Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in Fort Payne, AL

  • Published 2022/10/12

In Alabama, the city of Fort Payne once produced more than half of the United States’ socks.

Thus, the city was eventually billed as the “Sock Capital of the World.”

However, only remnants of the vast hosiery and sock factories are seen in the city today.

Fort Payne has moved forward from being a massive producer of socks to becoming a laid-back city and a nice travel destination for nature, history, and leisure.

So, consider listing Fort Payne as your next destination if you seek a unique travel adventure that combines all three.

Whether you want to engage in outdoor activities or uncover interesting history, you can do everything you want in this small city.

The city’s landscape and location are unique and picturesque.

It is tucked in between two mountains; Sand Mountain and Lookout Mountain.

It means there are dozens of outdoor activities to do in Fort Payne.

Aside from outdoor activities, there are numerous shopping areas and restaurants to check out for leisure time.

So, read this post about the 20 best things to do in Fort Payne, Alabama, to find out what this quaint city has in store for you.

Reconnect with Nature at the Little River Canyon Preserve

Picturesque waterfall at Little River Canyon Preserve

Rob Hainer /

The Little River Canyon Preserve is a vast natural attraction in Fort Payne that spans 15,288 acres of protected areas and is home to Alabama’s longest mountain river.

This nature preserve is nestled atop the Lookout Mountain and serves as a popular outdoor destination in Alabama.

Aside from being home to the state’s longest mountain river, it is also home to three waterfalls: the Grace High Falls, Little River Falls (Marthas Falls), and DeSoto Falls.

Rafts resting at Little River Canyon Preserve

Malachi Jacobs /

Whether you seek to reconnect with nature or enjoy the outdoors, something great is waiting for you in Little River Canyon Preserve.

This natural attraction is also home to diverse flora and fauna, making it an interesting place for nature lovers.

View of the cliffs from Little River Canyon Preserve during autumn

Dharris324 /

Have Fun at the Wills Valley Recreation Center

The Wills Valley Recreation Center is a top-notch indoor sports venue that hosts various sports leagues and community-related activities.

Aside from hosting, many of Fort Payne’s locals play sports there, such as basketball and volleyball.

Plus, it has an indoor walking track overlooking the vast gymnasium where everyone can hike or jog, while it also has a fitness center equipped with free weights and machines.

If you want to stretch your muscles or have a quick workout in your visit to Fort Payne, Wills Valley Recreation Center is your go-to place.

Furthermore, this place all has the amenities of a top-notch recreation center.

Learn Interesting History at Fort Payne Depot Museum

Railway track at Fort Payne Depot Museum

Chris Pruitt, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Fort Payne Depot Museum’s building has been standing since 1891 and has seen how the city changed throughout the years.

For almost a century, the building once served as the Alabama-Great Southern Railroad depot.

When the railroad industry in the region closed, a group of Fort Payne citizens acquired the building and converted it into the community’s museum.

The building underwent massive restoration and stabilization before it formally opened as the Fort Payne Depot Museum in 1986.

Exterior view of Fort Payne Depot Museum

Chris Pruitt, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The museum building has a distinct beauty because of the pink sandstones that cover its walls while having a unique Richardson Romanesque architecture.

Enjoy browsing through a vast collection of old artifacts, memorabilia, and diorama from local history inside the museum.

It also has a vast collection of Native American handicrafts and a separate collection of Fort Payne’s railroad era.

Check Out the Jacksonville State University Little River Canyon Center

The Little River Canyon Center located inside the Jacksonville State University allows visitors to learn more about the natural attractions that surround Fort Payne.

Opened in 2009, the center boasts exhibits, an outdoor amphitheater, a grand hall, a movie theater, library, gift shop, classrooms, hiking trails, and exhibits open to the public.

The center has regular programs and activities for locals, visitors, and students.

It’s a must-visit place to learn more about the natural attractions you can visit in Fort Payne, including Little River Canyon Preserve.

