Compared to other places I’ve lived, the Birmingham metro area is a bit…. light on hiking and recreation trails. And they aren’t linked. (Gee, you’d think that there wasn’t much regional cooperation – or something.)
Now, just to assure you that I’m not whining without context, here’s where I’ve lived, with the accessible trail systems:
- Toronto, Ontario – and the Toronto trail system. And the Escarpment trail system. Oh – and there’s more outside the city! Not to mention to the east of the city.
- Calgary, Alberta. Its trail system. (Its awesome!! The very best in-city trail system! Forty years in the making!) Kananaskis country in the Rocky Mountain foothills.
- Lethbridge, Alberta. Small city, but it has put time and money into developing an excellent trail system.
And some of the places I’ve spent time in, either visiting, or on temporary work assignments:
- Bristol, England – and suburbs. Extensive network of paths, places to ramble and run.
- Swansea, Wales. Excellent pedestrian routes in town, great hiking outside. You can even take a public bus to the trail heads!
- Vancouver, British Columbia. Regional trails, designated city cycling routes.
- Victoria, British Columbia
- New York, NY, its parks, cycling and hiking trails. There is a lot.
By comparison, Birmingham is distinctly underserved. What trail development exists is fragmented, disjointed and mostly accessible solely by car. Who is to blame? The locals, the state legal framework, turf marking, and fights over control. Heaven forbid that one should work cooperatively to develop regional resources effectively. Most of the over-the-mountain suburbs were built without sidewalks or any thought of pedestrian use.
Unlike further north, peak hiking and outdoor activity season is during the cooler months, October through April. Most people avoid being outdoors during the summer due to the high heat and humidity. I say if you want to tax your system, go for it! Just be prepare to sweat (lots) and carry water. But I’m a bad ass that way.
Here’s a rapid fire summary. I’ll expand the write-ups as I visit each location.
- Black Creek Trail, Fultondale*
- Mountain Brook Greenway, Mountain Brook.* Also, the City of Mountain Brook summary of local trails. This is the wealthier part of the region; they’ve spent some money to develop outdoor running and walking trails. The sidewalks and retaining walls in the middle portion (and heavily forested) of the city were just finished in 2014. It makes a big difference to the pedestrian friendliness of the suburb. If you’re a runner, this a great place head out.
- 16th Street Walking Trail, Birmingham*
- Trussville Sports Complex Trail, Trussville*
- Levite Jewish Community Center trail system, Mountain Brook*. Five miles of walking and cycling trails looping back and forth over the mountain to the north of the center. Backs on to the old Trinity hospital site. For use by community center members only.
- Irondale Furnace Trail, Irondale*
- Moss Rock Preserve trails, Hoover
- The Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Beautiful gardens, fairly flat, with changing plantings and vistas throughout the year. Has a lovely Japanese garden, and a “for realz” bamboo forest. Suitable for small children, strollers and those needing walks without elevation changes. Ample parking, great library (part of the Jefferson County Cooperative Library System) and a good gift shop. Nice restaurant too.
- Aldridge Gardens, Hoover
*A summary list and additional details can be found at the ‘Bama Trails website.
Other places to hike, run & bike:
- Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve, and Red Mountain Park, both former mine sites.
- East Lake Park
- Oak Mountain State Park. Small fee per person to enter the part, overnight camping, trail rides, canoe and paddle boat rentals, fishing, golf and road cycling lanes. Hunting permitted in season. Good selection of multi-use trails, from two separate trail heads, with a variety of terrains suitable for both relative newbies and hardened hikers.
- Railroad Park, downtown Birmingham.
- Tannehill Ironworks State Historic Park. Map. Trails are shorter, suitable for those needing flat ground. A good family destination.
In the works:
- Regional Red Rock Trail system, which is being developed cooperatively by all the regional municipalities, under the leadership of the Freshwater Trust. In many ways, this is a landmark project, a prime example of what can be accomplished through regional cooperation (something that has been in scant supply). This will be an awesome project once its finished. I can’t wait!!
- Rotary Trail, from Railroad Park over to the Sloss Furnaces.