Sunday afternoon, Mark, Kayla and I hopped in the car and drove up to Oak Mountain, a state park in Birmingham, Alabama.
Oak Mountain is located just south of Birmingham, on what is probably closer in size to a foothill than a real mountain. Just to the north of Birmingham, in Tannehill State Park, there is a sign that proclaims that the end of the Appalachian foothills (0r the beginning, depending on which side of the sign you’re on) is located there, but personally, looking at Oak Mountain, I think they missed one.
Oak Mountain has both overnight camping and day use facilities. We were there to see what the day use facilities had to offer. As I carefully explained to Kayla, this was a scouting expedition only, to see what the park held for future use. With my bronchitis, I knew I couldn’t walk far, and I was right. I managed to stroll at an incredibly slow pace about one and a half football fields worth of space with lots of stops, but at least I did it. We also were hoping we might see some autumn leaves, even though we were a week or two before fall foliage’s peak in Alabama.
We stopped first at the entrance gate (they seemed to kind of expect us to pay the entrance fee – $7 for the three of us), then on the way up to the day use area passed riding stables and the golf course. The riding stables offer trail rides, and also the park offers something called “equestrian camping” which I had never heard of before, but would guess is a two-word phrase for “camping with horses.” I admit the prospect of a trail ride was enough to tempt me away from my “scouting expedition” intentions, but I stayed firm, so we continued up to the turn for what are called the “day use” facilities.
The centerpiece of the day use area is the 74 acre lake located in a hollow surrounded by the ridge of the mountain. This was the place where I was able to get out and walk around for a little bit. Kayla was ecstatic. She immediately ran down to the front of the water to look.
We then found a sandy beach, which was even better. The beach has restroom facilities, and in the summer has an open snack bar.
Kayla likes beaches, of all kinds.
There are pavilions for rent around the beach and the lake, and on a quiet October place, they made a great place to stop and just look for a while.
A family brought their canoe for a fun afternoon, and we made a mental note to remember to bring our own kayak next time. There also is a place to rent paddle boats or canoes if you forgot to bring your own. I suspect there are seasonal hours for it, also, but it was open Sunday.
One person was brave enough to swim in the lake. I didn’t think it was that warm, but then again, I wasn’t the person out there.
In addition to the pavilions, there are picnic areas all around the lake, and throughout the park there are over 50 miles of trails for hiking and biking around the park. (One note about the hiking: when you pay your entrance fee, you need to ask for the separate hiking trail map, which is 50 cents. We didn’t but since I couldn’t really hike anyhow, it didn’t matter.) There is even a BMX course, although I never was entirely certain that we found it.
One very interesting feature of the park, which is high on our “must do” list when we go back is the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center’s “Treetop Nature Trail.” The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center rescues raptors who have been injured and prepares them to go back to the wild. Unfortunately some of the birds are injured so badly they cannot survive in the wild, so they have constructed enclosures for them in the forest surrounding Oak Mountain. The nature trail takes you on a winding stairway/trail where you can see the enclosures. I think it is a marvelous way to allow the birds to feel somewhat like they are still out in the wild.
Once you make your way past all of the day use area, there is a road that lets you drive through the forest up to the ridge, in that uniquely American concept of a motor nature trail. (Of course, there are hiking trails that will let you walk up there, too.)
We saw all kinds of beautiful trees and interesting scenes while we were driving up to the ridge.
I took a picture, too, as we got close to the hilltop.
Then we got to the ridge itself, and looked over much of Birmingham. It’s hard to tell that a major city is tucked down among these trees.
Then, finally, it was time to head back home.
We had to turn away from an inviting stretch of further roadway, but at least we know there is more to explore next time – and there will be a next time!
Have a great day everyone!