Gearing up for the grandkids: Places that will entertain, educate and amuse

By Catherine Godbey | Living 50 Plus

Summer, in all its glory — the heat, beach trips and vacations — has arrived. For many, a highlight of the summer is visiting with grandchildren. Check out these places to entertain, educate and amuse the family.

Water Parks

Point Mallard Water Park: With water slides, an Olympic swimming pool, diving boards, a lazy river and wave pool, Point Mallard Water Park provides an escape for children of all ages. For the younger kids, stop by the Squirt Factory and Duck Pond. While food and drink are not allowed inside the park, picnic areas outside of the park allow guests spaces to sit and enjoy food brought from home.

Admission is $28 for ages 12-61, $23 for ages 63 and older and 3-11 and free for ages 2 and younger. Entry is half price Monday-Thursday, excluding holidays. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday to Saturday, and 1 to 6 p.m., Sunday. The park is open daily through July 28 and then open on the weekends, 1-6 p.m., and Labor Day through Sept. 2.

Hartselle Aquatic Center: The 11,500-square-foot aquatic center, at 406 Nance Ford Road, includes a lazy river, diving area, splash pad and water slides.

Admission is $15 for ages 12-61, $10 for ages 3-11 and 62 and older and free for ages 2 and younger. Hours are 1-5 p.m., Sundays and Mondays, and 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Wednesdays-Saturdays.

Splash Pads

Riverwild Splash Pad at Delano Park: Inspired by Alabama’s rivers, the splash pad, featuring towering fountains of water, creates a space for children of all physical abilities to play. The splash pad sits at Prospect Drive and Eighth Avenue Southeast. If going to the splash pad, allow extra time for the children to play on the playground, which sits right next to the splash pad.

Admission is free. Hours are 10 a.m.-7 p.m. daily.

SNAP Splash Pad: Designed as a place for all children to play, the Hartselle splash pad, 406 Nance Ford Road S.W., features water cannons, fountains, spray jets, buckets and animal fixtures that shoot streams of water.

Admission is free. Hours are 8 a.m.-8 p.m., Saturday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Friday.


Carnegie Visual Arts Center: The arts center in downtown Decatur, 207 Church St. N.E., will showcase textile works by Alabama artist Aaron Sanders Head in the exhibit “a jaw about to sing” during June and July. Head, who grows and forages his dye materials and primarily uses vintage linens donated by the community, creates hand-stitched quilts, assemblages and textile panels inspired by his life in rural Alabama.

Admission is free with donations accepted. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday to Friday, and 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Saturday.

Huntsville Museum of Art exhibit: Get lost in the world of cartoons and comics in the Huntsville Museum of Arts’ “A Journey into Imagination: 100 Years of Animation.” The exhibit features 137 rare and recognizable objects, including original cels, drawings and models from “Gertie the Dinosaur,” “The Simpsons,” “Toy Story,” “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Tom & Jerry,” “The Jetsons,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” “The Lion King” and more. The exhibit will open July 12 and close Sept. 29.

Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for ages 60 and older, $5 for students and children ages 6 to 11 and free for ages 5 and younger. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Thursday, and noon-5 p.m., Sunday.


Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge: Escape into nature at the 34,500-acre refuge, which spans Morgan, Limestone and Madison counties. The visitors center, 3121 Visitor Center Road off Alabama 67, unveiled a new interactive and educational exhibit, where guests can see a taxidermy whooping crane, hear the tweeting of songbirds and create rubbings of leaves, in December. The exhibit provides a glimpse into what visitors can see at Wheeler, from ducks, geese, cranes, a white-tailed deer and baby alligator, to an otter, coyote, catfish, bass and osprey nests on electrical transmission towers. After exploring the exhibit, check out one of the refuge’s trails.

Check out to find kid-friendly and wheelchair accessible trails.

Admission is free. Visitors center hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., March through October, and 9 a.m.-5 p.m., November through February.

Cook Museum: Museum-goers can climb inside a tree modeled after the Sipsey Wilderness’ Big Tree, explore a cave, build volcanoes at the kinetic sand table and watch 100 fish in a 15,000-gallon aquarium. The museum’s exhibits focus on space, rivers and streams, caves, the arctic and deserts, oceans, forests, insects and rocks and minerals.

Admission is $20 for adults, $17 for ages 65 and older and military, $15 for ages 3-14, free for ages 2 and younger. Hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Saturday.

Sipsey Fork: Find relief from the mile-long hike in the shallow pools and swimming holes at Sipsey Fork’s Low Pressure Bridge. The river features a shady river bank, waterfall, sandstone canyon, rock shelters and aquatic life to explore.

Kinlock Falls: Picturesque waterfalls cascade off the rocks and into a swimming hole in the Sipsey Wilderness. Use caution while exploring Kinlock Falls because the currents can be swift and the water deep in places. For extra safety, make sure children wear life jackets. Dry off with a half-mile hike to the historic Kinlock Shelter, a rock shelter and Native American cultural site dating back thousands of years. Directions: Drive south on Alabama 33 from Moulton. Turn at the Sipsey Picnic trailhead. Continue along the paved and dirt road. After a sharp left curve, look to the right and park at the small pull-off spot. If you get to the bridge, turn around.