It has friendly staff from the National Park Service that will provide you with maps, guides, and itineraries to give you an awesome experience in Fort Payne.

Visit the Sallie Howard Memorial Baptist Chapel

Popularly known among locals as the ‘church with a rock in it,’ the Sallie Howard Memorial Baptist Chapel is a unique attraction in Fort Payne that you should check out.

The small chapel is nestled atop the Lookout Mountain.

Colonel Milford Howard built the chapel in 1937 as a memorial to his wife, who passed away.

What makes this chapel unique is it’s constructed around a massive boulder.

Instead of finding another location, Howard, with the help of the Civilian Conservation Corps, went on building the chapel without disturbing the huge boulder around it.

Today, this small chapel is a popular wedding venue and tourist attraction, and it also regularly holds religious services.

Get Into Outdoor Action at DeSoto Park

Close up of Laurel fall at DeSoto Park

Julie rubacha /

Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, a nature lover, or a sports buff, there are plenty of exciting activities that await at DeSoto Park.

This outdoor attraction nestled atop the Lookout Mountain is teeming with outdoor activities from hiking, cycling, fishing, kayaking, swimming, bouldering to rappelling.

DeSoto Falls at DeSoto Park

Jim Vallee /

DeSoto Park, which covers more than 3,502 acres, is surrounded by waterfalls, streams, and boulders, making it a perfect playground for outdoor enthusiasts.

DeSoto State Park has a peaceful picnic area and other amenities for those who only seek relaxation and communing with nature.

Water passing through huge rocks at DeSoto Park

Beth Warnock /

The park is currently run by the Civilian Conservation Corps, which offers guided tours around the park.

If you want to spend the evening there, it has lodging facilities like cabins, camping grounds, and RV sites.

Eat and Drink at the Vintage 1889

The Vintage 1889 boasts 92 beer selections from popular brands to locally-crafted, making it a popular restaurant and bar in Fort Payne.

Moreover, its location offers you a unique dining experience.

The Vintage 1889 is located inside an old hosiery mill, the Davis Hosiery Mill, converted into an antique mall.

The restaurant isn’t just known for having the largest beer selection in the region.

It also serves delicious food, such as sandwiches, roast beef, pizzas, burgers, and salads, to complement its vast beer selection.

Find Rare Items at the Big Mill Antique Mall

The Big Mill Antique Mall is home to dozens of artisans and antique shops that sell an eclectic collection of vintage wares, toys, books, vinyl records, furniture, home decors, paintings, and ceramics.

The Big Mill Antique Mall is situated inside the old W.B Davis Hosiery Mill, which once contributed to the millions of pairs of socks produced in Fort Payne.

Today, the 21,000-square-foot former mill houses a wide array of collectibles and antiques you won’t find anywhere else.

Furthermore, it’s also home to numerous restaurants, like The Vintage 1889 and many more.

Whether you’re an avid antique collector or looking for new home decor, the Big Mill Antique Mall has something unique to offer.

Drive along the Little River Canyon Rim Parkway

Mushroom rock at Little River Canyon Rim Parkway

Thomson200, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Little River Canyon Rim Parkway stretches for about 11 miles along Highway 176.

This thoroughfare is the perfect setting for a relaxing drive where you open your windows and enjoy the scenic views of rock walls, waterfalls, and lush greenery that turns into a foliage of red and orange during Fall.

You can make several stopovers along the way to take photos of the beautiful sceneries that the Littler River Canyon offers.

For a more immersive experience with nature, you can bike along the Little River Canyon Rim Parkway’s long winding roads.

Travel time along this scenic thoroughfare takes about 45 minutes or an hour.

Dine at the DeSoto State Park’s Mountain Inn Restaurant

This unique restaurant is nestled in a vintage sandstone lodge constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps back in the 1930s.

