by Mike Meehan
When traveling somewhere you’ve never been before, many people want to visit the places the locals go to such as restaurants, bars, etc. Runners on the other hand, want to run where the locals run. So on a recent drive to Florida from St. Louis, when we saw the sign for Red Mountain Park in Birmingham, we had to experience the local trail running scene.
Red Mountain Park, located just south of Birmingham in Homewood, Alabama and only a few miles off of I-65, provides some of the best trail running in Alabama. The park includes 15 miles of trails with two overlooks of the city, including single track loops and dirt roads that connect along multiple points allowing runners to build runs of short and long distances.
The park is located on former mining sites of rich deposits of iron ore. The mines helped fuel the local of economy for decades and supplied the South with iron and steel during the Civil War and helped supply the U.S. war efforts during World War II. The last mine closed in 1962, and the area laid dormant until 2007 when U.S. Steel sold more than 1,200 acres to the Red Mountain Park and Recreational Area Commission, which established the park. According to the park’s website, the creation of Red Mountain Park has helped make Birmingham one the “Greenest Cities in America,” by increasing its public park space per resident.
Ruins of the former mine’s buildings and structures are scattered throughout the park, providing a unique backdrop for trail running and a glimpse into the history of the area. The day we visited the park, heavy fog socked the area in, which didn’t allow great views from the highest points in the park. However, the gray concrete structures and heavy fog contrasted with red dirt and rocks and subtle greenery, gave the impression that even in the winter, the mountain was still alive.
In addition to great trails, there is a lot more to do at Red Mountain Park including ropes courses, tree houses, zip lines and Remy’s Dog Park, the largest dog park in Alabama. We could tell during our visit that this is truly a community park that the community takes pride in. The park is manned by friendly guides to help to plan your run or hike. The park also hosts a number of events throughout the year including guided hikes, group runs and trail races.
A few year’s ago, I wrote an article, “Finding the Trail in the Urban Jungle,” published in UltraRunning Magazine, that highlighted some of the best cities for trail running. After visiting Red Mountain Park, I’d add Birmingham to my list of best places for urban trail running.