Other sites

Historic Railroad Depot: The historic depot, 701 Railroad St. N.W. in Decatur, features a model train layout depicting the city, railroad memorabilia, artifacts and photographs. Notable pieces include the original depot superintendent’s desk, the baggage cart and benches, all from 1905.

Admission is free. Hours are 1:30-4 p.m., Monday-Friday, and 10 a.m.-noon, Saturday.

Jesse Owens Memorial Park: Jump in the steps of one of Lawrence County’s most famous athletes and four-time gold medalist at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Dedicated to Jesse Owens, the park, 7019 Lawrence County 203 in Oakville, features a long jump, replica of Owens’ childhood home, museum and 40-minute “Return to Berlin” film. Expect to spend the whole day exploring this place in the history of sports.

Admission is $7. Hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday through Saturday, 1-4 p.m. Sunday.

While in Oakville, stop by the Oakville Indian Mounds Educational Center, which sits a mile northwest from the Jesse Owens Museum. The educational center houses artifacts dating back to 10,000 B.C. and what historians believe to be the largest Woodland Mound in Alabama.

Athens Kiddie Carnival: Designed for children ages 2 to 10, the Athens Lions Club’s Kiddie Carnival, 309 E. Forrest St., features 10 rides, including a Ferris wheel, train, swings, carousel, rocket ships, scrambler, parachute ride and mini roller coaster.

Admission is free, each ride costs 50 cents. Open every Thursday to Saturday, June 20 to July 27. Hours are 6:30-9:30 p.m.

Public Library: Travel the world, rocket into space and journey beneath the sea by visiting a library. The imaginations of children and adults will get lost in the available fantasy, adventure, fiction and biographical books. Local libraries include Decatur Public Library, 504 Cherry St. N.E.; Athens-Limestone Public Library, 603 S. Jefferson St.; Somerville Public Library, 192 Broad St.; Eva Public Library, 4549 Alabama 55 East; William Bradford Huie Library, 152 Sparkman St. N.W., Hartselle; Lawrence County Public Library, 401 College St., Moulton; Priceville Public Library, 1612 South Bethel Road; and Falkville Public Library, 7 North First Ave.

Day or weekend trips

Birmingham: Head an hour-and-a-half south to Birmingham to explore science, nature and art.

At the McWane Science Centers, four floors of fun (and education, shh, don’t tell the kids) await. Attractions include a shark and ray touch tank, optical illusion area, bubble room, fossils and skeletons, the Itty Bitty Magic City, which includes an interactive fire station, farm, veterinary clinic, garage and more.

Admission is $16 for ages 13-64, $15 for ages 65 and older, $13 for ages 2-12 and free for younger than 2. Hours are Wednesday to Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday, noon-5 p.m.

From giraffes, elephants and a lion to flamingos, giant tortoises and orangutans, the Birmingham Zoo is home to 550 animals from six continents. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes for walking around the 122-acre site. Also bring a change of clothes, water shoes and a towel for the children if stopping by the zoo’s splash pad. Make sure to stop by the lorikeet aviary to get an up-close experience with the colorful birds. While walking through the aviary, the birds might perch on your head or arm.

Admission is $19.95 for adults, $16.95 for ages 65 and older, $14.95 for ages 2-7, free for younger than 2. Hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Wednesday-Sunday

The Birmingham Museum of Art, which is free to enter, contains a smartlab and ArtVenture. The two spaces feature more than 15 hands-on learning stations for toddlers to tweens. Museum hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday, and noon-5 p.m., Sunday. ArtVenture hours are 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday, and noon-4:30 p.m., Sunday.

Chattanooga: From riding a train to visiting a zoo and aquarium, options abound in Chattanooga.

The Tennessee Aquarium’s more than 400,000 gallons of fresh water habitat and 700,000 gallons of saltwater tanks house 12,000 animals. Expect to see everything from penguins, sand tiger sharks and the blue poison dart frog to the giant Pacific octopus, lemurs and turtles.

Admission is $39.95 for adults, $29.95 for ages 5-17, free for ages 4 and younger. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday-Sunday.

At the Create Discovery Museum, children can dig for dinosaur bones, play with water tables, pretend to milk a cow, walk inside a volcano, and explore a climbing structure that rises 25 feet above the ground.

Admission is $17.95 for general admission, $12.95 for ages 65 and older, $9.95 for military and law enforcement with ID, free for foster parents and children. The museum also offers annual passes, including a $140 granddiscovery pass, which includes two grandparents in the same household and admission for all grandchildren each visit. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m., every day.

Tennessee Valley Railroad: For rail fans, stop by the Tennessee Valley Railroad and hop aboard a vintage train. The Vintage Short Line Train ride lasts an hour and takes passengers over four bridges and through the pre-Civil War Missionary Ridge Tunnel.

Tickets for the Vintage Short Line Train ride cost $24 for ages 13 and older, $15 for ages 2-12 and free for younger than 2. Check for schedules.