12 Things To Do in Gadsden, Alabama

Last Updated on March 3, 2024 by Emily Johnson

Nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains along the Coosa River, Gadsden is a charming city in northeast Alabama. With its scenic landscapes, Southern hospitality, and an array of attractions, Gadsden makes for an excellent weekend getaway or day trip destination from Birmingham or Atlanta.

ActivityDescriptionHighlight
Noccalula Falls ParkOutdoor exploration, waterfall90-foot waterfall, hiking trails
Coosa RiverWater activitiesKayaking, fishing, scenic views
Historic Downtown GadsdenShopping, diningUnique boutiques, local eateries
Gadsden Museum of ArtCultural experienceArt exhibits, local history
Mary G. Hardin CenterArts & cultural hubVisual arts, performances
Imagination PlaceChildren’s museumInteractive exhibits for kids
Twin Bridges Golf ClubGolfingChampionship golf course
Lookout Mountain ParkwayScenic driveBreathtaking views, natural beauty
Neely Henry LakeFishing, boatingDiverse aquatic activities
Gadsden Moragne ParkRecreation, picnicsPlaygrounds, walking paths
Gadsden Symphony OrchestraLive musicClassical and contemporary concerts
Back Forty Beer CompanyLocal breweryCraft beers, tours

From its colourful history and architectural landmarks to its wealth of outdoor recreation, Gadsden has something to offer visitors of all ages and interests. Outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty to do with the many parks, hiking trails, and waterways that allow for kayaking, fishing, and more.

Families can explore hands-on museums and cheer on sports teams including the hometown Gadsden Steamers baseball team. Foodies will enjoy the down-home Southern cuisine highlighting local ingredients. History buffs will appreciate learning about Gadsden’s important role in the Civil War and industrial heritage.

With this guide of the top things to do in Gadsden, AL, you’ll be equipped to make the most out of your visit to this northeast Alabama gem.

Explore Downtown Gadsden

Name and Location: Explore Downtown Gadsden

History and Significance: Nicknamed “City of Champions,” downtown Gadsden has long been a hub for business, transportation and entertainment in Northeast Alabama. Its riverfront location along the Coosa River and Broad Street Historic District showcases a colorful mix of architecture, culture, cuisine and attractions spanning over two centuries.

What to Expect: A revitalized downtown “The District” with antique shops and boutiques, bars and restaurants, cultural institutions and industrial heritage sites, all packed into a walkable area showcasing the city’s storied past and vibrant present scene:

Visitor Information: The District spans downtown between First Street and Eighth Street, with the river to the north and Walnut Street to the south. Given the compact layout, downtown Gadsden is easily explorable on foot or via the downtown trolley line that loops through.

As the cultural heart of Gadsden, downtown offers visitors a taste of the city’s heritage and architecture. The beautifully restored Pitman Theatre with its ornate interior transports you to the early 20th century and still hosts concerts and performances today.

Grab a craft beer at Back Forty Beer Company, the local brewhouse paying homage to Gadsden’s agricultural roots. Then stroll along Broad Street to see the Romanesque Revival-style Etowah County Courthouse and other historic buildings. Don’t miss the statue honoring Emma Sansom, a local heroine who aided the Confederate army during the Civil War.

Visit Noccalula Falls Park

Name and Location: Visit Noccalula Falls Park

History and Significance: This 250-acre public park gets its name from the stunning 90-foot waterfall cascading into the gorge below. Rich in history, it offers a glimpse into the past with its pioneer village, petting zoo and gardens.

What to Expect: Scenic overlooks, hiking trails, educational exhibits in an 1840s pioneer village, a mini amusement park, choo choo train ride, seasonal light displays and more family fun against the backdrop of the falls.

Visitor Information: Located at 1500 Noccalula Rd. Open daily. Hours vary by season. Entry fees $6 per person age 4+. Annual passes available. Amenities close at dusk.

One of Gadsden’s most popular attractions, this gorgeous park offers hiking trails, native wildlife, and the star of the show – the 90-foot waterfall cascading dramatically into the gorge. You can view the falls from multiple platforms or hike to the Black Creek Trail at the bottom for an up-close perspective.

Other features include pioneer-style cabins, a petting zoo, train rides, and a replica of the Cherokee chieftain Noccalula’s hut. Don’t miss the captivating display of Christmas lights during the winter season. The park also hosts events throughout the year like battle reenactments, plays, and concerts.

Marvel at Rattlesnake Saloon

Name and Location: Marvel at Rattlesnake Saloon

History and Significance: Known as the “Best Little Honkytonk in Alabama”, this unique underground bar and restaurant has become a legendary must-see attraction along the Coosa River basin carved out of a rocky ravine at the base of a natural stone bluff visible high above.

