At the start of a new year, we find ourselves looking back over the past 12 months and figuring out how to make the next year even better. For some people, it’s to simply eat healthier and get more sleep. For many, the goal is to be more active and get fit. Runners may challenge themselves with faster times. Cyclists may decide to try a few competitive rides. Climbers determine to conquer that one challenge that, until now, has gotten the best of them. Parents resolve to get their kids outside more and explore new places.
The Magic City is the perfect playground to set goals and work toward them. Rich with parks, tracks, and trails, this city offers Birmingham athletes endless opportunities to get outside and get active. And you’ll likely surprise yourself at how much fun it is. Whether your passion is for cycling, climbing, running, hiking or walking, Birmingham is full of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. Here are 10 of the best:
1. Go Hiking at Oak Mountain State Park
There are so many reasons to hike Oak Mountain State Park—the gorgeous trails, the scenery, the overlooks, the exercise, and fresh air. But the variety of trails should keep you coming back to the park year after year. Oak Mountain has 51 miles of trails with many route options. Explore a new combination each day and you’ll turn those 51 miles into what feels like hundreds (in a good way). There’s everything from an easy 3-mile loop that winds around a stunning lake, to a 17-mile backcountry loop with more than 800 feet of elevation gain. Creeks, waterfalls, hardwood forests, pine-studded ridges, and rocky overlooks, are just some of the highlights along the way, and you can always take a cool plunge in Double Oak Lake upon your return. Not sure it gets much better than that.
2. Discover Waterfalls at DeSoto State Park
In DeSoto State Park, you’ll find a treasure trove of hidden jewels just waiting to be discovered. With an abundance camping, hiking, climbing—and incredible waterfalls—DeSoto is at the top of our list as one of the best places to make some memories. The most well-known waterfall is 107-foot-high DeSoto Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in Alabama. Lodge Falls is an easy waterfall to spot just behind the Lodge. Indian Falls is easy to locate from the wooden footbridge that crosses over the top. Laurel Falls is tucked away about three-quarters of a mile from DeSoto’s Country Store down the Orange Trail, a winding trail that is nearly as enchanting as the hidden falls. Just 10 miles south of DeSoto State Park is Little River Falls and Grace’s High Falls, located in Little River Canyon National Reserve.
3. Run the Mercedes Marathon
The Mercedes Marathon is an annual Birmingham tradition that many runners have been looking forward to, and working toward, for months. With options such as a Kid’s Marathon, Relay, 5K, Half-Marathon and Marathon, there is something for everyone at this year’s event on Feb. 14. Get an early taste of the race with course preview runs, which will be held on January 17 and January 31, starting at the Boutwell Auditorium at 6:30 a.m. The group will run one loop of the course, and GU, lemon-lime Powerade and water will be provided at three aid stations along the way. The event ends with coffee and doughnuts at the Boutwell.
4. Take the Vulcan Park Spring Walking Tour
Vulcan Park and Museum hosts a unique and fun walking tour series of Birmingham neighborhoods. Beginning on March 19, locals and visitors can tour downtown and the great renovation projects the Magic City has undertaken. Be one of the first to see these historical properties up close. On April 16, the Parkside community will be explored and the tours series will be concluded with a tour of the Forest Park neighborhood on May 14. Register early to ensure a spot the tours, led by local leading historians and architects.
5. Ride in the Magic City Cycliad
The Magic City Cycliad is a truly unique experience in Birmingham. Part of an epic 15-day, 1,000+ mile ride, the event tours much of the Southeast over the course of 4 weekends in April. The purpose of this ride is to raise funds and awareness to support both the patients and programs of the UAB Cancer Community Network. On April 24, the Cycliad will be at Railroad Park. All ages and skill levels are welcome to participate.
6. Join the Trak Shak Weekly Training Runs
If you’re looking to up your running game and challenge yourself, just visit the Trak Shak in Homewood every Wednesday night at 5:30 p.m. for a good training run. All skill levels and paces are welcome—slip into your running shoes and join in the fun.
7. Run and Dine with Mojo
For another safe, fun way to put those miles on your running shoes, visit Rojo on Thursday nights at 6 p.m. for its weekly training run. The group starts at this incredible restaurant and loops around Highland Park. On the first Thursday of each month, the Thursday Night Fun Run joins up with the Big Benefit Run, which helps bring awareness to local Birmingham charities. Don’t leave afterwards, however—runners are awarded 10 percent off their bill if they stick around and enjoy good food and a much-deserved drink.
8. Take a Day Hike with Southeastern Outings
For a more laid-back pace with tons of adventure, join the Southeastern Outings, created for people who enjoy outdoor adventures, nature and fresh air. These outings are open to the public, and all ages/skill levels/paces are welcome. Hiking locations such as Bankhead National Forest, Oak Mountain State Park, Red Mountain Park, Sipsey Wilderness, Moss Rock Preserve and more, you’ll find yourself challenged and enjoying every minute of it.
9. Climb Birmingham Boulders
First Avenue Rocks has a new project facility called Birmingham Boulders, and more than 12,000 square feet of climbing makes it the largest bouldering gym east of Colorado. For kids, families, beginners and pros, this is the place for all pebble-wrestlers to enjoy. Opening Winter of 2016, climbers will be flocking to this new facility for a unique indoor climbing experience.
10. Discover Le Tour de Ham
Every Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. across the street from Naked Art, cyclists meet for a social bike ride called Le Tour de Ham. The crew rolls out promptly at 6:15 p.m. for a 10-12 mile bike ride through the eclectic, bohemian and fun parts of the Magic City. This social bike ride is considered to be the largest weekly ride in Alabama. Le Tour de Ham cyclists often end their ride through Forest Park at the Silvertron Café, a sponsor of the ride, where they enjoy a drink and meal together. With a 15 percent discount for the riders, who could resist?