In the past seven days, my nine and five year old have hiked 15 miles with me – and this isn’t unusual for us. There were tears once, whining a few times, and EMERGENCY NEEDS TO PEE twice, but overall, they were excited, running ahead of me, and looking for adventure.
The secret to this hiking glory is providing them with grand destinations. You’d think that the first time we made discoveries of cool finds would be the most exciting to them, but they much prefer returning to their lands of imagination after they’ve become acquainted with them and named them. I have to convince them to leave behind their known discoveries to chase after new ones.
“We’re going hiking today? Ooh can we go to Moss Rock and go to the Rock Desert and the Dome Rock and a waterfall? Or how about Ruffner Mountain and visit the quarry and the overlook??”
What I’ve learned from my kids is that hiking doesn’t just have to be about the journey – it can be about the multiple destinations along the way. Kids don’t always understand the beauty of the journey, but they totally get the concept of destination. And this isn’t just kids – the more I think about it, I’ve realized that I’m the exact same way, as are most adults. Let’s quit trying to make life about the journey and acknowledge that we as a human race really enjoy destinations.
Here are our current favorite destinations around Birmingham, sectioned off by location, and with notated maps to help you find them. I’ll try to be as succinct as possible because I have so many to share, but if you have questions about how to get to any of them, or questions about what the hikes entail, please feel free to ask in the comments section.
1. The Forest-Attacked Train Tracks – well-hidden, but one of the most magical spots in Birmingham.
2. The H Ruins (or as I refer to it, “One H of a Trail”) – this would be a fantastic family photo site if your family’s last name starts with H.
3. The cave that has air conditioning flowing out of it…and every now and then, a bat. Stick your face in this cave while walking by: the air feels fantastic in the middle of a run or hike, the bat, not so much.
(This actually did happen to me not long ago. The children were highly amused. The bat and I were not.)
4. Riley’s Roost – The Treehouse with the ruins. Although I love all the treehouses, this one is my kid’s favorite because they love to explore and pretend they’re archaeologists while I lay in the sun on the floor of the treehouse.
5. Grace’s Gap – this is the furthest destination at Red Mountain – more suggested for adults or really good kid hikers. I think my kids have made it to Grace’s Gap once. But it’s definitely worth the walk if you’re not accompanied by whiners.
6. Goats – Red Mountain Park is currently using goats to clear land, and they just had babies. They’re delightful to visit and hear all of the dozens of varying-pitched bleats.
Map of where to find the above set of destinations (notated with yellow numbers corresponding above) – some points are approximate. (Note: The goat location changes as they clear land, so if they’re not where I said they are, keep looking. Also, if the map is too small to read, click on it.)
7. The Rock Desert (Official Name: Sandstone Glade) – This place reminds me of a miniature version of Stone Mountain or Panola Mountain in Georgia. It’s a mostly bald rock face that has boulders to climb on and all sorts of entertainment for children. It also hosts a surprising variety of colorful spring flowers that pop out of the dirt buildup on the rock surface.
8. Waterfalls – There are so many different waterfalls at Moss Rock, and my children adore them all.
9. Dome Rock – This graffiti-covered natural rock dome is the best emo-kid photo backdrop ever.
10. Crack Rock. Because who doesn’t want to climb into Crack Rock?
11. Hole Rock. Okay maybe our naming isn’t so great but the rocks are.
12. Boulder Fields – this is a most fabulous place because all of the giant rocks are going uphill, so you can walk out onto the rocks and be extremely high up with no climbing required. A favorite of height-lovers of all sizes. Also, it’s .2 miles from the parking lot, so accessible even on a non-hiking day. We prefer it to be at the end of our loop – it’s the reward of a great hike.
13. The Twisted Branch – it’s just where you need it to be for a quick hike break.
Map to Moss Rock Destinations:
Note: You can download an interactive map to use on your phone from CartoTracks for Moss Rock Preserve. There are so many different trails at Moss Rock and they run so close together that this map has helped me not get lost many times – it’s $4.95 and totally worth it.
14. The Quarry – my kids adore exploring, climbing, and discovering things inside the quarry. It’s full of spring flowers, dragonflies, and butterflies.
15. The City Overlook – the coolest hiking destination to see Birmingham. The sunset in the winter months is just fantastic from here.
16. The Quarry Overlook (Cambrian Overlook) – this lies between the city overlook and the quarry. If you just see quarry, you haven’t gotten to the really amazing overlook yet, but this one holds a charm of its own.
