All I knew about Horse Pens 40 was that it was one of the places that will live in infamy of the “embarrassing” stories my parents tell about me.

(I’m not really embarrassed but I assume they keep telling the same stories over and over in hopes that I will become so – revenge or something, I assume.)

All our parents have those stories, right? For me, there’s the time I cleaned the kittens with my tongue, the fact that every Thanksgiving they prepared “chicken” for me in the kitchen because I hated turkey (yeah, it was turkey), and the infamous Horse Pens 40 camping trip where I screamed all night long, to the point that one of the other campers called the cops to come check to make sure my parents weren’t beating me.

I had not been there since, and I don’t know that they ever wanted to visit again, either. Perhaps we were on a “Banned Visitors” poster somewhere as well – who knows.

But I decided it was worth the investigation for our Alabama History project.

So Carla Jean and I loaded up the kids and drove to Steele, Alabama – right on the other side of Ashville.

The basic premise of Horse Pens 40 is that there are lots of rocks. And people have used these rocks as hideouts for many, many years – early civilizations, Native Americans, Civil War soldiers, moonshiners, and the like. There were also multiple battles fought amongst the rocks.

Now, it’s a rock-climbing mecca and Bluegrass concert venue. My kids love climbing rocks, so it had to be a good decision, right?

We arrived and the place looked deserted. No one in the ticketing office, or at the entrance. We wandered into the general store and restaurant and no one was there, either.

We tip-toed back out of the abandoned store and walked toward the rocks. Horse-Pens-40_MG_9657_3635

At first glance, it appeared that there was just one wall of rocks and then forest. But we quickly discovered that the rocks went on…and on.



The formations were fabulous. Caves and cracks and footholds and nooks and crannies.


Every formation had its own unique and fun features for the kids to play on – trees to climb,


Troll heads to defeat,


Cracks to wedge into,



Cracks that actually looked like (butt)cracks…


Flat vertical rocks to pretend to lie down on,



Bumpy rocks for learning yoga moves,


Smooth rocks for not falling while perfecting those moves,



Rocks that look just like elephant carvings,


And finally, a rock with the best view.




I can’t say that we learned much about Alabama History on this trip, but we experienced where history happened and oh-my-goodness did the kids LOVE it. They both declared it their favorite field trip yet, and we could have stayed for hours longer had our stomachs not all started growling (the weakest link in our field trip game is that I don’t believe in packed lunches.) The infinite fun to be had on the rocks, the countless caves to explore and paths to walk – it really was just spectacular.


I was ready to go back as soon as we left – and so were the kids.


As usual, Ali’s report tells the story better than mine, so here you go:


7 thoughts on “Alabama History…Err, Geography: Horse Pens 40

  1. Two years ago we met a group of homeschool friends for a play date at Horse Pens 40. It also happened to be my son’s 8th birthday. Even though we weren’t going that day to celebrate his birthday, he still calls it the best birthday party he’s ever had. LOL! It had everything he loves…the outdoors, climbing, pretending, his friends, and free popsicles from one of the vendors setting up for a bluegrass festival. This year for his birthday (a couple weeks ago) we took him to Moss Rock Preserve to climb and explore. It was a blast but no Horse Pens 40 in his mind. I have got to get my kiddos out there again. As a homeschool mom and Alabamian, I’m enjoying your Alabama history studies posts.

  2. So that’s what Horse Pens 40 is! I used to drive passed that exit twice a week for 2 years, and many, many more times before and since. I thought it was literally horse pens. Maybe 40 of them. You know, so if you are traveling with your horses, they could get out and run around for a little bit. Clearly, I know nothing about horses.

      1. According to Wikipedia: “The park got its name from the original deed; which when allocating the area of the plot stated “the home 40, the farming 40, and the horse pens 40″; each tract containing 40 acres (160,000 m2) of land.”

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