Road Trip! Huntsville, AL

Weekend trip to Huntsville, AL with kids: Botanical Garden, Earlyworks, Space and Rocket Center

I almost feel as if this trip was just not meant to be; at every turn something or other got in our way and tried to keep us from taking it. So here’s the story of how we cheated fate and went to Huntsville last weekend ANYWAY. Take that, fate!

The trip to Huntsville was the kids’ big surprise present Christmas morning. They didn’t really have a “big” present this year, since the big present was the room we finished in the basement, and they already had that. So Dave and I decided to surprise them with a weekend trip somewhere we’d never been before, and we came up with Huntsville, AL (actually, I went once on a school trip in 6th grade, but none of the rest of us had been).

I actually wanted to surprise them with a hedgehog instead, and I got really, really excited about the hedgehog for about an hour one morning, until I looked it up and learned that Georgia is one of only six (or maybe five) states where hedgehogs are illegal. You should go like this facebook page about trying to change this travesty, so that I can get the kids a hedgehog NEXT Christmas and fill the blog with pictures of our hedgehog wearing hats and such. If I didn’t have a blog, maybe I’d just go ahead and get an illegal hedgehog, but I couldn’t have a hedgehog and NOT post pictures of it. I’m just kidding. I would never do anything illegal. Of COURSE.

Huntsville is best known for the Space and Rocket Center and movies about accidentally launching Lea Thompson and Joaquin Phoenix (back when he was Leaf Phoenix) into space. But some research revealed that there are other things to do there, too, and it’s only three and a half hours from home, so Huntsville won out as Illegal Hedgehog Runner-up Christmas Gift of 2014.

The kids opened up this exciting package of Huntsville stuff on Christmas morning….and then we kept having to reschedule the trip over and over again for assorted reasons, so that we didn’t actually go until the middle of February:


And THEN there was snow in the forecast for Monday, which was supposed to be the last day of our trip. We briefly considered abandoning the Huntsville plan for something farther south, but ultimately decided to go ahead and go, ready to come home early if need be (and we did. We ended up leaving Sunday instead of Monday).

We left Friday as soon as Dave got home from work, stopped for dinner on the way, and got to the hotel in time for the kids to go to bed not too ridiculously late.

Our first stop Saturday morning was the Huntsville Visitor Information Center, which, a bit oddly, is ranked #9 among “things to do” in Huntsville on TripAdvisor. I’m not sure I’d really agree with that ranking, but the people working there were SUPER nice and helpful. We left with many brochures and discount coupons.

Huntsville Visitor Center

Next we headed just down the street to the Huntsville Depot Museum.

“It looks closed,” Dave said.

“No, no,” I said, “it says right here on the website that it opened at 9. Plus that gate is open!”

It was closed. I just spent a good bit of time doing internet searches and using the Wayback Machine and everything, and I wasn’t able to get much clarity here. If you go to the website right now, one page tells you the museum is closed all of January, and another tells you it’s closed January and February. The Wayback Machine tells me that the part about it being closed in February wasn’t there back on February 9, and I’m pretty much willing to swear it wasn’t there on February 14 when we visited either. My guess is they intended to open back up in February, but then they didn’t or couldn’t for whatever reason, and they took their time updating the website (there was also no signage on the building to tell us what was going on). So, you know, that’s not super impressive of the Huntsville Depot Museum, I must say.

However. The gate WAS open, so we were able to walk around and check out all the outdoor exhibits….i.e. there were trains to climb on, and this made Abe very happy.

huntsville depot museum huntsville depot gus at train museum huntsville alabama depot museum abe on a train pretty aqua boxcar

An aside about science and/or linguistics: as you can see in the photos, Saturday was very sunny and the sky was really pretty and blue.

