Birmingham, Alabama is nicknamed “The Magic City” because after the Civil War it grew from a small rural town to an industrial city practically overnight, as if by magic. This growth was fueled by a unique geological circumstance that provided iron ore, coal, and limestone in close proximity to each other – the main ingredients for iron and steel. Abundant raw materials and the availability of a large labor force of freemen and poor whites set the foundation for the industrial development that caused Birmingham’s population to grow a whopping 4200% between 1880 and 1910.
Various factors contributed to the decline of Birmingham’s iron and steel industry during the latter half of the twentieth century, and the last of the foundry iron furnaces and ore mines closed in the 1960s and early 1970s. The remnants of one of Birmingham’s iron ore mining sites has become the stunning Red Mountain Park. According to the park’s website, “U.S. Steel made one of the largest corporate land donations in the nation’s history, selling over 1,200 acres at a tremendously discounted price to the Red Mountain Park and Recreational Area Commission. That transaction made the creation of Red Mountain Park possible, the opening of which made Birmingham one of the “greenest” cities in America in terms of public park space per resident.”
To get to Red Mountain Park, take the I-65 Lakeshore Parkway Exit (Exit 255) and head west for approximately 3 miles. Turn right at the park sign onto Frankfurt Drive and travel a short distance to the entrance and parking lot. Surprisingly, I discovered that the park was just minutes from the Walmart where I buy groceries weekly.
I headed out to see what the park has to offer on a beautiful February day with an expected high of 60 degrees. If you would like to follow along, click here for a nice map.
From the parking lot, it’s an easy hike to the trailhead passing the entrance to Remy’s Dog Park, as well as the main kiosk where you can pick up a park map. I turned left onto the BMRR South Trail and headed towards the southwest end of the park. More of a road than a trail, the BMRR South Trail is a comfortable walk on a flat and well-maintained surface.
Hopeful to capture a picture from the Ishkooda Overlook with the morning light, I turned left onto the Smythe Trail and headed to the top of the mountain. I now found myself on a “real” trail and the grade turned out to be a solid cardio workout, but this scenic climb through the forest was a sight to see.
The Smythe Trail intersects with the Ike Maston Trail, where I was surprised to find a couple of people out for an early morning run. Turning left, it was a short walk to the Iskhooda Overlook. The actual view from here is disappointing, as it overlooks some sort of industrial site. However, it does give you an opportunity to catch your breath.
Continuing southwest, you soon arrive at the Skyhy Treehouse. Now THIS is cool! By now the sun was higher than I wanted for a picture, but at least you can capture downtown Birmingham from this vantage point.
Further down the Ike Maston Trail are several large FM transmitting towers. I don’t believe I have ever before been this close to one of these monsters, and while not exactly “natural,” they were very impressive.
I intended to continue on to the Redding Shaft Mine, but just past the towers the trail became a steep downhill trek. About that time, a fellow passed me as he was running up the hill and I couldn’t help but notice that he was breathing hard. Knowing I would have to return the same way, I asked myself how truly determined I was to see the mineshaft and decided “eh-not so much.” However, if you are interested in visiting the Redding Shaft Mine, the easiest access would be to follow the BMRR South Trail to its end.
So I did an about face, retraced my steps, and hiked to the center of the park via the BMRR North Trail. Much like the BMRR South Trail, the North Trail is a nice level road. The difference is that it is much higher on the side of the mountain, offering a view of interesting rock outcroppings and, at least in the winter, picturesque glimpses of the valley below.
The BMRR North trail eventually turns into the TCI Connector, which takes you up and over the mountain towards the more developed “Adventure Areas” of the park. Many trails converge in this area, but they are all well marked, making it easy to find your points of interest. The Adventure Area is home to the Hugh Kaul Beanstalk Forest (a ropes course), Red Ore Zip Tour, Kaul Adventure Tower, and Mega Zip. These pay-to-play activities ($20 to $70) were not operating when I was there, but it sure looked like a ton of fun!
Also nearby was the old entrance to the Ishkooda #13 Mine. From there you can cross a classic Eagle Scout Project Bridge and hike the Eureka Mines Trail to the Ishkooda #14 Mine. Since I had been hiking for some time, and every step towards the #14 Mine was a step away from the trailhead, I decided to save that visit for another time.
Red Mountain Park is operated by Red Mountain Greenway and Recreational Area Commission, a state agency, with volunteer assistance from Friends of Red Mountain Park. Open from 7:00 am until 5:00 pm, the park features 12 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, a dog park, and activities for adventurers of all ages. It’s located just minutes from downtown Birmingham, so what are you waiting for? Click here for additional information.