It’s easy to take winter off from getting outdoors: Temperatures plummet, precipitation (rain, snow, ice) increases, holiday gatherings keep you busy, and so on. But, at long last, spring is arriving in Birmingham—bringing with it pleasant temperatures, seasonal wildflower displays, rushing waterfalls, and plenty of sunshine. So as you’re looking to get back outside after taking the winter off, or even looking to start exercising for the first time in years this spring, here’s a round-up of five easy hikes—from close-in trails that afford dramatic skyline views to boardwalk trails passing birds of prey enclosures—to get you back in the groove.
1. Vulcan Trail
The mostly flat Vulcan Trail is perfect for enjoying a quick getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life. Not only is the two-mile, round-trip route steeped in history, but the partially-paved path traces the route of a former train line along the ridge of Red Mountain just below the 10-acre Vulcan Park (itself home to the world’s largest cast-iron statue, a nod to Birmingham’s industrial past). Along the hike, you can catch stunning city views through the trees and spy the likes of the Birmingham Civil Rights District and other notable landmarks. The short distance and well-graded, almost imperceptible incline make it ideal for breaking in a new pair of hiking boots (or a new exercise routine) as spring unfolds and summer approaches.
2. Treetop Nature Trail, Oak Mountain State Park
Wooded views aren't the only attraction along the 1.7-mile Treetop Nature Trail at Oak Mountain State Park. This mostly flat trail passes six enclosures housing birds of prey in settings designed to evoke their natural environments. The owls, vultures, and hawks in the enclosures have all been injured or have disabilities that prevent them from returning to the wild and are being taken care of by the Alabama Wildlife Center. If you time your walk right, you can catch daily feedings at 12 p.m.
The rest of the elevated boardwalk trail is no less enchanting as it meanders through a quiet valley of white oak and shag-bark hickory, passes a clear mountain stream, and hugs several springtime wildflower displays. The natural setting and birds of prey alike make the Treetop Nature Trail a hit with kids of all ages.
3. Boulder Gorge Trail, Moss Rock Preserve
The 350-acre Moss Rock Preserve is home to all manner of natural beauty—rock outcrops, streams, waterfalls, six rare species of plants, and more. And the 2.1-mile Boulder Gorge Loop makes an ideal introduction to all that wonder, with views of streamside boulder formations, a natural bridge, vibrant pink mountain laurel (which blooms in late spring and early summer), and a waterfall. The trail’s gradual incline makes it a nice hike for getting reacquainted with the outdoors after a winter inside.
The trail—which begins on the Orange Trail—forks after about 0.6 miles; if you hang a right to remain on the Orange Trail, you’ll save the biggest elevation change for the descent as the trail loops back to the junction.
4. Narrows Ridge Loop, Turkey Creek Nature Preserve
Just 15 miles north of Birmingham, Turkey Creek Nature Preserve sits on the site of a former grist mill and hosts some of the most diverse habitats in the state. In all, seven protected species call the 466-acre preserve home, from fish to bats to the endangered flattened musk turtle.
One ideal way to explore this slice of natural beauty is via the preserve's Narrows Ridge Loop. This well-graded 3.5-mile loop passes Turkey Creek Falls (ideal for a quick dip in the summer), and its forest turns vibrant shades of yellow and orange every autumn. If you're up for a bit more hiking, Turkey Creek Nature Preserve offers four other easy trails—none longer than 1.4 miles—for additional exploring.
5. Ruffner Mountain
No story about Birmingham hikes would be complete without a nod to Ruffner Mountain, a close-in nature preserve that boasts 14 miles of hiking trails and stunning skyline views spread across more than 1,000 scenic acres.
That the mountain hosts any trails at all is no small feat: Miners dug for iron ore between the late 1800s and mid-1950s, and remnants remain along various trails on the mountain today. (It’s important to note that exploring any mines or caves on Ruffner Mountain is unsafe and not permitted.)
Today, roughly a dozen trails, ranging from easy strolls to more moderate treks, crisscross the mountain. If you’re up for something slightly more challenging, check out the moderate Overlook Trail; the short path ends at a viewpoint above a quarry and offers some of the park’s best sunset views for a scenic after-work hike.
Written by Matt Wastradowski for Matcha in partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield of AL and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.