Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve at 1214 81st Street South in Birmingham, Alabama, is a sprawling, 1,038-acre urban forest. It is also one of the best spots in the city to get away from it all on those days when you don’t have the time or the money to get away from it all.
The park is named after William Henry Ruffner, a geologist who in 1882 became the first person to map out the mountain’s terrain. From the 19th century until the 1950s, miners with the Sloss Iron and Steel Co., dug for iron ore there and shipped it to the nearby Sloss furnaces. The Ruffner Mountain Preserve got its start in 1977 when a group of individuals came together and formed a nonprofit with the goal of managing this land.
Today, Ruffner Mountain is “one of the largest privately held urban nature preserve in the United States,” according to the website. The attractions at the preserve include hiking trails, a wetland and a limestone quarry. You can visit for free, but a $2 donation is suggested.
Should you decide to hike Ruffner Mountain – and you definitely should – your first task will be to choose a trail. You can pick up a list of all of the different trail options inside the Visitor’s Center.
One the easiest is the Wetlands Trail. It’s just .3 miles over boardwalks and crushed rock paths. Along the way you’ll see natural wetland plants, frogs, dragonflies.
One of more difficult trails is the Quarry Trail. It's 1.1 miles and connects to most of the park’s other trails. You can either hike down to the limestone quarry to look for fossils or you can follow the signs and take the Overlook Trail to catch a view of the airport downtown Birmingham in the distance.
But if you’re really athletic and want a real challenge, check out the Ridge and Valley Trail. At 1.5 miles, it’s the park’s most difficult footpath and features stream beds, ridges and valleys and promises “1,000 feet of elevation change over its length.”
By the way, don’t worry about getting lost. On your list of trails, you’ll notice that each one is represented by a color, and you’ll see those colored marking on trees along the trail. There are also plenty of signs around to help keep you on the trail.
Can you bring a bike, ATV or jeep on these trails?
Don’t even think about it. These trails are made for hiking only.
Anyway, once you have your trail picked out, start walking.
Along the way, you'll see signs with the names of some of the trees along the trails. Red Buckeye. Black Leaf Pine and Sugarberry. Black Gum and White Oak.
Here are a few photos I took of the Quarry and Overlook trails and the Visitor's Center.