What to Expect: Only accessible by walking down stone steps into the cavern or riding down via elevator through the cliffside, this one-of-a-kind watering hole packs in live music acts not much bigger than the cozy space itself – lit by Christmas lights strung across the porous ceiling.

Visitor Information: 409 Broad St along the river. Open W-Su from 4pm, closing late. Cash only. Call day of to confirm bands. Due to limited capacity of about 100, arrive early on show nights or risk waiting in long lines above.

For a uniquely Gadsden experience, head to this novelty restaurant and bar nested right underneath a large rock bluff. Only accessible by a 260-foot passageway, the Saloon’s secluded location and hand-built stone interior make you feel worlds away. Visitors rave about the casual fare like hot wings, sandwiches, andbuild-your-own burgers.

But most come for the one-of-a-kind ambiance – dance to live bands on the back patio, play a round of mini golf, or simply admire your lush forest surroundings fueled by cold drinks and good company. A trip to the Rattlesnake Saloon guarantees lasting memories.

Tour Beautiful Downtown Homes

Name and Location: Tour Beautiful Downtown Homes

History and Significance: Gadsden’s downtown streets are lined with beautiful Victorian and Craftsman style homes built by lumber barons and riverboat captains back during the city’s turn of the century industrial boom era. Several privately-owned standout residences have been restored to their former glory.

What to Expect: Drive or stroll past noteworthy homes on Chestnut and Tuscaloosa Avenues just blocks north of Broad Street to admire the diverse architecture from Queen Anne to Colonial to Tudor Revival styles as architectural walking tour maps point out highlights.

Visitor Information: Homes are private and only viewable from exterior sidewalks. Be respectful by simply photographing and not disturbing residents. Grab a walking tour map from the Downtown Welcome Center at 615 Broad St for insight.

Gadsden is filled with historic architecture, particularly its elegant 19th-century and Victorian homes. Take a self-guided walking tour to admire gorgeous dwellings like the Italianate-style Striplin Home dating back to the Civil War era.

Or join Gadsden’s annual Pilgrimage of Homes in October, where ticket holders can step inside select private residences, many designed by renowned local architect Julian F. Thompson. Standouts include the magnificent 42-room Morgan Hall mansion and the Oliver-Waldrop House featuring rich interiors. Through these splendid homes, discover Gadsden’s enduring legacy.

Relish the Riverfront

Name and Location: Relish the Riverfront

History and Significance: The banks of the Coosa River fueled Gadsden’s early growth as a river port and industrial center. Today you can reconnect to that heritage via scenic parks, cultural sites and restaurants along the river delivering natural beauty plus captivating views of three bridges and Noccalula Falls spanning the waterway.

What to Expect: Walkable access to pavilions, memorial gardens, concert venue and hiking/biking trails that take in the river scene. Kayak/paddleboard launches offer waterway recreation. Special events held at venues like Moragne Park and Riverview Park.

Visitor Information: Accessible parkland stretches for several miles via various bridge crossings and roadways paralleling both sides of the river. City trolley or boat tours also showcase sites.

One of Gadsden’s greatest assets is the Coosa River winding through the city. The beautiful Riverfront provides six miles of scenic walking trails that are wonderful for strolls any time of year. Interpretive signs guide you through sights like the old railroad bridge pilings while artwork and cultural landmarks add interest.

Cool off at the splash pad on hot summer days or cozy up around fire pits and heaters during cooler months. Special riverfront events include Dragon Boat races and Fourth of July celebrations. For unrivaled water views paired with breezy recreation, schedule ample time to linger along the scenic Coosa.

Learn Local History at Forrest Cemetery

Name and Location: Learn Local History at Forrest Cemetery

History and Significance: Established as Gadsden’s first cemetery in 1856, this park-like memorial ground located on the crest of a hill in the heart of downtown holds over 500 Confederate soldiers plus governors, congressmen and titans of industry that helped build Gadsden spanning nearly two centuries. A tranquil history lesson.

What to Expect: Historical markers and interpretive signage help identify the cemetery’s most significant memorials as you wind along the paved roads and paths past diverse mausoleums and gravestones ranging from simple to very ornate in design. Seasonal map brochures available onsite.

Visitor Information: 715 Chestnut St. Open daily 8am-5pm. Visitors welcome to explore the spacious grounds on foot. Rules protect memorials from disturbance with no bikes, skates or pets allowed.

