The Yellowhammer State isn’t called Alabama the Beautiful for nothing. As one of the most biodiverse states in the country, outdoor time is an absolute must for anyone spending time here. In spring and summer, our native flora bursts into color and fauna emerge from their winter slumbers to enjoy the warm Southern sun. The same goes for locals who are ready to shed their coats and enjoy the gorgeous natural settings Alabama has to offer. In Central Alabama, there are several places to enjoy the wonders of Mother Nature, whether you prefer to hike, bike, get out on the water, or simply have a picnic in the sun. Here’s where to start.
After a recent expansion that brought its total acreage up to 11,000, Oak Mountain State Park has solidified its standing as the state’s largest state park. Perched atop Double Oak Mountain, the park has been a haven for countless outdoor enthusiasts since it was established by the Alabama State Lands Acts in 1927. One of the best things about the park is the vast array of activities it offers. With more than 50 miles of hiking and mountain biking trail that weave through Alabama pine forest and up to an exquisite view of Peavine Falls, it’s easy to lose yourself in nature. There’s also a beach and swimming area, 118-hole golf course, driving range, picnic areas, horseback riding facilities, and a huge lake for fishing, boating, kayaking, or stand up paddleboarding.
Ruffner Mountain is a hiker’s paradise located on the outskirts of downtown Birmingham. The park began as a grassroots community movement to protect the mountain ecosystem and prevent development from overtaking the natural area in 1977. Today, the preserve features several trails, lookouts, and a nature center where the public can learn about conservation and a wide variety of native species ranging from a broad-winged hawk and copperhead snake to an Eastern box turtle and barred owl. Once you’ve visited the animals inside, take to the trails to try to spot them in the wild and for spectacular views of the city.
Just 20 minutes outside of Birmingham in the suburb of Hoover, Moss Rock Preserve is a 349-acre nature preserve of abundant forest systems, streams, waterfalls, wildlife, and other natural features. The most notable of Moss Rock’s natural features is the collection of large outcroppings the park is named for. With its technical formations and routes, Boulder Field is a favorite among rock climbers of all levels. For those who prefer to keep their feet on the ground, the park also features 12 miles of hiking trails. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, grab a slice of pizza at Vecchia or tacos and margaritas Moss Rock Tacos, located just across the street from the preserve entrance.
The outdoors are for everyone. For those who prefer strolling to hiking, there are still plenty of places to enjoy the outdoors in Central Alabama. The 67.5-acre Birmingham Botanical Gardens is open from sunrise to sunset 365 days a year, making it the ideal place to spend an afternoon. The gardens feature more than 25 interpretive and thematic gardens, 3,000-plus types of plants, a garden conservatory, outdoor sculptures, an herbarium, and more. Whether you’re looking for some solo time in nature, want to bring the whole family, or visit with friends, there’s always something in bloom at the gardens. With its magical bamboo forest, koi pond, and bonsai house, the Japanese Garden is a favorite among first-timers and garden regulars alike.
Often referred to as Birmingham’s Living Room, Railroad Park is a hub for activity located in the heart of downtown. The 19-acre green space is a common venue for concerts, festivals, and cultural events, but it’s also a common spot for everyday activity. from lunchtime walks to early evening picnics. In addition to nine acres of open lawn and a ¾-mile paved path around the perimeter of the park, the park also features a large lake and rain curtain, skating bowls, children’s playgrounds, and workout equipment. The Boxcar Café and a covered pavilion provide plenty of places to stop for an al fresco meal or snack.
There’s no better place to take in the natural beauty of our state than from the highest vantage point in Alabama at Cheaha State Park. The oldest park in Alabama features almost 2,800 acres of granite boulders and wind-warped ancient trees at 2,407 feet above sea level, towering over thousands of acres of the Talladega National Forest. The park features tons of trails to hike and several options if you’d like to extend your visit overnight or over a long weekend. In addition to camper, RV, tent, and primitive camping sites, there are also lodge rooms, rock cabins, and A-frame chalets scattered throughout the expansive park.