse into Gadsden’s origins on your Alabama trip.

River Country Nature Center

Name and Location: River Country Nature Center is located at 2141 Tunis Rd, Gadsden, AL 35904 inside Noccalula Falls Park.

History and Significance: The nature center opened in 1996 to provide environmental learning opportunities showcasing local ecosystems, especially Black Creek Gorge’s rare plant species. Features native reptile exhibits and raptor aviary on grounds.

What to Expect: Hands-on natural history exhibits displaying native butterflies, fish, turtles, bats, fossils and more. Outdoor butterfly garden, geology trail to 50 million year-old rock formations, elevated boardwalks through wetlands and gorge, observation tower overlooking waterfall.

Visitor Information: The River Country Nature Center is open Tuesday-Saturday 9am-5pm and Sunday 1pm-5pm year-round. Free with paid park admission.

For a family-friendly outdoor adventure, spend the afternoon at Gadsden’s River Country Nature Center. Located on a peninsula along the Coosa River, this City park spans 120 acres encompassing wetlands, meadows, and woodlands ripe for exploration.

Walk the scenic nature trails that weave through diverse habitats as you keep your eyes peeled for wildlife or migratory birds. Interpretive displays identify the native plants and animals found in the park.

The River Center building features aquariums and exhibits spotlighting the ecology of the Coosa River valley plus artifacts found throughout Gadsden that showcase prehistoric periods like the Mississippian Era. Don’t miss the live native snakes and turtles always on display too.

With access to green space, pleasant views of the Coosa River Valley, and educational opportunities for the whole family, River Country Nature Center offers an enriching outdoor experience in Gadsden.

First Friday

Name and Location: First Friday is a monthly street festival held in downtown Gadsden centered around Locust Street, between 3rd and 6th Streets.

History and Significance: First Friday was launched in 2009 to help revitalize downtown and showcase community talent. It celebrates creativity with art shows, shopping, dining and entertainment the first Friday evening of each month May through September.

What to Expect: Art vendors, children’s activities, and live music line the street while shops and restaurants stay open late. Classic cars often showcased along Locust Street as well. Festive monthly gathering for several thousand attendees.

Visitor Information: Gadsden First Friday held May-September from 6pm-9pm. Admission free. Park at city parking garage 3rd & Locust St.

For an entertaining evening out, downtown Gadsden hosts a vibrant First Friday event on the first Friday evening of every month. Local shops and restaurants stay open late while a festive street fair atmosphere takes over. The art walk allows you to meet local artisans as pop-up booths line the sidewalks. Live music fills the street corners with tunes from bluegrass to jazz adding to the party ambiance.

Food trucks dish out delicious quick bites to sample as you walk between shops popping into the boutiques and antique stores. Don’t miss a ride on the Downtown trolley which takes visitors between key points of interest. The ultimate night out in Gadsden, First Friday offers visitors good old-fashioned fun paired with the city’s distinctive culture.

Historic Pitman Theatre

Name and Location: The Historic Pitman Theatre is located at 210 Broad St. in downtown Gadsden, AL 35901.

History and Significance: Originally built in 1919, the fully restored Pitman Theatre is the only existing vaudeville theater in Northeast Alabama and childhood performance venue of iconic actress Nell Carter. Listed on National Register of Historic Places since 1985.

What to Expect: This 500 seat theater presents musicals, plays, concerts, movies, stand up comedy and more in an ornate historic setting. Fully handicapped accessible and equipped for theatrical performances. Event schedule varies monthly.

Visitor Information: Showtimes and tickets available at www.pitmantheatre.com. Self-guided theater tours possible if arranged in advance via website.

Step back in time with a show at Gadsden’s Historic Pitman Theatre. This vaudeville-era movie palace first lit up downtown Gadsden in 1919. The renovated theatre dazzles visitors with its ornate gilded interior dripping in chandeliers, balconies, and sweeping staircases. Along with regular cinema screenings, the theatre hosts plays, concerts, dance performances and more.

Be sure to admire the one-ton Czech crystal chandelier, intricately painted interior dome, and Mighty Wurlitzer organ before taking your plush red velvet seat in the auditorium. With exceptional acoustics and ambiance, the Historic Pitman Theatre provides an elegant evening no matter what show you choose for a quintessential Gadsden cultural experience.

Lookout Mountain Parkway

Name and Location: Lookout Mountain Parkway stretches 16 miles through northeast Alabama following the route of Historic Route 1 along the scenic brow of Lookout Mountain.

History and Significance: Built in the 1930’s as scenic tourist road through Civil War battle sites, parkway traverses Little River Canyon, DeSoto State Park and Noccalula Falls with multiple stunning vistas overlooking farming valley below.

What to Expect: Travelers journey a winding mountain ridge road revealing panoramic valley views around each bend. Frequent roadside stops provide luxury to park and snapshot the scenery along this National Scenic Byway and All-American Road.

Visitor Information: Lookout Mountain Parkway is Alabama Highway 176 entering from Trenton, Georgia to Gadsden, Alabama. No admission fees or permits needed.

For stellar views over the Coosa River valley, take a scenic drive along Lookout Mountain Parkway just northeast of downtown Gadsden. This winding road ascends to a bluff along the southernmost tip of the Appalachian foothills at an elevation of nearly 1500 feet.

As you cruise along this National Scenic Byway, the overlooks provide exceptional panoramas over the river valley with the downtown Gadsden skyline visible. On a clear day, you can see for 30 miles in the distance. Hop out at one of the viewing platforms to snap photos and soak in the natural scenery as gentle breezes rustle the pines and hardwood forest of the surrounding mountainsides. The best views come at sunset or sunrise.

