When Mardi Gras 2021 was canceled, my husband and I decided that it was the perfect time to take our first-ever real family vacation. Almost everyone I knew was heading to either Disney World or Gatlinburg, but Disney was out of our budget and Gatlinburg was too far of a drive for my kids to handle. Not wanting to waste this opportunity to travel, I started researching places that would fulfill our vacation checklist– mountainous, with cabins, and a shorter drive. My research turned up a great spot: Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham, Alabama.
Just shy of six hours away, the state park had almost everything on my checklist for a fun but easy getaway. Cabins were an important factor for me, as I wanted to avoid hotels, and we were able to rent a cozy one with full amenities. (My parents came along and rented the one right next door to us– my kids loved having their grandparents nearby!) We stocked up the fridge and cooked our meals in the kitchen and were able to easily return to the cabin each day for nap time. Our cabin was right on a lake with access to kayaks that we could take out whenever we wanted, which my oldest son loved! There was an easy trail right behind the cabin that we hiked up and down around the lake, taking in the views and introducing our boys to the concept of mountains– a novelty to their little minds.
Checklist: Kid-Friendly Activities
Our three-day itinerary included outings to several of the (attractions) that the state park offers. First up, we visited the local demonstration farm to pet and feed the animals there, from goats to a pony to a peacock and more! Later, we went to the park’s incredible playground where my kids had a blast climbing, running, and swinging. What kid doesn’t love a fun new playground to conquer?
Checklist: Easy Hiking
Our favorite activity was doing the Tree Top Hike, which is the easiest of the park’s many hiking trails. Even my eighteen-month-old was able to walk a good portion of the way, but it was a short enough trail that we could carry him when needed. The beautiful path led to a bird conservatory at the top, where we got to do some birdwatching and see several birds of prey, including hawks, owls, and a bald eagle. We all loved the quiet time relaxing after the climb and spotting the different birds coming out to all the feeders.
The highlight of the trip was that we were lucky enough to experience unexpected snow, which helped create some truly special family memories. I will never forget the shock of waking up to a blanket of pure white, the beauty of the surrounding woods coated in silent snow, or the joy on my boys’ red-cheeked faces as they scooped snowballs and made footprints in the blank fields. Seeing snow was somewhat unusual for that area, but even if it hadn’t snowed, our trip still would have been a great one!
If my children were older, we would have tackled the Peavine Falls hike to see the waterfall; if our trip had been longer, we may have searched for some of the local geocaches (one of our favorite activities). If we had gone during a different season, we could have gone swimming at one of the lake beaches. Oak Mountain State Park’s website shows a long list of activities and hiking trails!
So if you’re looking for somewhere different to go over fall break, winter break, or maybe even this upcoming Mardi Gras, I recommend taking the trip out to Oak Mountain State Park!