Scottsboro, Alabama, sits on the edge of the Cumberland Plateau, and it rocks — literally. On the way into Scottsboro, in Fackler, Alabama, the Rock Animal Zoo consists of odd-shaped rocks painted to look like elephants, chickens, cows, turtles and more. The "zoo" was started by Leonard Dawson in the 1970s when a boulder was pushed onto his property during construction of County Road 32. The rock looked like a rooster to him, and he ultimately decided to paint it himself — even fashioning a comb for the rooster out of cement. The rest is roadside history. After his passing in 2004, his family continued the tradition of painting rocks on the property to look like animals. Located along backroads (3215 County Road 32), the zoo can be tricky to find but is well worth the effort — as it's the only zoo where you get to pet the animals.
Drive time from Chattanooga: 1 hour, 5 minutes
Other claims to fame:
> In 2014, Scottsboro received a million dollar grant to help rejuvenate downtown, and today, the historic city boasts a vibrant arts district. Take a driving tour of street art via the North Alabama Mural Trail, featuring more than 125 works of public art in Scottsboro and beyond.
> Stephens Gap is a world-famous 150-foot pit cave, located at Stephens Gap Callahan Cave Preserve, 15 minutes from Scottsboro. Cavers love it for the vertical entrance, requiring expert rope skills. But hikers love it for the huge, walk-in entrance. From the parking lot, it is a 2-mile roundtrip hike, and the trail to the cave is marked with yellow flags. The walk into the cave can be steep and wet, so wear the right shoes and watch your step.
> A 25-minute drive from Scottsboro, Lake Guntersville State Park boasts 36 miles of paved hiking and biking trails, an outdoor nature center and weekly guided hikes, as well as a myriad of paddling opportunities.
Places to stay:
> Cathedral Caverns State Park, located 25 minutes south of Scottsboro, has both primitive and modern campsites, which include a nearby bathhouse and spacious camping pads. There are two large picnic areas near the Welcome Center, and, of course, there is the nearby namesake cavern, known for its grand, cathedral-like entrance.
> Scottsboro's Jackson County Park features nine cabins nestled alongside a cove near the Tennessee River. A marina onsite offers a fuel pump at the dock, and staff is more than happy to refill your propane tank if needed. In addition, there are nature trails and primitive campsites available. A two-night stay is required on weekends, and a three-night stay is required on holidays.
> Sarah's House, located between Fackler and Scottsboro, is a getaway lodge with accommodations for up to 12 guests and an open-concept common area complete with a large flatscreen TV, theater-style seating, pool table, kitchen and more. Located along the Tennessee River, the lodge is adjacent to some of the best hunting and fishing in Alabama.