17. The Old Rail Tunnel – one of our newest discoveries, this mystical tunnel only fits kids (unless you crawl.) Ali tells me there’s a stream and another trail on the other side, but I suspect it might be in Narnia.
There are also a couple of Geocache boxes in this tunnel, something my kids found extremely exciting.
18. The Old Ruins – there are many ruins at Ruffner (a lot of which we haven’t even found yet), but this one is especially accessible and feels adventurous to explore.
19. The Wildflower Bog (Wetlands Trail) – this trail has absolutely gorgeous fall flowers (there weren’t many in the spring – maybe they bloom later in the summer), and also has some rather rickety walkways around a few ponds. The ponds currently house dozens of giant tadpoles that are fun to watch.
The easy way to get here is from the Eastern Trailhead (it’s the flattest hike at Ruffner Mountain), but if you come down from the main entrance, there’s also a nice overlook on the way, with a much-needed bench.
Ruffner Map with Destinations notated in blue:
Note: You can access a free interactive Ruffner Map through Google Maps – just pull it up on your phone when you arrive, and the trails should show up. If that doesn’t work, click through from their website.
20. The Furnace Site – this is probably the easiest hike (really a walk) for new explorers, and has many thrilling facets to check out.
21. The Waterwheel – this place holds so much charm, from its waterwheel, to the leaky chute going to the waterwheel, to the creek and waterfall next to it. It’s definitely a favorite.
22. Bubbling Springs – this is a must-visit spot, preferably your last spot after a long hike. It’s a tiny pond over a spring that literally makes tiny bubbles in the water. No matter the time of year, the water is delightfully cold and oddly refreshing. Take your shoes off and soak for a minute – you won’t regret it.
Tannehill Map of Destinations:
23. The Treehouse Trail – super easy for beginning hikers, this is a raised walkway trail with six or seven giant bird cages on it. There are owls and hawks and even an Albino Vulture. You can also often catch a trainer feeding the birds something tasty like dead rats.
The Treehouse trail is only about half a mile on its own, but empties out into another trail that can take you many different routes, including up to the nature center. It’s a beautiful trail by a tiny stream.
24. The Dam – about halfway around the lake trail, this is a great motivator for a longer hike (in full circle, the lake trail is 3.4 miles. Totally doable for kids, but not usually without a whine or two.) Having this cool view of the lake (and possibly being allowed to slide down the dam and play in the lake) usually buys you a little time.
25. Peavine Falls – this hike starts out as a wide trail with a gentle downhill grade,
but before you know it, you’re sliding on your butt down boulders while holding onto roots to get down. Oddly, though, it’s much easier on the way back up.
But the reward is this:
The water flow varies tremendously. We’ve been there when it was only a trickle. So if that’s going to disappoint you, make sure you go after a good rainfall.
26. The Old Lake at the Cabins – Okay this isn’t a hike-to destination and I don’t think you’re supposed to go to this lake unless you’re staying at the cabins. But if you happen to be there at sunset and you can be unobtrusive and undisturbing to the cabin dwellers, you must tiptoe out onto the pier and catch a picture.
27. King’s Chair – only for the determined child but definitely a worthwhile hike for adults, King’s Chair is a glorious sight. It’s exactly two miles up from the trailhead, but those two miles are definitely UP. But this is why you go:
I’ve only taken one kid up there so far, and it wasn’t one of my own, but she bravely hiked up the mountain.
Oak Mountain’s online map isn’t high enough resolution to be able to share the locations, but all of the above are easily findable on their trail map. I highly recommend buying a paper copy at the gate for $1. If you can’t find one of the above destinations, please ask me!
This trail is only a mile long and it’s completely flat. You wouldn’t think it’d have that much room to be super interesting, but it is. It’s a great trail for a quick walk on a pretty afternoon. Since there’s only one walkway, I don’t have a map to provide the location of the points of interest. But you can’t miss them.
28. The Graffiti Thing – I have no idea what kind of ruins this is, but my kids always want to climb on it. There’s an abundance of graffiti tags on the trail – it makes for a fun scavenger hunt.
30. The Overhanging Tree – It’s the luckiest tree in the city. And well worth a stop to admire.
We have so many more great treasures around Birmingham to discover, but now you’re prepared with 30 great places to track down. So get out there and hike, and enjoy the destination.
Questions? Suggestions? Destinations? Leave them in the comments!!
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