Those who’ve never been to Birmingham, probably don’t have a sense of it being a very green place. But the fact is, Birmingham, by some estimations, has more green space per capita than any city its size in the country. So, if being outside is what floats your boat, we’ve got lots of options in and around our fair city. Here are but just a few:
It’s been called “Birmingham’s Living Room,” “Birmingham’s Front Yard,” and even “Birmingham’s Salvation”. Railroad Park is perhaps the most written-about green space in Birmingham, and rightly so. From its highly touted design that celebrates our rich industrial heritage (who knew the grey-black business of iron and steel could inspire such natural beauty?), to its reclamation of brown space, to its role as a catalyst to the development boom in the Parkside District, Railroad Park had earned a mic drop on the green space stage.
Nineteen acres of xeriscaped terrain, lawns, walking paths, ponds, and pavilions greet the Railroad Park visitor. Here, families enjoy concerts and campouts, yoga enthusiasts greet the mornings with organized yoga, joggers make great use of their lunch breaks, and train enthusiasts locomote. There are peaceful spots beside the ponds, perfect for self-reflection, viewing areas for trainspotters, and playground equipment for the wee fans of Thomas. The 17th Street Plaza offers visitors concessions, restroooms, shade, and respite from those spring and summer showers. And, as if that weren’t enough, throughout the year you’ll find all manner of activities going on from holiday ice skating to rock concerts, to catfish cook-offs. Yes, it’s Birmingham’s living room; yes, it’s Birmingham’s front yard; and yes, it’s done a heck of a lot to help encourage Birmingham’s renaissance.
THE COOLEST THING TO DO: If it’s wintertime, check out the ice skating! In the fairer months, take in a concert on the lawn.
Red Mountain Park
Situated along the ridgeline at the west end of Birmingham’s Red Mountain, Red Mountain Park was built on land that was mined during the earliest days of Birmingham. A number of well-preserved, historical iron ore mining sites dot the mountainous landscape. And, while you cannot go into any of the actual mines, (old ore mine ceilings have a nasty habit of falling in), many of the mine entrances, various mechanical structures, and other artifacts are extremely well preserved. It’s also fun to know that the earth beneath your feet almost anywhere you are in the park is a virtual ant farm of old mine shafts.
At 1,500 acres, Red Mountain Park is the big daddy of Birmingham’s green spaces. With 15 miles of hiking trails, 2 magnificent city overlooks, 3 tree houses, a 6-acre off-leash dog park, hundreds of yards of zip lines, a ropes course, and countless other diversions, Red Mountain Park has about anything you’d want in a park. Into team building? Red Mountain Park Adventure Guides can prepare a program for you. Got the history bug? Red Mountain Park can provide customized programs for an age group, K-12 through adults.
Speaking of the park’s commitment to history, you’ll also want to check out the Red Mountain Oral History Project, an ongoing effort to preserve the historical record of Red Mountain, Birmingham, and the industry that built it. The project is a collaboration between the Digital Studies Department at the University of Alabama Birmingham and Birmingham-based photographer Melissa Springer, who has provided still photography for the project.
THE COOLEST THING TO DO: You’ll definitely want to try out the zip lines. You can learn more about them here.
Additional indoor rock climbing near Red Mountain Park, Birmingham Boulders is the newest member of the Bouldering Authority family. Opened in 2016, B2 is in the vanguard of modern climbing facilities, featuring the newest generation of walls from Vertical Solutions.
At the other end of Red Mountain from Red Mountain Park, you’ll find another park situated on old mining land, Ruffner Mountain nature preserve. With 1,038-acres, Ruffner Mountain is one of the largest privately held 501(c)(3) urban nature preserves in the United States. Fourteen miles of marked trails range from easy to pretty darned difficult and take you to old limestone quarries, iron mine sites, and past huge ore crushers that were used to prepare ore for rail transport. Speaking of rail transport, you’ll also discover miles of old rail bed running through the park, remnants of the day when ore was transported into town for processing.
Ruffner sports a nature center, wildflower gardens, guided trails, and a host of activities ranging from yoga, to music events. Best way to conduct your Ruffner Mountain planning is by checking out their calendar.
THE COOLEST THING TO DO: Hike up to the quarry overlook and enjoy the breathtaking views.
Oak Mountain State Park
Just about 20 miles south of Birmingham, you’ll find Oak Mountain State Park. Established in 1927, Oak Mountain has grown from 940 acres to close to 10,000. At Oak Mountain, there are more than 50 miles of trails, an 18-hole public golf course, horseback riding, archery, exquisite areas for picnicking, cabins, camping, fishing lakes, boat rentals, zip lines, and more. Here, mountain bikers test their mettle against the challenging terrain of Double Oak Mountain and kids test their BMX skills on a full-on BMX course. At any given time during the year, there are trail runs, mountain bike races, organized hikes, and photography classes. You can bet that something is going on at Oak Mountain, no matter when you visit.
THE COOLEST THING TO DO: While you’re taking in the beautiful scenery from grand hardwood forests, to Peavine falls, make sure you stop by the Alabama Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. At any one time, you might encounter anything from bald eagle to red fox.
Moss Rock Preserve
Moss Rock Preserve is located in the bedroom community of Hoover, just south of Birmingham. This 349-acre preserve features pristine forests, streams, rock outcroppings, waterfalls, and wildlife galore. Twelve miles of hiking trails give you ample room to stretch your legs. After you’ve worked up an appetite out in the fresh air, be sure to check out the commercial center of The Preserve, a new-urbanist development that butts up against Moss Rock.
THE COOLEST THING TO DO: Visit the boulder field. This popular destination amongst rock climbers feature a number of different rock outcroppings with all manner of technical challenges for the rock climbers out there. Regardless of your interest in climbing rocks, however, you’ll find the boulder field amazing.
These represent only a few of the outdoor adventures awaiting you in and around Birmingham. Our city is graced with many parks ranging from historically significant parks like Kelly Ingram Park and Vulcan Park, to perfect small excursions such as the Rotary Trail, the Jemison Trail, and Irondale Furnace Trail. It’s also worth noting that there is a large plan underway to join numerous urban trails into a trail system called the Red Rock Ridge and Valley Trail System. Learn about that here. Here, by the way, is another excellent resource if you want to plan a day of kicking up your boots.