Dave has insisted, ever since Abe was born, that we avoid telling him that the sky is blue, in an attempt to replicate the experiment this guy did with his daughter. The idea is that we can only tell the sky is blue if we already have a preconceived idea of the sky as blue. So anyway, we’ve spent the past two years avoiding mentioning this to Abe, skipping certain songs on CDs and creatively editing most books about colors, waiting patiently for Abe to learn his colors so we could ask him about the sky.

He’s gotten very reliable with naming colors over the past month or so, and we figured the sky was about as blue-looking as it was ever likely to be on this particular day, so, right there at the Huntsville Depot Museum, we asked Abe the big question.

After warming up with the grass and the caboose and whatnot, Dave said, “Hey Abe, what color’s the sky?”

Abe glanced up. “Blue,” he answered immediately.

Very anti-climactic.

Incidentally, we asked him a few other times when he couldn’t see the sky, to see if somehow the cultural knowledge that the sky is blue had been conveyed to him despite our best efforts, and he could NOT tell us the sky was blue without having it there to look at. So. He could just tell. Because it looks blue.


Next up we went to the Earlyworks Children’s History Museum, and it was open! Most of the exhibits here were aimed more at younger kids (Gus at 9 is probably at the older end of the target range), but there was definitely enough to entertain everyone for a couple of hours. Abe really liked the little kid area and spent a long time “cooking” potatoes on the toy grill there. The older kids liked that lots of odd things talked, like a clock and a big tree:

earlyworks water play area earlyworks childrens museum earlyworks talking tree


We grabbed some lunch after this and then headed over to the Huntsville Botanical Garden. Now, in retrospect I can appreciate that not a whole lot of pretty flowers are blooming yet in February and that perhaps we would have done better to appreciate nature somewhere free that day. It looked like the Botanical Garden would have been really pretty in spring or summer. There’s a nice butterfly house there, for example, that I bet is EVEN NICER when there are actually butterflies in it.

Even so, I think the Botanical Garden was our best stop of the trip. Outside places always work best with such different aged kids. It was pretty chilly/windy, but not bad since we were walking around so much. Fun thing about the Huntsville Botanical Garden is that it’s super dog friendly….there are water bowls all over, and I think they have an off leash area somewhere. It’s genius, as there were tons of people with dogs there, and I’m sure they sell a million memberships to people who just want to have somewhere fun to take their dogs. Also, our kids were excited to get to pet some dogs, since we didn’t have ours with us.


There was supposed to be a train here, but there wasn’t:


We spent awhile in the children’s garden:

huntsville15s huntsville16s

huntsville botancial garden sundial huntsville botanical garden giant chair huntsville botanical garden huntsville20s huntsville21s huntsville22s

But then we wandered around some more, and that’s when the real fun started. There was a monkey swing!

huntsville botanical garden swing

And hammocks! Gus asked if a hammock could be their big Christmas present NEXT year. Maybe if hedgehogs are still illegal.

huntsville botanical garden hammock

And then that evening, since it was Valentine’s Day, we ate at the food court at the mall near our hotel. The mall was surprisingly crowded with other romantics.

We were sufficiently worried about the forecast and the prospect of driving home through an ice storm to decide to leave Sunday instead of Monday. So the only thing left on our shortened itinerary was the Space and Rocket Center:


We got there just a few minutes after it opened and were surprised to see…people. All the tourist type things we had done up to this point had been fairly desolate (or, you know, closed all together), but the Space and Rocket Center was bustling, relatively speaking.

