It’s the first day of spring, guys. I can nearly feel all of the viruses and bacteria of this infested winter die. Isn’t it wonderful?
And it’s time to get back outdoors and enjoy our beautiful state. We’re blessed with winters that are mild enough to allow us to comfortably be outside regularly, but the blooming of spring and the warmth of the sun make it so much more invigorating.
Hiking and running are favorite activities in our family, and Birmingham has some spectacular places to explore on foot. Below are our ten favorite places to get outside on a beautiful day, in no particular order.
1. Moss Rock Preserve. (Hike, Walk) – Located in Hoover, it has 12 miles of hiking trails, a boulder field that is kid (and teenager) heaven, and many waterfalls. Moss Rock is a perfect place to go to enjoy nice weather, but it is almost completely shaded, so dress for it to be about 5-10 degrees cooler than it really is.
Pros: Plenty of paths, lots of interesting things to discover, lovely waterfalls.
Cons: There are a lot of creek crossings with no actual crossing. Rock balancing is a must, and sometimes, when the water is high, it can get a bit treacherous for little legs.
2. Red Mountain Park. (Hike, trail run, walk.) There are so many trails to be discovered here – long and short, difficult and flat. There are beautiful overlooks, historic mining relics, rail ruins that make the perfect photo backdrop, and plenty of surprises to discover on your own. They also have fantastic adventure opportunities, such as a zip line course and an 80 foot climbing tower.
Pros: Many different walks, 12 miles of trails, many terrain options, great views and activities.
Cons: Many trails are not easily accessible with a jogging stroller. Also, keep this trail map handy on your phone – there are so many trails that overlap and cross each other that it’s sometimes difficult to keep it straight.
3. Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve. (Hike, trail run, walk) I’ve lived in Birmingham all my life and am ashamed that my first visit to Ruffner Mountain happened in my 30s. It’s another great nature preserve with many trails – many more than I’ve traversed. We almost always take the same one – we park on the backside of the preserve (at the baseball fields) and take an easy .65 mile hike to the Birmingham overlook. It’s a relatively easy trail that has a couple of different-facing views on the way. And the overlook is one of the best spots to catch a big sky sunset in Birmingham.
Pros: Close to the city, many different trails.
Cons: A lot of altitude changes.
4. Jemison Trail. (Walk, run) This lovely two mile trail in the heart of Mountain Brook is fantastic for exercising. It has many different parking and entry points, wide paths, flat trails, a creek for distraction, and numerous park benches along the way. Also, if you have kids with you, plan your walk/run so that you can go out into Mountain Brook Village, and bribe them with a stop for candy at Swoop halfway through – it’s a multi-generational tried and true way to get kids to love exercise.
Jemison Trail is one of the best runs in the city because of its easy access and extreme mileage variability. It can be made into a 4-6 mile loop using Montevallo Road as the other side, or it can be combined with Lakeshore Trail to get a 10-12 mile loop, or climb the mountain to the top of the city and visit all three Mountain Brook Villages for an 8-10 mile loop.
The water wheel house across the road from Jemison Trail – you’ll also notice a sketch of this house on the doors of Mountain Brook Police cars – interesting, since it’s actually a private residence. I’d feel pretty safe if my house were on the side of every police car in my city.
A Swoop fan for life – her future running career has been powered by the promise of their candy.
Pros: Super flat, convenient, mostly paved.
Cons: Right against the road, therefore not so rustic. Also, if there’s been a heavy rain, the stepping stone path over the creek is covered up, so plan accordingly.
5. Lakeshore Trail. (Walk, run, bike) This 2.5 mile sidewalk is perfect for an easy, mindless run. It semi-connects to Jemison Trail via Brookwood Mall, and also skirts alongside the creek. Being in the flood plain, there’s also often a “lake” on the other side, convenient since there hasn’t actually been a lake at Lakeshore Drive in quite some time.
If you go out the Green Springs Highway side of the trail and turn right onto Old Green Springs Road, you will find this always changing and entertaining bridge – that is, if you like graffiti.
Pros: Super flat, can be used by runners or bikers, mileage marked every .25 miles.
Cons: Not too interesting for children, less rustic.
6. Boulder Creek Nature Trail. (Hike) Situated right behind the Vestavia Library in the Forest and accessible from their back door, this nature trail feels surprisingly remote to be right off Highway 31. Ali and I recently checked it out for the first time, and were quite surprised at its depth and natural beauty. It flanks both sides of a fairly steep ravine through which Patton Creek runs, has a nice waterfall at one end, and is quite a beautiful hike.
