Spotlight on Madison County: Culture & Recreation

U.S. Space & Rocket Center, Orion Amphitheater, nature trails and more make up Madison County's many attractions

U.S. Space & Rocket Center. Photo courtesy of Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce.

U.S. Space and Rocket Center

Alabama’s No. 1 paid tourist attraction is a Smithsonian Affiliate, the official visitor center for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the official museum for the U.S. Army. It boasts one of the largest collections of rockets and space memorabilia in the world and is home to the U.S. Space Camp Training Center. Interactive exhibits center on Apollo, Mercury and Space Shuttle spacecraft and the history of space exploration. Visitors also can experience space travel simulators and travel through space during planetarium shows.

Huntsville Botanical Garden

The 112-acre Huntsville Botanical Garden, recently named among the 10 best botanical gardens in the nation for 2023 by USA Today, is open year-round and includes the nation’s largest open-air butterfly house, a children’s garden, wooded nature trails, specialty gardens and native plant collections. The garden also hosts a variety of events, exhibits and programs throughout the year with an eye on plant conservation and education.

Huntsville Museum of Art

Located in downtown Huntsville’s Big Spring Park, this nationally accredited museum boasts a 2,522-piece permanent collection and houses seven galleries featuring a variety of traveling exhibitions and works by nationally and regionally acclaimed artists. The museum also is home to the world’s largest collection of Buccellati silver animals.

Orion Amphitheater

The Orion Amphitheater opened in May 2022, and the 8,000-capacity outdoor venue, inspired by the open-air amphitheaters of ancient Greece, offers a space for concerts and community events year-round, as well as a variety of food and drink options for Orion patrons and the surrounding MidCity district. The amphitheater is located in Apollo Park, a new leisure, activity and nature park.

Variety is the Spice

Huntsville’s MidCity District, Town Madison and the Village of Providence all mix restaurants, retail and entertainment options in mixed-use areas of residential and office space.

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Toyota Field / Rocket City Trash Pandas

Located in Madison, the 7,000-capacity Toyota Field is the home stadium for the Rocket City Trash Pandas, a minor league baseball team of the Southern League and the Double-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels. The facility also is available for corporate functions, banquets, wedding receptions and other events. In the off-season, the ballpark hosts special events including movie nights and a holiday light show.

John Hunt Park

This 428-acre site in Huntsville includes the newly renovated Joe Davis Stadium, home of the Huntsville City FC (Football Club) soccer team, which kicks off its first regular season this year. Last fall, the city council approved construction of a new 53,000-square-foot John Hunt Park Recreation Center that will include outdoor pickleball courts, four full-size gymnasiums and a fitness center. The park’s Raymond W. Jones Community Center is undergoing a $6.3 million renovation and a renovation of Kids’ Space is expected to be completed this summer.

Madison County Greenways and Nature Trails

Huntsville offers 26 miles of greenways for pedestrians and cyclists, and many of the city’s parks connect directly to popular walking trails. Madison also has a number of greenways with additional projects underway. The Singing River Trail, one of the area’s latest developments, is a proposed 220-plus-mile greenway, themed with Native American history, that will eventually connect eight counties and 27 towns. Still in its early stages, small sections of the trail are open in South and West Huntsville.

Land Trust of North Alabama

The Land Trust of North Alabama provides a variety of ways to connect with nature, including nine public nature reserves and a paved greenway that offer more than 80 miles of public hiking and biking trails.

Harrison Brothers Hardware Store

The state’s oldest continuously operating hardware store has been located on the square in downtown Huntsville since 1897. The store retains its original historic fixtures and offers a selection of art, toys, housewares, gourmet food, books and other regional gift items.

Burritt on the Mountain

The historic 1930s mansion and its surrounding 167 acres overlook Huntsville and invite visitors to explore Alabama’s history and natural beauty. The site includes six authentic 19th century homes, a blacksmith shop and outbuildings and the McCurdy Barnyard. Interpreters in period dress answer questions, give tours and demonstrate 1800s farm life. Burritt’s nature trails circle Round Top Mountain and connect to the Land Trust of Madison County and Monte Sano State Park.

EarlyWorks Children’s History Museum

This hands-on, interactive history museum is geared toward younger children, featuring a talking tree that tells stories of Alabama history and cultures, a 46-foot historically accurate keelboat, a dedicated space for preschoolers to develop fine motor skills, a building block light table, an African American history exhibit and an exhibit that offers a glimpse inside popular toys.

Weeden House Museum and Garden

Located in Huntsville’s historic Twickenham District, the Weeden House was home to several notable early Huntsvillians, including Maria Howard Weeden, a poet and watercolorist who became well-known for her portraits of freed slaves and accompanying poems that told their stories.

North Alabama Railroad Museum

Located just east of Huntsville in Chase, the North Alabama Railroad Museum features a display passenger train, an excursion train, a historic watchman’s hut and over 30 pieces of major rolling stock. Visitors are welcome to take a self-guided tour seven days a week. Museum volunteers are available on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.

Harmony Park Safari

A two-mile drive through the federally licensed Harmony Park Safari nature preserve offers visitors an opportunity to observe free-ranging exotic and endangered animals, including zebras, ostriches, giraffes and tortoises. The park is open March through November.

Veterans Memorial Museum

Operated by the Alabama Center of Military History, the Veterans Memorial Museum features a collection of military memorabilia, artifacts and equipment dating back to the Revolutionary War. It also maintains a collection of more than 30 military vehicles from World War I to the present, including the oldest surviving jeep, the Ford Pygmy.

Craft Breweries

Madison County is home to a number of celebrated craft breweries. The Downtown Huntsville Craft Beer Trail includes 10 locations and is a great introduction to the Rocket City’s booming brewery scene.

Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Hampton Cove

The Northern gateway to the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail is located in Hampton Cove. The 54-hole facility consists of the Highlands Course, one of the most picturesque and challenging courses on the Trail; the River Course, which is laid out on former soybean fields in the floodplain of the Flint River; and the Short Course, a great option for golfers of all skill levels.

Monte Sano State Park

Rising more than 1,600 feet above sea level, Monte Sano State Park rewards visitors with spectacular views of Huntsville and the surrounding area. The 2,500-acre park also offers vacation cottages, campsites, picnic areas, playgrounds, 20 miles of hiking trails and 14 miles of biking trails. The Monte Sano Lodge provides a scenic setting for a variety of professional and social events.

Lowe Mill Arts & Entertainment

Lowe Mill Arts & Entertainment is the largest privately owned arts facility in the country. The former textile mill, registered with the U.S. Register of Historic Places, is now home to 152 working studios for over 200 artists, seven art galleries, a multi-use theater and four performance venues as well as a variety of restaurants, a distillery, North Alabama’s first meadery, a chocolate shop and a community garden.

This article appears in the May 2023 issue of Business Alabama.

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