Hiking Alabama's Colleges

The sun peaks out over the trees onto a wetland at the University of South Alabama’s Glen Sebastian Nature Trail
The sun peaks out over the trees onto a wetland at the University of South Alabama’s Glen Sebastian Nature Trail Joe Cuhaj
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No doubt, college is often stressful, so schools do all they can to help students get some exercise, relax and take a break from their studies. While many universities and colleges in Alabama provide rec centers, several schools also have hiking trails on or near campus, so students can escape the confines of the gym and enjoy some fresh air.

In many cases, the trails are open to the public, so the entire community can use them to reduce stress and stay healthy. Whether you live near a campus, or you’re planning to visit a university or college during your travels, keep the following trail systems on your radar.

Glen Sebastian Nature Trails

Winding through the campus of the University of South Alabama in Mobile, the Glen Sebastian Nature Trail is actually a collection of hiking trails named in honor of a former National Park Service ranger who also served as chair of the university’s Earth Sciences department for almost 40 years.

Four blazed trails totaling 8 miles meander through pine forest, traverse seasonal streams, and follow the banks of a beautiful wetland where turtles leap between lily pads. Each trail is named for the color of its paint blaze—Orange, Yellow, White, and Red—and they’re all interconnected, so you can make loops of varying lengths.

University of West Alabama Nature Trails

Lace up the hiking boots, and maybe even bring along a fishing rod, and hit the Nature Trails of the University of West Alabama in Livingston.

There are 4 miles of hiking paths, including the Forest Trail, which explores an area thick with pines and hardwoods. If you take the Prairie Trail, you’ll traverse the Blackland Prairie where an ongoing restoration project is reviving native plants and animals, including Bobwhite Quail, Grasshopper Sparrows, and bobcat. If you follow the Lake Trail, you’ll circle the beautiful 54-acre Lake LU (pronounced Lake "El-Yoo"), where you can fish for largemouth bass. (Don’t forget to bring your freshwater fishing license.)

Each well-marked trail trail includes informative signs designed to educate you about the plants and wildlife you’ll encounter and encourage you to help protect the rapidly disappearing prairie.

University of Alabama Arboretum

Two and a half miles of walking trails and paths guide you through the 60-acre University of Alabama Arboretum, which was designed some 50 years ago to showcase Alabama’s rich biodiversity. As you hike, you’ll encounter a staggering number of maples, magnolias, and pines, and pass exotic trees like Chinese Pistache and Japanese Snowbell. Before you visit the trails, check out the Arboretum’s catalog to learn more about the plants you’ll see.

Donald E. Davis Arboretum

Auburn University’s Donald E. Davis Arboretum has been ranked as one of the top 30 most beautiful college arboretums in the country. A walking path winds through the 13.5-acre tract that is described as a "plant museum" designed to preserve, protect, and display living plant collections and southeastern plant communities. If you plan to visit, check out the arboretum website to see a calendar of special events like the annual Bat Walk, which is held every October.

Troy University Biking and Walking Trails

You’ll learn about 110 different species of trees as you walk the Troy University Biking & Walking Trails. There are three hiking trails that weave around the 130-acre forest and visit a stream and the banks of a tranquil 2-acre pond.

Don’t forget to bring your bike. When you’re done walking, saddle up for a ride on the adjacent 5.4-mile bike trail.

Northeast Alabama Community College

It might be small in size, but the NACC Walking Trail is still a beautiful and peaceful walk through pines and rolling hills on the campus in Rainsville. The 0.7-mile loop follows the banks of a shimmering pond.

Little River Canyon Center

The Jacksonville State University Little River Canyon Center is a remarkable facility located in Fort Payne, with the roaring Little River Falls as a backdrop.

The facility has several trails such as the Path to Learning and the Bridge Trail that teach you about the canyon and give you a spectacular view of the falls. The center features a gift shop, HD movie theater, and natural history library.

JSU has an extensive program that focuses on nature, and the JSU Field School uses "immersion based learning" to teach about the environment and nature. Fortunately, the program is available to the public and includes hikes in Little River Canyon and the Talladega mountains, paddling excursions across the region, and star-watching sessions. For event dates and times, visit the Field School’s online schedule.

Originally written for BCBS of AL.

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