Tuscumbia. Sheffield. Muscle Shoals. Florence. The four towns butting up against each other in northwest Alabama is an area known as The Shoals. During a road trip along the Natchez Trace Parkway I spent a few days exploring the area.
The Shoals is probably best known for its deep musical heritage with recording studios that have lodged dozens of top careers. But those four towns also have a lot of great local food, outdoor recreation, and history to explore. I was so happy to spend a few days exploring it!
Browse through my favorite travel photos of The Shoals and then leave me a comment below telling me which is your favorite!
My first stop in The Shoals was the Rockpile Recreation Area. I found this on Google Maps, my favorite road trip planning tool. The massive Wilson Dam was the first dam completed by the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Wilson Dam Waterfall is still a mystery to me. A local tourism official said the waterfall near the dam was created from water seeping through the rocks, but a TVA rep told me it was an old diversion tunnel used during the dam’s construction. Either way, it was unexpectedly awesome.
Whenever I visit a new destination I explore all the outdoor spaces first because it’s my favorite thing to do. The Old Railroad Bridge was a railroad and vehicle bridge spanning the Tennessee River. Today, only about 2/3 of the bridge remains and the lower level has been converted into a pedestrian path!
One of the local tourism folks took me out to lunch and then walked me past this waterfall. It’s the largest artificial waterfall in the state, and perhaps the country. The entire rocky terrain was built at the edge of Big Spring in Tuscumbia.
The 18′ tall Singing River Sculpture in Sheffield took me by surprise, but it shouldn’t have. The Shoals is known for their musical heritage. That’s putting it light; The Shoals is one of the most important locations in the American musical industry’s history.
I toured the three most popular music studios while visiting the area. Pictured above, Fame Recording Studios was my first tour. Below, I toured Muscle Shoals Sound Studios.
If you really want to understand the impact The Shoals has had on the musical industry, head over to the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia. I had no idea just how many musicians were from Alabama.
My favorite discovery in The Shoals was the Helen Keller Birth Place in Tuscumbia. Did you know Helen Keller was born and raised in this small town in northwest Alabama? I toured the home where she was born, the house next door where she grew up, and walked the grounds of the birthplace museum.
I’m always a day late or a week early. My visit to the Helen Keller Birth Place was a week before the Official Outdoor Drama of Alabama kicked off their season with the weekly performance of The Miracle Worker. However, I was invited to watch rehearsals one evening, so at least I got to see some of it!
I found a lot of museums in The Shoals. Pope’s Tavern, W.C. Handy Home and Museum, and Florence Indian Mound and Museum were all in Florence. I missed out on visiting the home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, however, because they were closed the days I was in town.
Time moves a little slower in Tuscumbia, Sheffield, Muscle Shoals, and Florence. I spent three days exploring The Shoals, but it wasn’t enough. Especially after I discovered Cold Water Books, the most amazing local bookstore I’ve ever seen.
Everyone needs to eat, and The Shoals has the options. The grilled chicken sandwich from Claunch Cafe in Tuscumbia and barbecue sandwich at 306 Barbeque and Back Alley Sports Bar in Florence were two of my favorite meals.
No meal is complete without dessert. Palace Ice Cream and Sandwich Shop, pictured above, made the biggest ice cream sundaes I’ve ever seen! Pictured below, Trowbridge’s Ice Cream Bar in Florence is infamous for their foot long banana split.
Music history, fascinating museums, peaceful outdoor spaces. The Shoals area of northwest Alabama was one of my favorite places I visited in 2018. I do believe a return visit in order. Are you motivated to visit yet yourself?