Aside from its cozy and welcoming atmosphere, the DeSoto State Park’s Mountain Inn Restaurant is famous among locals and visitors for its delicious buffet.

They serve a seafood buffet every Friday evening, while its breakfast buffet is served on weekend mornings.

Its lunch buffet is available every Sunday.

Aside from delicious food, you’ll also be treated to a picturesque view of the West Fork of Little River.

Celebrate Country Music at the Alabama Fan Club and Museum

Fort Payne is home to the famous country music band, Alabama.

This band is one of the most successful musicians in the country music genre.

They are part of the Country Music Hall of Fame and are popular across the United States.

To celebrate their success and reminisce their glory days in music, visit the Alabama Fan Club and Museum in Fort Payne.

The museum is a nice place to visit, especially for music lovers, as it features a vast collection of Alabama’s awards, personal items, photos, videos, and other memorabilia.

If you have more time for a little detour in your Fort Payne travel adventure, check out the Alabama Fan Club and Museum.

Take a Dip at the Little Falls or Martha’s Falls

Water from Martha's Falls amidst the rocks and trees

Tyler Boyer /

Visitors are often confused about this waterfall nestled inside the Little River Canyon National Preserve.

Some locals call it “Martha’s Falls,” while some name it the “Hippie Hole” or “Little Falls.”

Regardless of this waterfall’s name, it’s nice to cool down and swim on its popular swimming hole.

Martha's Falls in Little River Canyon, Fort Payne

Thomson200, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The 45-foot waterfall streams down the Little River Canyon, making it a perfect spot to swim.

The place is usually packed with visitors, especially during summer.

After swimming, have a picnic and relax at the nearby picnic area.

Overall, Martha’s Falls or Little Falls is a wonderful place to bond with your family and enjoy swimming in its pristine and icy waters.

Climb Rocks and Mountains with True Adventure Sports

Whether you’re an expert climber or not, you should find local outdoor guides, especially if you’re not entirely familiar with the area.

If you’re planning to go rock climbing or rappelling in Fort Payne’s Lookout Mountain or Little River Canyon National Preserve, you can sign-up with True Adventure Sports.

This local outdoor guide offers outdoor activities such as rappelling, rock climbing, hiking, camping, caving, and kayaking.

Their office is located roughly a mile from these attractions in Fort Payne.

They have all the safety equipment and outdoor gear essential for a safe and enjoyable tour.

In total, the group offers 39 different outdoor activities.

Their tour guides and instructors are highly-trained outdoor experts, certified mountain guides, medics, and rappel masters to give you a worry-free experience.

Appreciate Exquisite Glass Art at the Orbix Hot Glass

Since 2002, Orbix Hot Glass has continued to amaze everyone with its world-class blown glass ornament that you can view or purchase at its art studio and gallery in Fort Payne.

Orbix Hot Glass is one of Fort Payne’s pride in the field of arts.

Its art studio is nestled atop the Lookout Mountain, where everyone can visit and take a closer look at its handcrafted museum-quality glass-blown sculptures, ornaments, and decorations.

Furthermore, if you’re interested in the art of glassblowing, a hands-on learning session is offered there regularly.

Visit Manitou Cave

Lookout Mountain’s base at the modern-day Fort Payne lies a unique cave in its geological structures and biological diversity that has drawn visitors for centuries.

Saltpeter was extracted from Manitou Cave in the 1860s to aid the Confederate cause in the American Civil War.

When the Cold War broke, Manitou Cave was a haven for those seeking refuge from nuclear bombs.

The cave still has some equipment used to build the cave house.

By making an appointment, groups may visit Manitou and its interpretive center, where they can learn about the area’s history, the cave’s unusual geology, and the cave’s delicate biodiversity.

Inside the cave, you may find uncommon snails and other unique fauna, like bats and salamanders.

Visitors will get insight into the significance of this cave to the Cherokee people and the history of the Trail of Tears, thanks to the fact that it is a certified Trail of Tears Interpretive Center.

