Within Birmingham’s city limits and in the rural outskirts, there are plenty of places for adventurers to explore. Want a swimming hole in the woods? Try Turkey Creek Nature Preserve. Want a beach without driving six+ hours to get there? Check out Oak Mountain State Park. Want to go hiking with plenty of things to discover along the way? Well...Birmingham has a wealth of locations for that.
If you’re feeling particularly ambitious and adventurous, check off the following list and visit each one before summer warmth is shrouded by fall’s chilly breeze.
1. Explore the Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark
The Sloss Furnaces are the neglected remains of an old blast furnace plant that is spread out over 32 acres. On the weekends, you can take a free self-guided tour through the massive metal maze of furnaces, boilers, blowers, and creepy tunnels frequented by paranormal enthusiasts attempting to catch a site of Sloss’ alleged phantom presences. These enormous, aging, and rusting structures beckon photographers because of their curious and mysterious beauty.
2. Spend a Day at Oak Mountain State Park
There is a two-fold reason that Oak Mountain State Park is worth a visit. First, it is the location for a permanent orienteering course. If you’ve never heard of orienteering, check out the website for the Vulcan Orienteering Club . Print the map and take the whole family on an adventure in the woods of Oak Mountain. Follow the map from one point to the next in consecutive order, which feels a lot like hiking with a purpose. Secondly, when you’ve finished your orienteering course, you can take a dip at one of Oak Mountain’s two beaches with soft, clean sand and cool lake water.
3. Take a Dip at Turkey Creek Nature Preserve
Turkey Creek Nature Preserve is worth the hike because of the 5-mile trail system that feeds the craving for adventure. But there is a jewel hidden in the woods that will have you returning again and again: one of Alabama's best swimming holes. To escape the Alabama heat, slide right into the swimming hole with smooth sandstone tiers and gentle cascades of fresh water. Sunbathe to work on your tan, or grab a float and slip n’ slide across the shallow surfaces.
4. Paddle the Cahaba River
Paddling down the Cahaba River is definitely something you won’t want to miss out on, especially during the spring and summer. There are 131 species of fish in this river, 18 of which can ONLY be found in this river. But it is the Cahaba Lily that is the star of the show. This beautiful blossom can only be found in three states, and are in full bloom May–June.
5. Mountain Bike at Tannehill State Park
Tannehill State Park offers a wide range of activities that make for a great outdoor adventure, but mountain biking is one of the most fun. Take a leisurely cruise around the two-story stone furnace and the pioneer cabins, then step it up and launch into the 12 miles of trails for a thrill ride. Bring along a picnic to finish off the day and enjoy all the sights at the park such as the cotton gin and pioneer farm.
6. Hike to a Lagoon-Like Pool
If you’re looking for a hike with a treasure at the end, try the Chinnabee Silent Trail . This well-maintained, easy trail provides shade from the hot Alabama sun, and snakes through dense woods for a full submersion into nature. Wear swimsuits and feel free to wade into the crisp, cool waters of Cheaha Falls at the end of the trail. The falls form a multi-level cascade that spills into a lagoon-like pool. You might consider never leaving.
7. Get a Geology Lesson along the Fossil Mountain Trail
Another great hiking trail for the family is Fossil Mountain Trail near the Rickwood Caverns. Only half an hour from downtown Birmingham, this is a little different from other hiking/walking trails near Birmingham. Here, you’ll get a geology lesson as you pass through a rock garden during your adventure amid tall cedars and shagbark hickories. While you’re there, don’t miss out on the caverns (closed during winter) 175 feet beneath the ground.
8. Climb on Some of the Country's Finest Sandstone
Horse Pens 40 is a world-renowned boulder field and park perched on the top of Chandler Mountain just 45 minutes outside of Birmingham. This league-of-its-own landscape is unlike anything you'll find in the surrounding area, and the bouldering is easily among the best in the country. The giant sandstone boulders, endless number of problems, and beautiful Alabama scenery make it a place where you could spend a lifetime...or simply an unforgettable spring weekend.
9. Experience the Grants Mill Station Adventure Park
Grants Mill Station Adventure Park is not your average little park. With a climbing wall, water rollers, and Eurobobbles, Rope adventure courses with zip lines that will have you screeching with the rush, and a bungy dome, thrill seekers will have plenty of activities to burn some energy. Each activity has separate pricing, so check out the website in advance, try one, or try them all.