Escaping Birmingham


By Laura Kate Whitney

Ruffner Mountain Walking Path

As much as I love the beat of this city (and my family), sometimes I just need a break.  Often I feel that nagging voice, pecking away at my semi-composed façade.  “You’ve had enough, little lady,” it says.  “Life has worn you out.  Go seek some solace.  Go outside.”  And so I go, obediently.  I get out of my car, follow a narrow path, and find myself absorbed within a lush hug of trees and birdsong.  It’s then that I can sigh out all of those everythings that get in the way, those chores and ill thoughts that always seem to creep in and clutter my day.

Finding sanctuary in Birmingham is, to my delight, one of the easiest things to do in the Magic City.  Places that offer privacy and room to breathe, they are plentiful and easy to find.  So, to help you find a piece of your own asylum, I put together this brief catalog of delicious and gloriously “green” escapes that I use regularly.

Now, you may notice that my list is quite concentrated to a specific area.  What can I say?  With two little ones to look after, I can’t stray too far from the nest.  Note that there are scores of shady places throughout the metro area.  (I’ve included a link to help you find those, as well.)  And, I know a few of you have some really special spots of your own, so be a doll, please… post and share!!

Without further ado and in no particular order, I give you Magic City Mama’s (tested and approved) Urban Escapes (by foot):

*Trinity Trail – Since it’s so close to my neighborhood, I frequent this wooded refuge the most.  A paracourse and running trail tucked in a pocket of forest below Trinity Medical Center just off Montclair, this path has become a trusted friend.  Great for a lunchtime “hike” if you work in or around the area. A few benches overlooking small creeks also offer a place to just relax and renew.

*Ruffner Mountain – Located adjacent to the East Lake neighborhood, Ruffner is a real community treasure, with 1,000 acres of undeveloped, forested preserve.  There’s a swell little nature center and plenty of guided trails to keep you coming back.  The best part?  It’s a five-minute drive from downtown and offers panoramic views of the city and beyond.

*Rhodes Park – Truthfully, there’s no abundance of privacy found here, but this wonderful little pocket park has become quite special to me.  Here I can just sit and listen.  I can be still.  It’s a nice place to reflect, in my opinion.   Caldwell Park and Rushton Park are the other two commons that make up the Highland Park neighborhood’s outdoor trinity, so go see which one feels most comfortable to you…if you’re in the neighborhood, of course.

*Vulcan Trail – Birmingham looks so impressive from this mile-long path.  Peering down in to the artery of Jones Valley, one can see UAB’s cornices, Southside’s alleys, the interstate’s constant movement, and Lakeview’s scattering, all enveloped within a dotted wall of steel towers, some active and some hushed.  Traffic is quiet from this vantage point and the weight of Vulcan is always hanging on your shoulders.  A great view of The Club (an impressive private escape in its own right) can be seen and there are always adorable canines to tickle along the way.

*East Lake Park – This a glorious place to go for a walk.  Built in the late 1800’s for the influx of immigrant steel workers, this 100-acre urban park was, for many years, a vibrant destination for Birmingham residents.  The ferris wheel, water skiing, and shooting gallery no longer provide the entertainment, but a walking trail surrounding the 45-acre manmade lake is still the centerpiece.  Unfortunately, time and lack of maintenance have sped up the aging of this park, but it still owns a place on my “escape” list.  There are few trees to get lost among, but it’s a perfect place to ponder Birmingham’s glorious beginnings.  Sometimes I think I hear the footsteps of an elephant behind me – a delusion not so far-fetched, as some would tell.

*For at least two dozen more Birmingham area trails, jump here to Trails.com for a comprehensive list, complete with statistics and maps.  I think you’d be surprised at just how much “escape” is lurking in your own backyard.

And for a more scientific, educational  experience, check out Trek Birmingham.  This new web-source “pinpoints and describes destinations in the city where visitors can learn about the city’s natural environment.”   The site also offers “authoritative information about each destination’s ecology, geology, biodiversity, and watersheds and links them together to provide new ways to explore.”

See, you don’t have to take my word for it.  There are plenty of wide open spaces out there, just waiting to free your spirit.  Feeling a bit manic within the confines of city life?  Consider this your ticket to freedom.  Oh, and should you happen to run into me at one of these locales, respect my “loss of direction” and leave me alone.  I’m escaping, and that means from you, too.

Happy Trails, Birmingham!

2 Responses to “Escaping Birmingham”

  1. kate says:

    What a great go to resource to have on hand. Thanks for sharing this!

    We live near Heardmont park by Oak Mountain, and just last week I discovered a fun little area of the park perfect for wading in shallow water and playing. I have walked by this place dozens of times before, but never really paid much attention. It is a good size creek that runs through a section of the park and above it, there is a bridge for walking. This shallow creek is easily accessible- there is a cement road of sorts, probably made to allow park utilitiy vehicles to cross -that runs through the creek from one side to the other. The water is clean and cool, and the trees above provide plenty of shade. The next day, I brought the kids back in their swim suits and water shoes, and they ran right in, loving a fun new place to explore! I sat on the side and enjoyed putting my feet in the water too. We brought pails and shovels, and other water toys and they spent hours digging for treasure, meeting lots of new friends, and even playing with a few water-loving dogs! One mother who was also there said, “it’s not a backyard pool, but it does the trick!” Personally, I think it is better than playing in an enclosed pool! Cold water in which to play, lots of shade, and loads of nature to explore… priceless!

  2. LKW says:

    Kate, I must take the boys and check this little oasis out for myself! Thanks for the “green” lead…

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