Stroll through Alabama Walking Park

Enjoy a relaxing day trip at one of Fort Payne’s most popular tourist destinations, the scenic Alabama Walking Park.

Located along the new park in Fort Payne and not far from the Depot Museum, the Alabama Walking Park is an excellent destination for visitors of all ages.

The groomed walking routes and exercise center are just two of the many activities available to guests.

The park has expansive pavilions and lush grassy spaces perfect for picnics, live music performances, public events, and children’s playtime.

Alabama Walking Park also welcomes people of all ages and provides a variety of entertaining activities and attractions.

Marvel at the Architecture along Fort Payne Main Street

Shops at Fort Payne Main Street

Chris Pruitt, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Fort Payne has excellent eating and retail opportunities in a charming, small-town atmosphere.

Buildings in this area date back to Fort Payne’s second era of expansion, from the 1920s to the 1940s, and include both public and commercial structures.

The Fort Payne Boom Town Historic District lies in the northeast corner. It still has buildings from the city’s initial building boom in the 1880s and 1890s.

The majority of the business structures consist of plain, functional brick.

More ornate architectural styles, such as the Classical Revival, can be seen in subsequent public facilities.

Fort Payne’s Main Street is a hub for the city’s thriving cultural scene, with several galleries and a top-notch community theater.

The Appalachian foothills are home to a vibrant culture and fascinating characters like Pete the Cat, James Dean, and the country music legends Alabama.

Enjoy the art, history, delicious food, and, most importantly, the warm southern hospitality of Fort Payne Main Street.

Discover the Contribution of Hosiery in Fort Payne Hosiery Museum

Facade of Fort Payne Hosiery Museum

Chris Pruitt, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Fort Payne Hosiery Museum is a museum of history and service dedicated to studying hosiery and its users.

Hosiery has played an essential role in people’s lives worldwide.

In addition to showcasing the product and its users, the museum strives to educate visitors through interactive exhibits and presentations.

Museum exhibits reflect contemporary concerns as well as historical ones.

You may go there and observe how it’s used now and learn about the individuals who have utilized it.

Fort Payne is an excellent destination for a day trip or a weeklong vacation.

Practice Your Swing at Desoto Golf Course

Desoto Golf Course is the oldest course in all of Dekalb County. It’s free to visit and may be found close to the city’s hub.

The 9-hole course, which uses bent grass greens and Bermuda fairways, is demanding and aesthetically pleasing.

With a maximum distance of 3,007 yards from the back tees, the par-36 course is undoubtedly a test of golfing skill.

It also features a public pool available during the appropriate months and may be used for events.

In 1961, Desoto Golf Course began its operation.

It’s now under new management led by Darrel Shankles.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Conquer the Slopes of Cloudmont Ski Resort

Who thinks that there is no ski resort in Alabama?

Well, you can find one just outside the city limits of Fort Payne.

The Cloudmont Ski Resort is situated in between Lookout Mountain and Mentone.

It offers two great slopes perfect for skiing and snowboarding.

Skiiers and snowboarders from the south regularly flock to the Cloudmont Ski Resort since 1970 to conquer its 1,000-foot snowy slopes.

This ski resort turns into an outdoor destination for horseback riding, mountain climbing, and golf during the warmer season.

Final Thoughts

If there’s a word you can describe Fort Payne, it would be “breathtaking.”

Its unspoiled natural beauty makes it a highly recommended destination in Alabama for everyone.

What you’ll love the most about Fort Payne is its peaceful and welcoming atmosphere that instantly embraces you right after you enter its streets.

Its calmness prepares your mind and body for a whole day of action-packed exploration of its nature preserves and state parks.

There’s so much to do in Fort Payne, Alabama that you need extra days to enjoy all of them.

So, what’s the first thing you’ll be doing in Fort Payne?

Don’t forget to bookmark this post to give yourself an instant itinerary.

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