Far more than a final resting place, Forrest Cemetery serves as an open-air museum with striking monuments that reveal Gadsden’s past. Notable graves include those of founder Gabriel Hughes and Emma Sansom. Visitors can also view the Gadsden Confederate Monument – one of only six approved monuments in the country – alongside markers for unknown Confederate soldiers.

Regular cemetery tours provide greater insight, or guests can freely roam the grounds taking in the artistry and regional icons carved into this “outdoor attic of local and family history.” It’s a moving, unexpectedly enriching experience.

Shop for Antiques and Collectibles

Name and Location: Shop for Antiques and Collectibles

History and Significance: From general stores dating back over a century to collectors dens filled with memorabilia, downtown Gadsden brings the past to life via numerous antique and consignment shops stuffed to the rafters with rare finds awaiting your visit and negotiation.

What to Expect: Browse prime examples of pottery, paintings, classic tin signs, industrial relics, coins, fine jewelry, vinyl records, books, Samuel Clemons first editions, carnival glass, steamer trunks, stained glass lamps or a Victorian fainting couch to channel Scarlett O’Hara herself. The hunt is part of the fun – you never know what curiosity awaits.

Visitor Information: Clustered around Broad, Market and Third Streets. Most open late morning to mid-afternoon, Monday-Saturday. Remember to bring cash for deals as availability rotates quickly.

Calling all vintage devotees – Gadsden boasts several antique stores brimming with treasures. Top picks include Scarborough Antiques for its museum-quality 18th and 19th century furnishings auctioned off monthly.

At Sleeping Meadow Antiques, comb through the 10,000-square-foot showroom to discover rare carnival glass, Fostoria pieces, beautifully preserved furniture, and other dazzling finds. Those preferring antique jewelry should visit Fox’s Cache of Classics, while Emmetts & Olde Tyme Marketplace delights with its charming clutter. For rare collectibles, one-of-a-kind home goods, and sheer intrigue around every corner, Gadsden delivers.

Cheer on the Gadsden Steamers Baseball Team

Name and Location: Cheer on the Gadsden Steamers Baseball Team

History and Significance: As members of various pro baseball independent leagues since 1995, the Gadsden Steamers provide affordable fan-friendly entertainment at their intimate downtown riverfront stadium most summer seasons from late May stretching into August. Quality roster competition on an intimate scale in a lively setting.

What to Expect: Fast-paced wood bat action with players that have often advanced onto MLB farm club deals and appearances down the road. Promotions add to excitement with giveaways plus events like pregame autograph sessions and postgame fireworks extravaganzas.

Visitor Information: 433 Walnut St along river. Tickets $6-8. VIP seating and party patios available. gates open an hour before first pitch. Family friendly – kids 12 and under free on Sundays.

Since 1995, the Gadsden Steamers have brought America’s favorite pastime to this baseball-loving community. As part of the Southern League of Professional Baseball club, Steamers’ games promise good old-fashioned entertainment the whole family can enjoy.

Bring a picnic or sample ballpark eats like steamed corn dogs while watching players round the bases. Between innings are crowd-pleasing spectacles like dizzy bat races. Home games at the downtown stadium run from late May through early August. For an authentic taste of Americana in an intimate setting, catching a Steamers game makes memories.

Listen to Live Music

Name and Location: Listen to Live Music

History and Significance: From underground honky tonks to riverfront amphitheaters, downtown Gadsden offers plenty of lively venues hosting local and regional bands spanning rock, country, blues and jazz so you can dance, unwind or rediscover classics performed live by passionate musicians most nights of the week across town.

What to Expect: Catch a show tucked into picturesque open air or cavernous indoor spaces surrounded by fellow music lovers and the bands themselves. Tap your toes as the sounds of guitar, fiddle, harmonica, mandolin and more fill the air just like they have here along the banks of the Coosa for decades now.

Visitor Information: Venues include The Venue on Broad, Pitman Theatre, Riverfront park, Joe Ford Center and the iconic Rattlesnake Saloon cave. Most all ages but some 21+. Days and genres vary so check local event listings.

While Gadsden doesn’t have a bustling bar scene, this unassuming city treats music lovers to local hot spots hosting regular live shows. For foot-stompin’ country acts and lawn games under hanging lights, saddle up to Stampede Saloon. At the intimate Mary G’s, the wooden dancefloor fills up once bands play bluesy rock and soul classics.

The credible Back Forty Beer Company schedules both local and touring singer-songwriters. And during warmer months, expect free concerts at both Noccalula Falls Park and on the banks of the Coosa at various Riverfront venues. Come revel with friendly locals while talented regional performers set the soundtrack to an entertaining evening out.

