Old Cahawba Archaeological Park is a gateway to natural wonders like rare wildflowers in the Black Belt prairie, leisurely canoeing on the lower Cahaba River and a diverse mix of habitats that make for fine birding. As Cahawba Road/Beech Street enters the town, you will see a perfectly restored church on the left. The open woods surrounding the church are excellent for songbirds and woodpeckers year-round, except for the hottest days of summer. A nature trail leads from Beech Street, passes by the church, and proceeds to a bluff overlooking Clear Creek near its junction with the Cahaba River.
The thick understory along the trail is replete with wrens, Brown Thrashers, Eastern Towhees, and in winter, multiple sparrow species, Hermit Thrushes, and Winter Wrens. Other similar trails are found throughout the park offering the same birding opportunities. There are several acres of tall grasses across from the Visitor’s Center. Look for wintering Grasshopper Sparrows, as well as Song, White-throated, Savannah, and Field (all year) Sparrows. Beech Street—a broad, mowed trail—proceeds northward from here. The open area is good for spotting canopy songbirds, flycatchers, and woodpeckers.
Return to the paved road and follow it to see numerous Eastern Bluebirds and perhaps a few Chipping and Field Sparrows along and near the open areas. In winter, look for Slate-colored Juncos and Palm Warblers. Throughout the warmer months, Indigo Buntings and Orchard Orioles are common in the scrubby edges. At Vine Street, a small paved loop to the right leads to a parking area and a trail to the restrooms, open woods hung with Spanish moss, picnic tables, and a fence line that provides a view of the Alabama River. Look for a variety of songbirds in the woods, and possibly Osprey and Bald Eagles, both of which nest nearby and regularly travel up and down this stretch of the Alabama. Be sure to investigate the slough that borders the picnic area: it is a favorite spot for warblers and a Barred Owl is often seen in the area.
Oak Street is interesting. It extends to the north-northeast, passing old building sites and encroaching woods to its terminus at the river. Alternatively, you may choose the south-southwest where it ends at the New Cahaba cemetery. Both directions offer lots of opportunities for good birding. Keep an eye out for breeding Mississippi Kites. Additionally, the unpaved 1st and 2nd streets north pass through relatively undisturbed habitat, alternating between dense hardwoods and open agricultural fields. There are thick wet woods Capitol and Ash Streets intersect. Look for Swainson’s Warblers here in the warmer months. Old Cahawba should be productive for all the state’s breeding owls, for Chuck-will’s-widows spring through fall, and for American Woodcocks year-round.
Nature has reclaimed much of Old Cahawba, the site of Alabama’s state capital from 1820-1826, but historians and archaeologists from the Alabama Historical Commission are uncovering Cahawba’s historic past to create a full time interpretive park. The Visitor Center is an authentic 1850’s Greek Revival Cottage located on the southeast corner of Beech and Capitol Streets. Inside, one can browse through the museum and view artifacts, photographs and treasures that reveal what life at Cahawba was like during its hey-day.
The park attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year, and research and restoration efforts are underway throughout the year. There is a staffed Visitor’s Center (334-872-8058), public restrooms, and picnic areas. You can borrow bicycles at the visitor’s center and cruise around the flat town site, a great way to tour the large site.
Directions: From the intersection of US-80 and AL-22 in northern Selma, follow US 80 (Highland Avenue) west. Food, fuel, and lodging are widely available in town but considerably more scarce beyond Selma. In 3.4 miles, turn left (south) on AL-219. Continue on AL-219 for 3.7 miles then turn right (west) on AL-22. Travel 4.3 miles, and turn left on CR-9. Remain on CR-9 for 3.4 miles to the intersection with Cahaba Road / CR-2. Turn left onto Cahaba Road, drive 1.5 miles to the Old Cahawba Archaeological Site, at which point it becomes Capitol Street.
GPS N 32.32963, W 87.10463
Old Cahawba Archaeological Park
9518 Cahaba Road
Orrville, AL 36767
Visitor Center: Open 12pm – 5pm daily
Grounds: Open 9am – 5pm daily