War Memorial Park

Name and Location: War Memorial Park is located in downtown Gadsden at 100 Veterans Way adjoining Convention Hall and the Coosa River.

History and Significance: Dedicated in 1963, War Memorial Park honors Etowah County residents who lost their lives in American military conflicts. Bronze statue memorializes WWII Medal of Honor recipient Thomas B. McGuire Jr.

What to Expect: This small riverfront park features Thomas B. McGuire memorial, granite military monuments and plaques, brick walkways lined with benches and patriotic lampposts, and direct access to Coosa Riverwalk trails.

Visitor Information: War Memorial Park is open daily with no entrance fees. Public parking areas nearby.

Pay tribute to Gadsden veterans and those that made the ultimate sacrifice at War Memorial Park. Established in 1925, this park honors the American soldiers from Gadsden and Etowah County who lost their lives in World War I. Located near downtown along the Coosa River, the centerpiece Fountain of Eagles features bronze eagles atop a granite base next to a healing water fountain. Other memorials around the park recognize those killed in action during WWII, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War.

Rotating military vehicle displays like helicopters, aircraft, and tanks provide additional hands-on visuals for visitors. Benches, open lawn areas, and a spectacular view across the river to downtown Gadsden further enhance War Memorial Park as a noteworthy and moving tribute to American military men and women.

Alabama City Welcome Center at Elliott Station

Name and Location: Alabama City Welcome Center at Elliott Station is located at 1210 Gault Ave N, Gadsden, AL 35904.

History and Significance: Housed in restored 1903 Victorian train depot, this welcome center anchors the popular Alabama City historic district, site of an 1870’s mineral boom where Alabama City once rivaled Gadsden economy.

What to Expect: Visitors discover area history exhibits plus a gift shop selling local goods. Information available on regional attractions. Building accessed via ramps and is mobility device friendly.

Visitor Information: Alabama City Welcome Center open Monday-Saturday 10am-4pm. Free admission and parking.

For an informative overview on key moments in Gadsden’s past, make a stop at the Alabama City Welcome Center at Elliott Station. Set within a restored 19th century train depot, this visitor center showcases a railroad museum that traces Gadsden’s critical role in the development of Alabama’s early rail lines and the shipping industry.

Antique locomotives and railcars on display tell part of this story, like the iconic 1904 Baldwin steam engine No. 604. Historical exhibits profile the pioneers behind Gadsden’s industrial revolution too. Movie screenings further immerse you in this pivotal local history.

Friendly staff provide maps, brochures, and expert advice on things to do in Gadsden as well. After your visit, take a short walking tour through the surrounding Alabama City Historic District to admire other turn-of-the-century buildings.

Hardin Center

Name and Location: The Hardin Center for Cultural Arts is located at 612 Montgomery Ave, Gadsden, AL 35901.

History and Significance: The Hardin Center first opened in 2011 in historic former Bellevue High School (c. 1928). An anchor of Gadsden’s 6th Street East Broad corridor now dedicated to cultural tourism and education.

What to Expect: Guests tour art galleries and working artist studios plus an event hall hosting community theater, concerts, dance events. Permanent exhibits highlight African American heritage in Etowah County.

Visitor Information: Hardin Center hours Tuesday-Saturday 10am-4pm. Guided group tours available via appointment. Admission free.

As the main cultural hub of Gadsden, the Hardin Center provides an always-entertaining events venue calendar for visitors. The flexible theater space regularly hosts concerts, performing arts shows, guest lectures, and private events in an architecturally striking and acoustically engineered building.

Highlights of the past season included award-winning musical acts like Huey Lewis and the News to children’s productions like Peppa Pig Live. Don’t miss checking the calendar of public Hardin Center shows and snagging tickets to these exceptional performances held in Gadsden’s state-of-the-art facility during your stay for a memorable evening out.

Coosa Landing

Name and Location: Coosa Landing is located at 201 Water Street along the Coosa River in downtown Gadsden, AL.

History and Significance: Once a bustling 19th century riverboat port, Coosa Landing now serves as an event venue and trailhead of the 6 mile Coosa Riverwalk trail system winding along the river through downtown.

What to Expect: Guests find green space for small events plus dock access for fishing, paddle sports and boat rides up the Coosa. Interpretive signs detail Gadsden’s early riverboat commerce. Linking to riverside trails.

Visitor Information: Coosa Landing park open daily dawn til dusk. Use for free public events or rental capacity 200 guests. Parking lot adjacent 151 Walnut St.

Round out your Gadsden trip with a visit to Coosa Landing park along the riverfront near downtown. Providing access below the historic Broad Street bridge, this scenic green space features paved walking paths, an open-air pavilion, and outlook plaza from which to enjoy serene views across the Coosa River. Visitors also appreciate a stop at the wharf replica and pilings that harken back to Gadsden’s heyday as a bustling 1800s river port.

Kayak, canoe, and paddle board rentals allow easy access onto the river from the landing for a fun DIY paddling trip too. Whether you simply stretch your legs along the river walk or launch your own boating adventure, Coosa Landing immerses visitors into Gadsden’s heritage influenced by the Coosa River flowing at its heart.

Conclusion

Gadsden charms visitors with its rich history, cultural attractions like museums and performing arts, stunning river scenery, and wealth of outdoor recreation. The 12 attractions covered in this article showcase some of top sights and experiences you can enjoy across this northeast Alabama destination that offers small-town hospitality paired with diverse things to see and do.

From the natural beauty of Noccalula Falls to historical cemeteries and war memorials to vibrant First Friday events, Gadsden’s attractions entice all sorts of travelers. Use this guide to craft an itinerary bursting with museums, music, nature, and history when adding Gadsden to your Alabama travels.

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