Golf Stunning Greens

Name and Location: Golf Stunning Greens

History and Significance: With a half dozen public and private course offerings nearby in scenic countryside settings, Gadsden provides quality greens for golfers at varying skill levels and rates when looking to play a casual or competitive round most times of year thanks to the area’s moderate seasonal climate.

What to Expect: Well maintained regulation length 18-hole courses that traverse hills, ponds and creeks as you focus on distance control and precision from the tee box through firm fast greens up to the pin surrounded by sand traps and water hazards. Electric carts and clubhouse dining facilities.

Visitor Information: Sites include Twin Bridges, Briarmeade CC, Ballantrae and Cottonwood with public greens fee and tee time policies. Equipment rentals, instruction and league play options available. Call pro shops directly for booking policies and pricing details.

With aclimate ideal for year-round play and no shortage of spectacular courses, Gadsden ranks among Alabama’s finest golf destinations. Test your skills at the meticulously groomed Gadsden Country Club – the oldest member-owned club in the state. Cane Creek Golf Course offers views of the forested gorge with a rolling layout reminiscent of the British Isles.

Twin Bridges errs on the side of challenge with bunkers and water hazards found throughout. For breathtaking vistas coupled with top-quality course conditions, Gadsden makes golf both picturesque and pleasurable.

Explore Cultural Institutions

Name and Location: Explore Cultural Institutions

History and Significance: From art museums to children’s discovery centers, downtown Gadsden packs numerous cultural sites into a compact easy to access area focused on creativity, imagination and showcasing Northeast Alabama’s past and present across rotating exhibits, hands-on activities and special programming for all interests and ages to engage with.

What to Expect: See how turbine engines were revolutionized locally, watch pottery come to life, hear voices from the past, compose a new musical creation from scratch or travel the world through cultural arts at the city’s many nonprofit institutions. Expand your experience and support their educational mission.

Visitor Information: Among sites the Gadsden Cultural Arts Center on Broad St, Imagination Place hands-on kids museum plus travelling exhibits visiting the historic downtown district throughout the calendar year.

Despite its small size, Gadsden has several esteemed cultural institutions that offer education and entertainment. At the Gadsden Museum of Art, the permanent collection features 19th and 20th century American masterpieces while special exhibitions shine a spotlight on famed regional talents. Visitors of all ages gravitate towards

Downtown Jamboree for bluegrass concerts and children’s programs promoting Appalachian folk culture. Over at River Country Museum, interactive exhibits like a simulated coal mine take you through Etowah County’s rich history. From visual arts to heritage preservation, discover Gadsden’s creative side.

Savor Southern Fare

Name and Location: Savor Southern Fare

History and Significance: From meat and threes diners to refined restaurant menus, the tastes of Alabama come through loud and proud across dishes served throughout Gadsden eateries and food trucks with comfort foods passed down through generations now seeing elevated preparation – combining down home soul with contemporary influences across appetizers, entrees and especially decadent desserts.

What to Expect: Cast iron pan-fried chicken or juicy hand cut steaks, mashed potato casseroles swirled with creamy peanut butter, field peas and buttermilk biscuits drenched in cane syrup followed by towering layer cakes or banana pudding…and that’s just scratching the surface of what creative local chefs are plating up daily utilizing beloved regional ingredients and cooking methods.

Visitor Information: Downtown Gadsden delivers concentrations of dining variety from casual to upscale establishments within walking distance. Delivery apps expand your options. Save room for dessert – you won’t regret it!

The warm hospitality draws visitors in, but Gadsden’s delicious Dixie cuisine makes them extend their stay. For flawless fried green tomatoes, melt-in-your-mouth pimento cheese, and coconut cream pie like your grandmother used to make, the kitschy Pitmaster’s Barbecue doesn’t disappoint. The hip farm-to-table restaurant Urban Cookhouse plates locally sourced dishes from BBQ pork tacos to rainbow trout.

Hometown favorite Lawler’s serves up tasty barbecue alongside Southern meat-and-threes and homemade rolls since 1961. And for piping hot soul food ready at a moment’s notice, Little Family Restaurant satisfies with its bounty of daily specials. Through family recipes and skilled seasoning, Gadsden chefs do comfort food right.

Conclusion

Brimming with natural beauty, small-town charm, and diversity of attractions, Gadsden promises a thoroughly enjoyable getaway. Outdoor enthusiasts, history buffs, music fans, golfers, foodies, and families alike will find plenty to fill their itinerary when visiting northeast Alabama’s picturesque river city.

Whether you spend an afternoon or a few days exploring Gadsden, prepare to be captivated by the city’s rich heritage, cultural gems, and welcoming community. When it comes time to relax with Southern hospitality at its finest, Gadsden eagerly delivers.

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