The origin of the name “Boulder Creek” becomes apparent quickly.
Pros: Beautiful, convenient, surprisingly scenic.
Cons: Not stroller accessible, narrow trails along ridges, a good deal of altitude change.
7. Irondale Furnace Trail. (Walk, Run) – Starting on Stone River Road in Mountain Brook, this gem of a trail is difficult to find, but well worth the effort. It’s only 1 1/3 miles long, but it’s stunningly gorgeous (especially in Fall and Spring), and has its own set of ruins halfway down the trail. It can also be combined into a running loop, as it empties out onto Old Leeds Road near the Jemison Trail/Montevallo Road loop referenced earlier.
Pros: relatively flat, convenient, not crowded, an easy walk.
Cons: Short and hard to find (Reference the map at the bottom of the post.)
8. Aldridge Gardens. (Run, walk) – Aldridge Gardens is a gem of Hoover that I’m constantly surprised by how many people have never visited. The perfect place for letting kids run off some energy, it has an endless supply of fish, ducks, and turtles to feed, a beautiful lake for practicing your reflection photography, a half-mile walking trail along the lake, and the wonderful hidden secret of The Fairy Garden.
The Fairy Garden is something that must be experienced rather than photographed, but it is a settlement up the hill on the far side of the lake (take the upper trail and it will lead you right to the fairies.) It includes fairy houses and settlements, and three giant bins labels “Rocks”, “Sticks”, and “Pine Cones.” Kids collect and sort the items so that the fairies have building supplies the next night. There must be fairy magic involved because it’s endlessly entertaining. So if you want a nice walk around the lake and then an opportunity to sit in silence for a few minutes, take your kids up to collect items for the fairy construction workers.
Pros: Perfect for children, many different gardens to explore, beautiful scenery.
Cons: Trails are relatively short.
9. Oak Mountain State Park. (Hike, Walk, Run, Bike) – Oak Mountain is the most diverse state park I’ve ever visited. With 9,940 acres, they have easy walking trails, steep hikes, a 22 mile biking loop, and dozens of activities – it would take many visits to run out of new things to try. We have not yet put Oak Mountain to nearly the use it deserves, but the trips we have taken have been perfect.
Pros: Endless supply of every sort of hike, bike, run, or walk.
Cons: Make sure you have a map if you set out on a new trail – there are so many connectors and trails that it can get confusing.
10. The Chief Ladiga Trail (Run, Bike, Walk) – This is the furthest recommendation from Birmingham, but there’s a good reason for including it. IT IS AMAZING. The Chief Ladiga Trail is a Rails to Trails project that goes from the Weaver-Anniston city line to the Georgia-Alabama state line, for a total of 33 miles. It then connects with the Silver Comet Trail in Georgia, which is a 61.5 mile rail to trail that goes all the way to Smyrna, right outside Atlanta.
Since it is a Rails to Trails project, the grade is nearly nonexistent, it’s relatively straight, and it goes through beautiful countrysides and small towns. A good chunk of the trail travels through the Talladega National Forest, which is simply stunning.
We have biked and run 20 miles of this trail at different times, and plan on biking or running the entire trail (and the Silver Comet Trail) as we have the opportunity.
Here are some sights along the trail in the Talladega National Forest:
This post has been just a taste of all of the great places to hike and run in and around Birmingham. A few other places that are well worth the visit include:
– The Botanical Gardens – they have way more trails than you might think, and the gardens are very invigorating.
– Downtown – a run through Birmingham will give you a whole new appreciation for the beauty of our city, and you will notice many things you’ve never seen before.
– Star Lake – Although it’s a short loop, it’s a beautiful one, and easy to get to. It’s great for a small window of time to exercise.
– The Tuscaloosa River Walk – if you find yourself in Tuscaloosa, you must check out the beautiful path along the river.
So get outside, Birmingham, and enjoy Spring.
– Here’s an interactive map of all of the places mentioned in this post:
– 35 Things to do in Birmingham
– 38+ Places to find Birmingham’s sunsets
– Five Star Trails: Birmingham, book by Thomas Spencer – if you want all of the details, down to where to enjoy the annual run of the spotted salamanders and what flower blooms when and where, then check out this book. It opened my eyes to several trails I’d never even heard of, and helped create my bucket list of trails to visit soon.
– Picture Birmingham, over 500 photos of Birmingham (including many from above), indexed by location, and available on prints, canvas, note cards and more, with 100% of the profits donated to The WellHouse to help rescue victims of human trafficking.