The Yellowhammer state has many things to see and do. Northern Alabama offers hills and forests for hiking and climbing and a long string of lakes for water sports. Cheaha and DeSoto state parks showcase the state's highest point and deepest gorge, respectively, and camping and hiking are popular activities in these forested areas. Guntersville and Wheeler lakes are prime recreational waterways where swimming, fishing, boating, and water skiing are enjoyed almost year-round. Catch a glimpse into the future at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville; or visit some of Alabama's historic past at the W. C. Handy Home and Museum in Florence or at Ivy Green, the birthplace of Helen Keller, in Tuscumbia. Big-city life can be enjoyed in Birmingham, the state's largest city and home of the famous Vulcan statue.
Heading south, the hills and forests give way to the rich plains of central Alabama, otherwise known as the Cradle of the Confederacy. Great cotton plantations sprang up here in the 19th century, and several can still be toured. The First White House of the Confederacy is in Montgomery, and ruins of the state's first capital city are at Cahawba, just west of Selma. Nearby in Tuskegee is the Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site. Here, among student-made brick buildings, are reminders of the impact made on black history by such people as Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver.
Spanish moss, meandering rivers, and white-sand beaches are the setting in south Alabama. Gulf State Park, in Gulf Shores, offers miles of beaches along with fine lodging facilities. Fun-loving Mobile is the host-city for the oldest Mardi Gras celebration in the country and an annual azalea festival. Just south of Mobile is Bellingrath Gardens and Home, one of the premier landscaped gardens in the country. It is a must-see for lovers of flora and fauna.