Orr Park. Photo by Anna Grace Askelson.

When I was thirteen, I went on a weeklong backpacking trip with my Boy Scout Troop to the Rocky Mountains. It was my very first backpacking trip, and I was one of the youngest people on the trip. I’d always loved being outside, but it was that trip which cemented my love of hiking.  

Now, eight years later, I have hiked hundreds of miles, sometimes on long backpacking trips, and sometimes just on short day hikes.  

It is my firm belief that my experiences hiking had a fundamental role in shaping me for the better. There are important lessons that everyone can take away from hiking, and so I always try to encourage others to give hiking a try.  

I realize that not everyone has my avid love for traipsing about the wilderness for long stretches of time. That’s completely fine, because we have several excellent locations in Alabama where everyone can go to enjoy the beauty of nature for however long they want.  

One of the most famous of these is Oak Mountain State park, located off highway 119. The park covers 9,940 acres, and has an assortment of hiking, biking and horse trails. Besides hiking, the park also has an archery park, a golf course, canoe and kayak rentals and swimming. 

For visitors who might be not be able to participate in some of the physical activities the park offers, there are also several activities that are accessible via wheelchair and car. Visitors can drive their cars to the wildlife center, where the park has several rescued animals, or go visit the boardwalk and look at a variety of native birds.  

The park has an entry fee of $5. 

A park that any Montevallo student knows well, of course, is Orr Park, a park famous for its tree carvings done by local artist Tim Tingle. The park is quite large and has large swathes of open grass, two soccer fields and a scattering of gazebos and park benches. Unlike Oak Mountain, there is no price for admission, and the park is open from dawn to dusk.  

Located in the Birmingham area, Ruffner Mountain is a privately owned park open for use by the public. The park does ask for donations, but an entrance fee is not required. Ruffner boasts an impressive zipline course, a well-connected system of trails and some amazing overlooks. There are far less trails at Ruffner than there are at Oak Mountain, and the park is significantly smaller, but it’s an excellent location to visit for a quick day hike.  

All of these locations are excellent places for you to go, and they are also some of the safest ways to get out of the house during the pandemic with minimal risk for infection. As long as you practice proper social distancing, you should be able to hike about and enjoy the beauty of nature without any fear of COVID-19.