I have been fortunate enough to ride in a lot of different states. One of the states that continues to surprise me is Alabama. Yes, you read that right, the Heart O’ Dixie. There are hundreds of miles of excellent singletrack in the Southeastern US, and one of the very best trails can be found near metropolitan Birmingham.
Oak Mountain State Park is a mere 20 miles due south of the heart of the
capitol of the Cotton State. It has more than just a few token park attractions, but a ton of activities for the whole family, including an amphitheater, camping, skiing, paddle boating on Double Oak Lake, a golf course, and lots of trails. There are over 29 miles of singletrack for hiking and biking, to be exact, maintained by BUMP.
Singletrack has attracted riders to Oak Mountain for decades, including the famous “Blood Rock,” but the new trails that have sprung up over the past few years are what caught my attention on my recent visits there–specifically, the Boulder, Ridge, Lightning, and Jekyll and Hyde trails.
I’ve spent most of my summer riding the best that Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico have to offer, including Moab, Fruita, Crested Butte, Salida, Steamboat, and Golden. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that these newer Oak Mountain trails rivaled some of the most challenging trails that I have ridden, with a different flavor than you find out west.
I would not go so far as to say that Oak Mountain is the Moab of the South, but I would say that trails like Boulder and Ridge will keep you every bit on your toes as Porcupine Rim. In fact, there are definitely features on those trails that most riders cannot ride without a long travel bike and big cajones.
You could spend a few hours riding all of the singletrack at Oak Mountain, but if you want a real challenge and your time is limited, here is what I suggest.
1. Red Road Climb: Warm up on this 2.3-mile, relatively-smooth doubletrack, interrupted by small rocky sections, that is also really fun to descend. It’s a good workout and gets you to the top with your heart pumping. Once you near the top of this road, you will intersect with the Boulder Trail–take a right onto this trail after the big sign if you want some double-diamond Dixie fun.
2. Boulder Ridge Trail: Take the 1.4-mile Boulder Ridge Trail and be prepared for the most challenging trail in the park. It starts out meandering through clean singletrack interrupted by small- to medium-sized boulders. Don’t be fooled: there are some really fun but big features here, including a 5-6 foot rock drop and a pretty steep 20 foot rock roll with several alternate lines. If you are into short, punchy, gravity stuff, check it out. The trail ends with a series of wicked off-camber rock gardens, so you might want to invest in some pads and a bash guard before you tackle this section.
3. West Ridge Trail: Once you complete Boulder Trail, it will spit you out in pieces at an intersection where you should continue straight onto the Ridge Trail. This 1.7-mile trail has more rock gardens per square hectare than any other trail I have ever ridden, and very little climbing. It is littered with leaves hiding menacing basketball-sized rocks embedded into the Alabama dirt, with tight, tricky lines wedged between trees. There are a few kickers thrown in for good measure, and one large-sized boulder that requires speed and fast shifting to get up and over to avoid careening off the sides.
4. Jekyll and Hyde: After you complete the Ridge trail, you should cross the double track to the 1.2-mile BUMP connector, headed left (southwest), which will take you to the Jekyll and Hyde trail (if you continue past this trailhead a few hundred meters you can try your luck on Blood Rock). Literally two trails in one, this 4.2-mile beauty is the crown jewel of the entire trail system, in my opinion. Hyde starts out with relentless, interrupted, rolling rock gardens that require absolute skill to stay on the bike. There are a few fun rocks to huck off of too. After a couple of miles, however, this quickly fades into a glorious flow-style trail (Jekyll, I presume?) with rolling pine-needle-covered bumps and jumps that seem to never end. You can get some serious air here, but beware: the trail is covered with pine needles that have zero traction when they are dry.
Jekyll and Hyde ends on a paved road, which you can take downhill back to your car at the main lot, or you can continue straight, across the road, onto more singletrack and extend your ride in a series of interconnecting trails (Rattlesnake, Mr. Toad, etc….) for as long as you want.
If there is one single complaint that I have about these trails it’s that they aren’t long enough. Don’t get me wrong: the fact that trail builders packed that much fun into such a small space is an impressive feat, but the ride is over before you know it. It actually takes about 1.5 to 2 hours to do the loop I described, and is a workout for any athlete, but it’s not enough. In fact, if it was 20 miles long it still would not be enough. I think you will find this to be one of the sweetest routes you can ride anywhere.
Note: Though it isn’t connected to the route I mentioned, you should also check out the Lightning trail if you have the time: a DH-oriented flow trail with a few larger jumps that will push you and your bike to the limit. There is also a sweet pump track nearby too.
The South will ride again!
Thanks to BUMP and all of the volunteers who built these sweet trails, and to my buddy Jorge for showing me the lines.