It was really, really cold on Sunday. When we got here, the temperature was around 20 and it was quite windy. In retrospect, we probably would have been better off doing the Space center and the botanical gardens on the warmer day, Saturday, and saving the kids’ museum for this super cold day. Also, we might have been better off saving Huntsville for a warmer weekend; there was a good bit of outdoor stuff that sounded fun but that we couldn’t fit in on our one semi-pleasant day (there’s a scavenger hunt for bronze duck statues downtown that the kids wanted to try, for example). Anyway, let me just say that the Space and Rocket Center was a big disappointment for the kids, particularly Milo and Gus. They were really excited about the rides and simulators, but we discovered once we got there that the outside rides were closed because of the weather, which really only left one simulator ride and a rock climbing wall for them to be excited about. On top of that, they got really excited when we came across this thing (or a thing like it. I’m not sure this is the exact thing):


We watched two kids get in and ride it, so Milo and Gus sat down to wait for a turn. The guy who was running it and putting the other kids in watched them (and other people who came up while we were there) waiting and didn’t say anything. Until the second kid finished his turn. Then he locked it up, told us it was just for Space Camp kids, and left. Umm. I mean, that’s fine, but a sign saying so would have been nice, or he could have told all the people who were pretty clearly hoping for a turn before they waited fifteen minutes for nothing. So that was sucky.

We spent an awful lot of money to get in here. It turned out that our discount tickets were only good for the combo ticket that included an IMAX movie, and we weren’t interested in trying to do an IMAX movie with Abe, so they were worthless for us. When we left they had a sign up saying the outside rides were closed; it might have been there when we got there, too, but we didn’t notice it if it was and the person selling us tickets didn’t tell us. Of course, there are a lot of non-simulator museum exhibits, but, honestly, Milo and Gus were mostly in it for the simulators. Had they gotten to do more of that kind of thing, they might have been more into the no doubt super educational exhibits, but they were really just too disappointed to get into them. So. Not the best part of our trip.

Also, Abe was grumpy. Here he’s having a tantrum about something or other:


Here’s the one simulator that was open and available to the general public:


It scared Abe, even though he was just sitting on a bench watching from the outside:


We sort of ran through the outside part really quickly because it was -1000 degrees. I took two pictures:

huntsville29s huntsville space and rocket center

Then we checked out the other big exhibit building, where there were also not simulators. There was a little play area for Abe, though. And then everyone was ready to leave. But we stopped for a little rock climbing on the way out:


And then we came home! So, all in all, not our best trip ever, but there were some definite highlights, and we should give Huntsville another chance sometime when the weather’s better and things are actually open.



Road Trip! Huntsville, AL — 11 Comments

  1. I would say this was a very successful trip friend!! I enjoyed seeing the boys exploring the botanic garden! What an amazing place! And who knew hedgehogs were illegal in some places! Crazy! So glad you were able to go finally and that you had a great time!!! Happy week! Nicole xo

  2. The blue sky thing is totally mind blowing. I loved that little aside. So Beckett won’t sit and watch anything ever except IMAX. I don’t know what it is about it that keeps his attention. In fact he goes nuts and dances when there’s any music on. You might be missing a hilarious experience with Abe!!

    • Ooh, we should have tried it! It actually would have been more or less free since we could have used our coupons. We just thought we’d be SO busy with all those simulators that we wouldn’t have time….

  3. Great road trip Gretchen. Of course let’s get right to business: Using your kids for experimentation. That is why we have kids, right? I love that little experiment you did. It’s a gift to the world really 🙂

    Also I have seen Becket dance at the IMAX theater. It is awesome!!!

  4. Super fun post! I’m from Huntsville and have always wondered what people think of the limited tourist opportunities here. (Next time look into Lowe Mill.) And yup, that weekend was smack dab in the middle of the two coldest, snowiest weeks I’ve seen around here. Glad you had fun at the gardens anyways! We live there in warm weather.

    As for your blue experiment, we tried that too! It actually worked for us. Up until about three years old, when asked what color the sky was on a very blue day my daughter would answer white. I think she eventually figured out that sky and water are depicted as blue in books and made the connection there, but we got about a year of white sky out of her. 🙂

    • Oh, that’s so funny that you did the same experiment! I still wonder if we slipped up somewhere and he knew from a book or song or something that the sky is “supposed” to be blue. We’ll definitely have to give Huntsville a try in warmer weather 🙂

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