Trail: Ridge Loop Trail
Hike Location: Lake Lurleen State ParkGeographic Location: northwest of Tuscaloosa, AL (33.30463, -87.67645)Length: 4.4 milesDifficulty: 4/10 (Easy/Moderate)Last Hiked: March 2019Overview: A winding loop atop the ridge east of Lake Lurleen.Park Information: https://www.alapark.com/lake-lurleen-state-parkHike Route Map: https://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=737141
Directions to the trailhead: From the intersection of US 43 and US 82 on the north side of Tuscaloosa, take US 82 west 5.1 miles to Upper Columbus Road (CR 21). Turn right on Upper Columbus Rd. Drive Upper Columbus Rd. 2.3 miles to Lake Lurleen Road and a sign for the state park. Turn right on Lake Lurleen Rd. Drive Lake Lurleen Rd. north 2.2 winding miles to the park entrance on the left. Take a soft left to enter the park, pay the park entrance fee, and drive the main park road to the signed perpendicular trailhead parking on the left. Park here.
The hike: Located only 12 miles northwest of Tuscaloosa, 1625-acre Lake Lurleen State Park is one of the best state parks in western Alabama. The park opened in 1956 under the name Tuscaloosa County Public Lake, and several concessionaires operated the park before the state began managing it in 1970. In 1972, the park was renamed for Lurleen Wallace, a Tuscaloosa County native who was Alabama’s first female governor. Lurleen was the wife and successor of the infamous Alabama Governor George Wallace, and she died in office in 1968. The park is a major recreation destination, as its 250-acre lake offers fishing, boating, and swimming. The park also offers a 91-site developed campground, a nature center, picnic areas, and 23 miles of trails open to hikers and mountain bikers. The park’s most famous trail is the Tashka Trail, which makes a somewhat hilly 12.3 mile loop around the lake.If the Tashka Trail sounds too long and difficult for you, several more manageable hiking options exist. The 2 mile one-way Lakeside Trail connects the park office with the dam area and offers good wildlife viewing along Lake Lurleen. This hike describes the park’s newest trail, the 4 mile Ridge Loop Trail that forms a nice loop on the ridge directly east of the lake. Although it passes no major points of interest such as overlooks or waterfalls, the Ridge Loop Trail passes through nice mixed forest on well-constructed and well-graded trail.

Trailhead Parking

Unless you are also camping at Lake Lurleen, this hike starts with a short road walk to get to the North Trailhead. From the trailhead parking area, walk north on the main park road, passing Campground C on the left. When directed by a sign, turn right to hike the short spur road to the North Trailhead, which is reached at 0.25 miles.

North Trailhead

The wide single-track dirt entrance trail leaves the North Trailhead and heads up a wide ravine on a gradual grade. In only a few hundred feet from the North Trailhead, you reach the signed lower end of the Ridge Loop Trail. Angle softly right to begin the Ridge Loop Trail. The Ridge Loop Trail is unmarked except at intersections such as this one and orange distance markers that appear every half mile, but the path on the ground is clear, wide, and easy to follow.

Hiking through a rhododendron-choked ravine

The trail dips to cross a rhododendron-choked creek on a wooden footbridge before ascending the other side of the ravine. A pair of switchbacks gets you up the steepest part, and afterward the grade is gradual. Overall, the difference between the highest and lowest elevations on this hike is less than 200 vertical feet. The forest is the usual Piedmont mixture of pine and broadleaf trees, and it includes some oaks and sweet gums. Redbud and forsythia trees in bloom brightened my path on the mid-March afternoon when I hiked here.Near 1.5 miles, you reach the ridgetop, and you can see the other arm of the Ridge Loop Trail just to your left. A gradual descent ensues with Lake Lurleen and Campground A downhill to your right. Despite the trail’s ridgetop location, no clear views of the lake or anything else of note emerge.

Hiking along the ridge

After reaching the southernmost point of the loop, the trail curves left, climbs moderately for a short distance, and briefly joins what appears to be an old road. Now on the east side of the ridge directly east of the lake, the trail winds on a general northward course. At one point you come very close to the signed park boundary on the right. As you make the final descent into the ravine that contains the North Trailhead, some interpretive signs point out common flora in this forest. Just past 3.9 miles, you reach the upper end of the Ridge Loop Trail. Turn left and hike the entrance trail 0.15 miles back out to the North Trailhead, then retrace your steps 0.25 miles along the park roads to return to the trailhead parking area and complete the hike. While you are here, you can also try the aforementioned Lakeside Trail, which offers better lake views and wildlife viewing than the Ridge Loop Trail.