Alabama’s largest city, Birmingham, is a thriving Southern metropolis, a center of commerce and industry for not only the state but the region as a whole.
But within 60 miles of the hustle and bustle of city life, there are dozens of green spaces that offer a respite from the rat race of the city for both residents and visitors. These spaces offer up miles and miles of hiking trails that lead to stunning waterfalls, wildflowers, and history.
Here are six of the beautiful hikes you and your family should try when you visit the Magic City.
1. Ruffner Mountain Nature Center
Since it was established in 1977, the mission of the 1,000-acre Ruffner Mountain Nature Center has been to connect people with nature. They do this by hosting informative educational programs to foster an appreciation for nature and living things in the busy metropolitan area.
The site has 12 miles of hiking trails, the backbone of which is the Quarry Trail, a 3-to-4-foot wide, easy-walking dirt and rock footpath that runs 1.2 miles (one way) along the ridge of the mountain, offering scenic views, wildflowers, and the quarry itself. The path is lined with highly informative informational signage to help identify plants along the trail, and while the trails aren’t blazed, they are easy to follow with prominent wooden signs at intersections pointing the way.
From this main trail, dozens of other spurs head off to further explore the mountain, nature, and Birmingham’s mining history. Learn more about all of the trails on the center’s website.
Pro Tip: The park is open Tuesday through Sunday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and closed Mondays. It can get busy in the spring and summer, and if the parking lot becomes full, the park is closed down to additional visitors, so get there early.
2. Moss Rock Nature Preserve
Another oasis near Birmingham, this one in the adjacent town of Hoover, is Moss Rock Preserve. It’s hard to believe that such a beautiful green space exists here as you drive to the preserve through a sub-division and upscale shopping areas, but there it is — 34 -acres of incredible geological formations and many waterfalls and cascades.
Moss Rock has 12 miles of hiking trails that interconnect to offer loop hikes of various lengths and difficulties. Most are easy to moderate walking and fun to explore as they take you to features like Turtle Rock, which actually does look like a turtle. Kids will love climbing through the natural window in Hole in Rock. There is an ancient Native American rock shelter and many sparkling streams, including Hurricane Branch, where you will find many glistening waterfalls. For plant lovers, there are some 66 species of trees and 136 species of wildflowers. Pick your route and enjoy a day exploring Moss Rock Preserve.
Pro Tip: The preserve is open daily from sunrise to sunset. Admission is free. There are three trailheads: at Simmons Middle School, off of Preserve Parkway, and off of Sulphur Springs Road. Learn more about the trails complete with map on their website.
3. Turkey Creek Nature Preserve
In 1998, an area just north of Birmingham in the town of Pinson was set aside to protect the home of several rare and endangered fish and darter species, including the Vermillion darter that only lives in the preserve’s namesake creek.
Turkey Creek Nature Preserve has five hiking trails in all that provide a beautiful walk in the woods, especially in the fall when the hardwoods are ablaze with color.
The trails head high up the hillside to follow a ridgeline, crossing several springs and offering views of the roiling creek below before dipping down to follow the banks of the creek itself, where it churns white over its rocky bed. A beautiful sight that also makes for great swimming.
The pools of the creek have been a favorite swimming hole for locals for as long as anyone can remember. This is welcomed by the city, which has erected nice restrooms and changing rooms at the main parking lot.
Four of the 6.23 miles of trails that wind through the preserve are easy walking and are under 1.5 miles long. The fifth trail, the Narrows Ridge, is rated as moderately difficult and is shared with mountain bikes.
If you are a birder, Turkey Creek is the place for you. The preserve is part of the Alabama Birding Trail, and the number of birds you can add to your list is tremendous — eastern phoebes, great blue heron, hawks, and more.
Editor’s Note: For more must-visit birding destinations and general tips of the craft, check out our bird watching category.
Pro Tips: While admission to the preserve is free, they do ask that you make a donation to help maintain it. It’s open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday, and closed Monday and Tuesday. There are special “pedestrian only” hours (bikes and foot access) Friday and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Trail maps are available online.
4. Maggie’s Glen Loop
The hike to Maggie’s Glen at Oak Mountain State Park is a beautiful and easy 2.2-mile walk through the woods, alongside a nice, sparkling — but seasonal — stream that leads to the glen that is located within a hollow.
The glen is a perfect spot for picnicking, especially in the spring, when the white beeches and dogwoods flower and the stream that cascades next to the trail is running full and sparkling.
This loop hike begins at the park’s North Trailhead on the Red Trail for 0.2 miles before turning onto the White Trail. In 1 mile, you will arrive at the glen, where there are benches and informational kiosks describing the forest and wildlife here.
From there, you will take the Yellow Trail back to the Red Trail and the trailhead to end your hike.
Pro Tip: There is a day-use fee to enter the park. Download a copy of the park’s trail map from their website, or ask for one at the entrance gate. The park is open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
If you would like to stay and explore the other 25 miles of trails at the park, Oak Mountain has plenty of nice campsites and cabins.
5. Peavine Falls
It seems like all trails at Oak Mountain State Park lead to Peavine Falls, a beautiful, 65-foot plunge waterfall that is definitely the centerpiece of the park.
The easiest hike for the family to the falls begins on the east side of the Peavine Falls parking lot along the White Trail. It is a wide dirt and gravel road that heads into the woods for 0.2 miles before turning off the wide path and ducking into the woods on a narrow dirt-and-rock footpath.
In 0.1 miles, it’s time to head downhill to the falls themselves on the Falls Overlook Trail. This is a rather steep downhill, but manageable, thanks to the trees that can be used as handholds. Just use caution on your way down.
Once at the bottom, you will be at the base of the falls where the sound of the rushing cascade roars. In the right light, the spray produces a glorious rainbow.
Pro Tips: Waterfalls in Alabama, including Peavine, tend to dry up in the summer months due to the extreme heat. It’s best to visit from fall through spring, when the stream runs full. There is a day-use fee to enter the park. Be sure to pick up a trail map at the entrance gate or download a copy from the park’s website. And use caution driving to the parking lot. It is a long and winding dirt road that is shared with cyclists. There are restrooms at the parking lot.
6. Tannehill Ironworks State Park
We started out with a glimpse of the mining history of Birmingham at Ruffner Mountain. Our last hike takes you to one of the foundries where the iron ore was melted down and made into implements for farming and war.
The Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park features a lot of history and fun. It takes you back in time to the 1800s, when Birmingham was an iron and steel giant. What we call the Historic Trail are actually four trails joined together to make an easy-walking 4.1-mile loop hike. Those trails include the Slave Quarters Road, Old Bucksville Stage Road, Slave Cemetery Trail, and Iron Road.
For the most part, the trail is a wide dirt and gravel footpath that takes you across the rolling blue-green waters of Mud Creek (aka Roupes Creek) to the actual foundry that was completely restored in 1976 and is an impressive stone structure. From there, the route leads you to the site of the cemetery of enslaved people, the workers who built this magnificent structure.
Pro Tips: Besides the hike, the park also has a grist mill display and a fascinating museum that tells the story of the iron history of Birmingham. There is a quaint country store on the premises where you can grab a snack and a cold drink, historic buildings, and shops where artisans such as blacksmiths and quilters produce hand-made wares. March to November, the park gets really busy one weekend a month, during Trade Days.
For more on Birmingham and the Yellowhammer State, read: