Although Decatur, Alabama is only about a quarter as large as nearby Huntsville, it is loaded with history, culture, and natural beauty. If you’re visiting Decatur, new to the community, or just trying to learn more about the area, here are seven great things you can do while you’re in town!
1. Check Out the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service operates the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge year-round with absolutely no entrance fees, making it the ultimate must-see free destination in the Decatur area. The refuge truly has something for every nature lover, from perfect bird-watching perches and well-mapped trails to sustainable hunting trips and outdoor education for kids.
For locals and visitors alike, the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge offers the perfect peaceful setting to learn more about the local environment and appreciate the animals, plants, and seasonal changes that make the Tennessee River Valley and Northern Alabama so unique. Programs, educational opportunities, and even the wildlife itself vary by season, so the refuge is a great regular stop for families who live in Decatur or repeat visitors to the area.
If you’re someone who enjoys the outdoors, loves animals, or has kids who desperately need to run around outside to burn off some energy, the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge is the perfect place to take in the majesty of nature, get in some physical activity, and even learn something while you’re there.
2. Take in the Old Decatur Historic District
Decatur, Alabama boomed in the 1830s when the Old State Bank was built, and the surrounding area grew into a hub of both business and residential life. Over the years, fire and the Civil War have both dramatically changed what downtown Decatur looks like, but the collection of structures that were built and rebuilt near Bank Street are now recognized on the National Register of Historic Places as significant to both Alabama and national history.
The Bank Street-Old Decatur Historic District prides itself on friendliness, cleanliness, and its connection to local history. It’s the perfect place for local folks, history buffs, or any kind of visitor to take a walk, see a variety of buildings from different historical periods and architecture styles, and reflect on the ways Decatur has evolved over time.
The city of Decatur even offers a free iOS app that allows residents and visitors to learn more about the various structures in the district as well as city history using a self-guided tour that includes audio, videos, maps, and text.
3. Enjoy Wheeler Lake
If you’re looking to get out on the water in a boat, catch a few fish, do some grilling in a beautiful setting, or pitch a tent just a few yards from the water, Wheeler Lake in Decatur, Alabama is one of the most popular recreation areas in the state.
The lake itself is rich in local history, as it was created in the 1930s by the Tennessee Valley Authority to make the Tennessee River easier to navigate. That change helped turn Decatur and Huntsville into the thriving, vibrant cities they are today.
In the 21st century, Wheeler Lake is renowned by sport fishermen for its incredible stock of bass (largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted), as well as catfish, bluegill, and crappie. The lake serves as the second stop on the famed Alabama Bass Trail and, in spite of its popularity, you can always find a quiet, peaceful, private spot, thanks to the lake’s 67,000 acres of water and 1,000 miles of shoreline.
4. Cool Off at the Water Park
Whether you’re a local, a transplant, or a visitor, you know that it gets hot and humid in Northern Alabama. Point Mallard Water Park is open daily throughout the summer (and on weekends in the fall) to give folks of all ages a place to cool off and have fun.
The park is affordable and visitor-friendly, offering reduced admission on off-peak days and 50%-off coupons for a return trip if bad weather closes their pools during your visit. Those perks make Point Mallard a great value for locals living in Decatur, Alabama as well as tourists looking for the perfect summer day trip activity.
If not everybody in your family or group is a water slide fan, Point Mallard Park also includes an 18-hole golf course, an ice skating rink, and a campground with full hook-ups, so there’s something for everybody within the facility.
5. Townhouse/Apartment Hunting
Many visitors are so taken with Decatur’s connection to history, beautiful scenery, and welcoming sense of community that they decide to make the area their home. Whether you’re eager to move to Decatur or just want to see how regular folks live in the community, looking for a Decatur townhouse for rent is a great way to increase your knowledge of the market.
Whether you’re in town for a couple of days visiting family, passing through the region on a fishing tour, or live a few towns over and are looking to upgrade to a strong, safe community, devoting a few hours to apartment hunting is a great way to see what options are available in the area and see what you really think about living in Decatur, Alabama.
Even if you’re just a tourist, apartment hunting in Decatur can be a ton of fun. When you see the kitchens, bathrooms, and landscaping in many local apartment complexes, you'll see the range of possibilities and destroy any preconceptions you might have about Decatur apartments being dated or unwelcoming.
If apartments aren't your thing, renting a townhouse has it's advantages.
6. Walk Delano Park
The oldest continually operating public park in Morgan County was originally created in the 1880s to embody the beauty of Decatur and reflect the local citizens’ and business leaders’ commitment to transforming the area into a great city, like New York or Chicago. While Decatur never grew into that megalopolis, Delano Park still remains one of the most impressive, beautiful, and quietly ambitious places in the city.
The park, originally planned by Nathan Franklin Barrett, is best known locally for its incredible rose garden, which is free to visit and enjoy. The garden added to the park during the Great Depression as part of a Civil Works Administration project, contains countless flowers, sculptures, and benches, inviting visitors to sit and think in an environment that is both beautiful and deeply connected to history.
Of course, in addition to its rich history and lovely flowers, Delano Park is also a thriving public park, which means it has a safe, modern playground, a splash pad for hot summer days, and a whimsical sculpture garden that will capture the imagination of parents and kids alike.
7. See the Sites on a Lake Cruise
The city of Decatur, Alabama and the surrounding area simply wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t for the Tennessee River. In fact, many of the best and most unique views of the area come from the water. On a sightseeing cruise, you can discover the region the way merchants, soldiers, and travelers did back in the 1800s and snap some truly breathtaking pictures.
Wheeler Lake Scenic Cruises offers both scheduled and chartered cruises and boat tours throughout the Wheeler State Park and Wheeler Lake areas, offering families on vacation or locals looking for a memorable night on the water with trips of various lengths to create the perfect experience.
A cruise on the lake is the perfect way to create a mobile party, a destination wedding, or even a much-needed end-of-week wind-down.
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