Rise early and head to breakfast at The Grille at the Club House on Pursell Farms’ rolling estate to fuel the adventure ahead. Exploring the rugged, breathtaking wooded trails and wide open spaces of this 3,200-acre outdoor sports resort west of Sylacauga on a guided UTV Mountain Experience tour is the best way to appreciate the scenic landscape and experience a little of the wild side at the same time.
“We wanted to find a new way for our guests to enjoy the meadows, woodlands and hills that make up our varied terrain. Guests drive the UTVs, and they are fun to drive, with the unexpected finale of getting a panoramic perspective of the area from the top of the mountain,” said David Pursell, co-founder of the Sylacauga resort.
With proper respect to current social distancing guidelines, up to four participants could pile into each of six John Deere Gators for the roughly two-hour adventure across the varied terrain.
Guides host two tours per day, at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. During the week, tours are guided by request.
“Someone is always calling to experience the tour, and we get a lot of return clients,” said Sidney Sims, spa and activities supervisor at Pursell Farms.
The approximately 7- to 10-mile exploration includes several stops where guests take in bird’s-eye views, drink in the local lore and indulge in one or two side excursions.
“The UTV Experience is a storytelling tour of the farm,” said Pursell. “Hernando de Soto camped here; Andrew Jackson was active nearby; white marble from Sylacauga graces some of the finest buildings and monuments in the U.S. – some of the historic tidbits our guide talks about during the ride. It’s very personal to my family and me. We lived on this land long before it was Pursell Farms. My wife, Ellen, and I would load our kids up in four-wheel drive vehicles and explore these areas. We all still talk about those memories.”
As the convoy begins its ascent up the mountain, the first stop overlooks the No. 5 hole on the resort’s destination golf course, which boasts seven consecutive honors among Golfweek’s “Best Courses You Can Play.” At the top, a 172-degree vertical drop opens a spectacular view of the golf course below.
“From here, you can see Sulfur Mountain in the distance, which is the highest point on the property and where we wind our way up to,” she said.
This initial stop puts the property and distant landmarks into perspective, and perceptions of these locations change as the elevation rises. At each stop, adventurers can spot The Inn at Pursell Farms and Lake Christine in its front yard, along with other picturesque attractions.
Driving through hardwood and pine forest on the rocky terrain, UTV riders happen across Pursell Farm’s Secret Place, a wide-open vista that offers a stunning panoramic view – nearly 360 degrees – of the entire property.
“You can see Lay Lake from here and the Sylacauga Marble Quarry in the distance,” said Sims.
On occasion, Pursell Farms hosts dinners or sunrise services at Secret Place, as the setting holds a sense of peace and transcendence.
But that is left behind when the tour makes its next stop. The most popular stop for kids on the tour includes an old tire swing tied to a high tree branch.
“Kids are obsessed with it. We can sometimes spend 20 minutes here just letting them enjoy,” said Sims. “I must say, it’s fun for adults, too.”
These trails – some of which have been in place for generations and others that were established specifically for the tour – cut through the middle of the mountain. Half of the UTV tour trails are used only for tour purposes.
On recently rainy days, deep watering holes lend themselves to muddy, messy, good times, as the UTVs dive into water that splashes over the vehicles, almost engulfing them. The degree of speed varies this effect; and of course, the faster, the better.
The Gators generally operate in low gear throughout the tour, capping out at 28 miles per hour.
“We make it so that pretty much anyone can drive them, despite experience or lack thereof,” said Sims.
Sulfur Mountain is the highlight of the ride. At 1,000 feet in elevation, this spot overlooks the town of Talladega Springs and showcases Lay Lake, in yet another stunning, widespread view.
“We usually stop here for a little while and let people take it all in; snap some photos; look for rocks,” said Sims.
Sims encourages tour-goers to pick up rocks to add to a neatly stacked pile on this mountaintop.
The last stop was added after the Pursells were out hiking one day and stumbled upon a pile of rocks resembling a grave.
“Andrew Jackson and his troops came through this area, so it could be a soldier,” said Sims. “Or a Native American, since there are a lot of artifacts out here on the property.”
Similar rock formations in the area could indicate other graves, as well, Sims said, but the owners do not know the stories behind them.
“We hope to get someone out here to check it out though, and at least maybe determine how old it is,” she said.
Order a picniclunch to eat on the patio at ArringtonVista before spending time on the golf course or take the tour a second time to see if faster really is better.
The UTV Mountain Experience launched about a month after The Inn was completed in 2018.
“The UTV tour is hands down my favorite thing to do. It is the thing to do,” said Sims. “All of our activities are great, but with this, you really get to see the whole property.”
To reserve a tour, call 256-208-7600. Tours are only available to overnight guests. For more information about the UTV Experience or Pursell Farms’ other amenities, visit PursellFarms.com.