Before the terrain around Birmingham became a haven for people who love the outdoors, miners dug deep in the red clay to extract the ore that would help make the city one of the fastest growing metro areas in the South. But, over the decades, many parts of the “Pittsburgh of the South” began to decline, as the economy slumped and the population decreased. Fortunately, over the last few years some sections of Birmingham, particularly the downtown area, have been revitalized with an influx of businesses, restaurants, retail shops, and trendy housing.
At the same time, Birmingham’s outdoor scene has seen a resurgence with the expansion and improvement of parks, trails, and recreation opportunities. Whether you’re a trail runner, mountain biker, climber or paddler, you’ll find plenty of places to play in and around town.
If you haven’t visited Birmingham in a while, you’ll be surprised with all it has to offer. With top-notch outdoor recreation and a fresh downtown scene, it’s a great destination for a weekend getaway. To help you plan a trip, we’ve put together an itinerary for 48 hours of fun in the Magic City.
Start your weekend under the gaze of Birmingham’s iconic statue, the Vulcan. The Roman god of fire overlooks the city, and the Vulcan Trail is the perfect place to get in a quick run to kick off your weekend. The trail runs 1 mile along the ridge of Red Mountain, and parking is just below the Vulcan Park and Museum. While the Vulcan Park and the trail aren’t currently connected, after your run make the short drive to the park to climb the Vulcan Tower. The museum closes at 6 p.m., but the observation tower on Vulcan is open until 10 p.m. Friday night and gives an unbeatable view of downtown Birmingham.
If you were hoping to sleep under the stars, the closest campsites are at Oak Mountain State Park, about 20 miles south of town. If you prefer a hotel over camping, there are numerous options close to the city that are still close to outdoor adventure. To get feel for the culture of this burgeoning Southern city, stay at one of Birmingham’s historic hotels, like the Redmont (there’s a rooftop bar), or the downtown Hampton Inn and Suites, which was once the Tutwiler and occupies a building more that’s than 100 years old.
While unpacking for the weekend, there’s a decent chance you’ll discover you forgot to bring some important gear. To restock, or pick up some new gear prior to hitting the trail, make a quick trip to Alabama Outdoors or Mountain High Outfitters. Then head to Ruffner Mountain and hike the 3.1-mile Quarry Trail to get another fantastic view of downtown Birmingham. With around 600 feet of elevation and moderate terrain, the trail provides a nice way to jumpstart the day. Ruffner covers more than 1,000 acres with 14 trails. It’s one of Birmingham’s old mining mountains, holding the valuable iron ore that led to the rapid growth of the area post-Civil War.
Next, head to another mountain that has roots in Birmingham’s mining history. Red Mountain Park is less than 15 minutes from downtown and has a variety of trails, from a flat path that follows an old railroad bed to the 2-mile path that traverses red clay and exposed roots to reach Grace’s Gap overlook. Red Mountain is full of mining relicts along its 15 miles of trails, giving you a glimpse into Birmingham’s past.
After burning calories on the trail, treat yourself to a meal at Little Donkey in Homewood. While it’s best known for its fried chicken, the atmosphere is inviting, and the menu is self-described as Southern-influenced Mexican fare. Afterward walk next door to Red Hills Brewery for one of its original brews, or satisfy your sweet tooth naturally at Steel City Pops.
No outdoor adventure in Birmingham is complete without a trip to Oak Mountain State Park. Located 20 miles south of the city, you have more than 9,000 acres and 50 miles of trails to explore. It can be a weekend all to itself. Bring your bike, hiking boots, trail runners, and swim trunks, because Oak Mountain has it all.
Begin with a hike to the King’s Chair from the North Trailhead. Take the Blue Trail a little more than 2 miles through moderate-to-steep terrain to reach an outcrop where a rock dubbed the King’s Chair provides a royal view of the valley and rolling hills below.
For a gut-busting trail run, hit the mostly singletrack, 17-mile Double Oak run, one of the most challenging in the South.
If you prefer to travel trails on two wheels, try the Red Trail, which has been awarded the IMBA Epic designation. Don’t leave without cooling off, especially on a hot summer day, with a paddle in one of Oak Mountain’s lakes. Or, drive up to the parking lot for Peavine Falls and take a quick hike down to the cooling waters of a 65-foot waterfall.
After a long day Saturday in the sun, Avondale is the perfect place to enjoy an evening in Birmingham. There are a host of restaurants and breweries in this hip community close to downtown, and Avondale Common House is a great starting point. The menu is seasonal and fresh with a distinct Southern flare. Before turning in for the night, grab a pint at Avondale Brewing, and if you feel the need to hear some live music, Saturn is just across the street.
Start your Sunday morning at one of Birmingham’s most popular breakfast establishments, Big Bad Breakfast, which serves Southern favorites like Grandma used make, along with fresh preserves and locally roasted coffee.
Since Saturday was a full leg day on the trails, it’s time to give the upper body a workout. If you’re new to climbing, First Avenue Rocks and Birmingham Boulders open Sunday at Noon, giving newbies a good intro into the world of bouldering. For the experienced, head 15 miles south to the easily accessible sandstone boulders of Moss Rock Preserve. You’ll find moderate to difficult bouldering problems, as well as running trails, gentle streams, and one of the few sandstone glade ecosystems in the world.
If you crave one more adventure before heading out of town, return to Red Mountain to take a ride on the Zip Trip, or head to Oak Mountain and test your skills at FlipSlide, a watersports park with a cable system that pulls riders on wakeboards, kneeboards and innertubes.
Written by Hap Pruitt for RootsRated Media in partnership with BCBS of AL.