Ruffner Mountain is not only a beautiful setting of nature; it is also very unique for one major reason.
It is considered to be one of the largest urban parks in the entire country.
This gorgeous piece of nature is listed at a stunning 1,036 acres and sits on a ridge that overlooks the “Magic City” of Birmingham Alabama.
It is also home to numerous hiking trails that also have a very unique quality; they are designated for hikers and runners only.
Unlike several Natural Preserves, bicycles as well as motorized vehicles are not allowed on any of these trails.
Ruffner Mountain, which is also referred to as the Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve, is located on the east side of the City of Birmingham.
It is situated between U.S. Interstates I-59 and I-20, and is in the historic Southeast Lake neighborhood.
Home to numerous native animals to the state of Alabama, on any given day you may see some or all of the following.
You may see several different breeds of raptors, several different species of snakes, as well as turtles and a variety of owls.
It also has quite an interesting history that starts in the year 1883, when William Ruffner, a geologist, conducted a survey of the physical resources located in the area.
He was conducting this survey along the route of the Georgia Pacific Railroad, which traveled through this part of the Birmingham area.
His finds caught the attention of the President of Georgia Pacific, Mr. James Johnston, who decided to make several moves.
In the year 1887 he bought the controlling interest in the Sloss Furnace Company, which included a limestone quarry that was located in Gate City.
It also included soft ore mines that were opened in the town of Irondale in the same year, and the names of these mines would later be changed to “Ruffner”.
Theses mines operated until the early 1950’s and were finally closed in June of 1953.
The land in the immediate was soon reclaimed by Mother Nature, and it stayed that way until the year 1977.
In 1977 the genesis for Ruffner Mountain was created, as the Ruffner Nature Coalition was formed when they purchased 28 acres of land from the City of Birmingham.
Their major objective was to protect and reserve this natural resource, and they did until the year 1983.
In the years between 1983 and 1985, the Trust of Public Land added another 500 acres to its size.
However, its growth was still not over as an additional 400 acres of land was added in the year 2000, under the direction of the Alabama Forever Wild Program.
In the year 2010, construction began on state of the art “LEED” certified Treetop Visitor Center, that also included an Educational Program.
This beautiful new 6,000 square foot nature center is stunning and replaced the older buildings on the land that included the old visitor center.
This state-of-the-art building tells the history of the area including the wildlife and has several natural history exhibits.
However, the major feature of Ruffner Mountain is the wonderful series of nature trails, many that were made from the old mining roads.
While there are several old relics that will remind visitors of the past life of this area including a large sheer-walled quarry, the main attractions are the nature trails.
These trails are made to be used only by hikers and runners, with the purpose of losing yourself in the Preserve’s natural beauty.
There are 15 major hiking trails located at Ruffner Mountain, and they range from very easy to difficult.
They are graded on a scale of 1 to 3 in degrees of difficulty, and here is the list of the “grade 1’s” or the easy trails.
The Marian Harnach Nature Trail
First on the list of trails on Ruffner Mountain in the Marian Harnach Nature Trail, that is listed at 0.6 miles long.
This trail has a few slight inclines along it, and it will show its visitors the firsthand beauty of nature.
There are several fallen trees along this trail, which are now the home for the mountain's natural inhabitants.
On this trail you can also see signs of man as there are old remains of a 1920’s proposed housing project.
The Geology Trail
The Geology Trail is next on the easy list, and it is listed at a very short 0.3 miles.
The short and easy trail features natural outcrops that are made up of limestone and sandstone.
It also takes you past one of the favorite resting places located in the Preserve, Turtle Rock.
The Trillium Trail
Next on the list of trails located at Ruffner Mountain is the Trillium Trail, which is an absolute “must see” in the spring each year.
It is one of the best natural wildflower trails in the entire Preserve, as it features the Trillium Fairywand as well as the Jack-in-the-pulpit wildflowers.
The Trillium, which the trail is named after, has large white flowers in the spring, which turn a light pink in the early summer.
This trail is 0.5 miles long and has very slight inclines.
One of the most interesting trails on the easy list is the Lizard Loop, which is exactly one mile long.
It also has very slight inclines and is full of history as it follows an old rail bed.
This rail bed was used during the peak mining years, to remove ore from the Ruffner Mountain mines.
The Wetlands Trail
The next easy trail on the list is called The Wetlands Trail, which is a very short 0.2-mile trail.
It is considered to be one of the gentlest of the trails, and can be used by all age groups, and will show you nature at its finest.
It has crushed a rock path that takes you past the Preserves native wetland plants, where you will see literally hundreds of frogs.
The Eastern Trailhead
The Eastern Trailhead is next on the list of easy trails at Ruffner Mountain, and it is listed at a short 0.4 miles.
It will connect you to the entrance of the last of the easy trails, the Pipeline Trail.
The Pipeline Trail
If you want to take a longer hike, taking the Eastern Trailhead and then connecting to the Pipeline Trail is the thing to do.
This trail is very wide and is right at 1.3 miles long, so combined you would be at just over 1.5 miles.
It will connect you to the easy Lizard Loop trail.
Here is the list of the harder trails that are located at Ruffner Mountain and are listed from the 2 to 3 rating system.
The Silent Journey Trail
The first trail of the list of the more difficult trails at Ruffner Mountain is the Silent Journey Trail, is rated a 2, and is 0.3 miles long.
This trail starts at Dogwood Fork located in the Preserve and joins up with the Quarry Trail at the Grey Fox Gap.
It has slightly steeper inclines.
The Crusher Trail
The Crusher Trail is next, also rated a 2, and it is 0.7 miles long.
This trial has moderate inclines that will be a bit more challenging and connects with the Quarry Trail as well as the Ridge and Valley trail.
It ends at an old iron ore rock crusher, which is where it gets its name.
Sandstone Ridge Trail
Next on the list is the Sandstone Ridge trail, also a 2, which is 0.3 miles long.
It is a very short looping trail that also has more moderate inclines and takes you along some very unique sandstone rock formations.
The Quarry Trail
Next is the Quarry Trail, another 2, which is a little longer at 1.2 miles.
It is considered the gateway trail, as it will connect with almost all of the other trails located on Ruffner Mountain.
From this trail you can go further if you want to by going into the old limestone quarry or take the Overlook Trail for some really neat scenery.
The Possum Trail Loop
The final 2 rating on this list is the Possum Trail Loop, which is a longer 1.8 miles long.
It is named after the numerous Persimmon trees located in this part of the Preserve, which is one of the favorite foods of possums.
The First of the 3 rated trails on Ruffner Mountain are Buckeye Trail, which is 0.8 miles long.
This challenging trail will take you from the ridge of the mountain all the way down to the base.
This is a 300 foot plus change in elevation and is located on the east side of the mountain.
The Ridge and Valley Trail
Next is the Ridge and Valley trail, which is 1.7 miles long and is considered to be the 2nd toughest trail on Ruffner Mountain.
Along this trail you will not only cross several streams, but you will also change over 1000 feet in elevation.
The Overlook Trail
The final trail located on Ruffner Mountain is the Overlook trail, which is considered to be not only the most difficult, but the most rewarding.
This trail starts at Gray Fox Gap, and while it is only 0.4 miles long, it has a very steep incline you must traverse.
However, once you reach the top you will arrive at the Cambrian Overlook, where you will have a gorgeous first-hand view of the City of Birmingham
Because of these hiker or runners only trails, Ruffner Mountain is considered to be one of the best kept secrets in Alabama.
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