Have you ever wished for an escape from suburbia to surround yourself with natural beauty, but not felt like travelling far from home? Well, nestled in a valley surrounded by the high-density residential neighborhoods of Hoover, Alabama, you will find a refuge from the city called Moss Rock Preserve. Just minutes from downtown Birmingham, Moss Rock Preserve is a 349-acre natural jewel with over 12 miles of hiking trails, waterfalls, wildlife, rare plants, and an impressive boulder field.
There are three trailheads providing access to Moss Rock Preserve:
- Boulder Field Trail Head – 617 Preserve Pkwy
- Sulphur Springs Rd Gravel Parking Lot Trail Head – near Prince of Peace Catholic Church, 4600 Preserve Pkwy
- Simmons Middle School Lower Parking Lot Trail Head – 1575 Patton Chapel Rd
The City of Hoover website provides excellent directions here.
My primary focus on this visit was to arrive at sunrise and hike the Orange Trail to photograph the High Falls. The quickest access to the Orange Trail is the Simmons Middle School Lower Parking Lot Trail Head, so I parked there and started to hike. If you want to follow along, click here for a nice map.
High Falls is very peaceful and scenic, and when I arrived, it was still dark enough to use a slow shutter speed to capture that silky water look. I would imagine that after a heavy rain you might find an impressive amount of water flowing through this area.
After the falls, you can continue around the Orange Trail loop, exploring the boulder formations, and follow the Powerline Trail until it intersects with the White Trail. The White Trail is a very pleasant hike that generally parallels the Hurricane Branch. You will cross the Hurricane Branch a couple of times, courtesy of bridges built by various Eagle Scouts.
According to the official City of Hoover website, “Moss Rock Preserve is home to four rare species of plants and a rare variant of Little River Canyon Sandstone Glade – one of only 35 occurrences known around the world!” I have no idea what a Glade plant looks like, but I imagined that it was probably in this area.
Who can resist something on a map called the “Great Wall”? To get there, a connector trail takes you seemingly straight up the side of the mountain to the Blue Trail. Just keep telling yourself that the workout is good for you and pay no attention to that burn in your legs. You WILL get a reward for your effort!
Continuing back down the mountain (I know my friends out West are laughing at my “mountain” references), you arrive at the serene Frog Pond. By then, my feet were screaming at me for some relief, so I headed east toward the boulder fields on the soft grass shoulder of Preserve Parkway.
The marquee attraction of Moss Rock Preserve is the Shades Crest Boulder Field. Standing like a collection of two-story houses, these impressive sandstone monoliths have long attracted rock-climbing junkies with a wide variety of technical routes. Honestly, if this boulder field had been near my house when I was a kid, I probably would not have survived to be writing about it now. By Florida and South Alabama standards, these things are HUGE! Click here for a very nice map, including route difficulty ratings.
Remarkably, the Shades Crest Boulder Fields are a mere 100 yards from the trailhead and parking lot. This accessibility, however, comes with a price. Sadly, there are certain individuals that believe they can improve on the grandeur of natural formations, millions (billions?) of years in the making by painting graffiti on them. It is just an unfortunate reminder that this is an urban park.
Located directly across the street from the Boulder Field Trailhead parking lot is a high-end planned residential community named The Preserve. During the first weekend of November, The Preserve hosts the Moss Rock Festival where you can enjoy nature inspired art exhibits, eco-exhibitors, food, and music. The festival also includes a very tempting Craft Beer Garden where you can taste beers from local breweries such as Avondale, Good People, and Trim Tab. Somehow I managed to resist the temptation.
Owned by the City of Hoover and maintained by the city and volunteer supporters in a concerted effort to maintain a natural green space in the middle of a metropolitan suburb, Moss Rock Preserve is unique among the urban parks I have ever visited. If you live in the area, enjoy the outdoors, or you have not yet experienced a hike through Moss Rock Preserve, you owe it to yourself to give it a visit.