Every once in a while, it’s good to take on an outdoor challenge that really pushes you mentally and physically. Whether it’s slogging your way through an adventure race with friends, grunting up a gnarly mountain climb, or knocking out a long-distance event, you’ll always gain something from going big in the outdoors.
Even if you don’t finish, whether Mother Nature or some other circumstance is to blame, the benefits of tackling a serious challenge are numerous. Some people discover a greater sense of humility, while others will increase their confidence by pushing the limits. And many simply relish the relief and sense of accomplishment that comes with achieving a tough goal.
Whatever type of adventure you’re seeking—kayaking, biking, climbing, running, or adventure racing—you’ll find it in Alabama. Here, 10 of the toughest outdoor challenges in the state that can serve as great inspiration for your next big adventure. (Bonus: Many of them take place in the fall, so you can use the summer to start training and prepping.)
1. Grind up 15,000 vertical feet in the Pinhoti 100 Trail Run.
Each November, runners from around the world venture to Alabama’s rugged Talladega National Forest to challenge themselves on this 100-mile race along the Pinhoti Trail. Considered a classic on the 100-mile circuit, the Pinhoti 100 includes a daunting 15,000 feet of vertical climbing, plus an ascent of Alabama’s high point, 2,413-foot Mount Cheaha. And getting up may not be the hard part: From the summit, competitors dash down steep terrain riddled with ankle-twisting roots, rocky streambeds, and slippery moss-covered boulders.
2. Send some serious routes in Little River Canyon.
With few routes graded below 5.11, Little River Canyon is home to a fantastic collection of challenging sport routes. While the climbs are steep and burly, you’ll also face awkward approaches in the narrow, rugged canyon. But it’s worth the effort as you’re greeted with crags like The Concave and its 5.14 classic, Southern Comfort. If you’re a fan of steep face climbing, head to the slightly overhanging Lizard Wall, where a 30-foot-high roof lords over eight routes ranging from 10c to 12a.
3. Swim, kayak, rappel, and more in the Coosa River Challenge Adventure Race.
Once you’ve completed a 7-mile obstacle run, you’re only though the first leg of the Coosa River Challenge adventure race that takes place in October in Wetumpka. You still have to mountain bike 7 miles, complete a trail run, rappel 100 feet, kayak several miles of Class I and Class II water in the Coosa River, slither through 55-gallon drums, conquer a Crossfit-style challenge, and swim about a quarter-mile. Typically, racers finish in four to six hours, so the Coosa River Challenge will definitely test your strength and endurance.
4. Hone your backpacking skills on a Pinhoti Trail thru-hike.
Want to take your backpacking skills to the next level? Try thru-hiking thePinhoti Trail, which stretches 171 miles across Alabama and another 100 miles in Georgia. For the most part, the hiking in Alabama is moderate to strenuous, including several mountain ascents, so you need to be in good shape. Plus, the trail passes through two wilderness areas, so you should be prepared to navigate through remote woods. If you conquer the physical and mental challenge of hiking more than 100 miles, you might be ready for an even longer trail, like the AT.
5. Conquer two mile-long hills in the Ellis Porch III Statue to Statue Run.
Beginning at Birmingham’s Vulcan statue and ending 9.3 miles away at the city’s Liberty Park, the Statue to Statue, held each April, is considered one of the toughest road races in Alabama. Hosted by the Birmingham Track Club, the race isn’t necessarily difficult because of the distance, but because competitors ascend two separate mile-long hills that test even the fittest among the bunch, shredding quads and killing morale. After that, runners get a bit of a respite in the mile-long descent to the finish line.
Craving an more hardcore challenge? Join ultra-runners with BUTS who run from the finish line to the starting point and back to the finish line to complete 18.6-miles.
6. Run the state’s toughest rapids in Little River Canyon.
In the 1970s, a series of class V and class IV rapids was named Suicide because many people considered it an impossible run. Not much has changed since then: Only expert paddlers should attempt the harrowing section of Little River Canyon. No matter the water level, the rapids are always wicked, with tight slots, steep chutes, and threatening undercuts. Below the roaring Little River Falls, the run challenges kayakers with more big drops, including the boulder-clogged Mammoth rapid (IV+) and the 12-foot drop through the narrow slot of Cable Falls (V).
7. Channel your inner SEAL at the Hesco Bonefrog Race.
Knowing that Navy SEALS created the Bonefrog race, you figure it has to be a real butt-kicker. In spring 2017, the Bonefrog took over the Talladega Speedway, where competitors of various ability levels chose to run courses ranging from 3 miles to 11 miles. For each race, teams must rely on their fitness and teamwork to complete obstacles inspired by SEAL training. You might find yourself scaling cargo nets and wooden walls, scrambling through a series of linked river rafts, or slithering under wires. If that doesn’t scare you, then consider the warning on the Bonefrog website, "You will get muddy. You will get beat up. You will be exhausted."
8. Test your tri skills in the Xterra Oak Mountain Race.
Now in its 12th year, the Xterra Oak Mountain race series includes a triathlon for elite athletes who swim 1.5 kilometers, mountain bike 30 kilometers, and run 10 kilometers. Typically held at Oak Mountain State Park in May, the race begins with a swim in Double Oak Lake. Then, competitors proceed to the mountain bike course to climb 700 feet to the summit of Johnson Mountain. After a swift descent, including the tricky "blood rock" section of jagged rocks, racers ditch their bikes to run the trails that wind around Double Oak Lake.
9. Crush the state’s toughest MTB terrain at Monte Sano State Park.
According to experienced riders, Monte Sano Mountain has some of the most technical trails in the state. Many modern trails are cut with machines, so they’re relatively smooth, but Monte Sano State Park’s old school, hand-cut trails are chock full of limestone boulders, rocks, and bike-rattling roots. On the southern portion of the Mountain Mist Trail, you’ll encounter lots of rocky terrain and technical features. From the Mountain Mist Trail, link to the Goat Trail to explore rock gardens and negotiate challenging switchbacks.
10. Climb 12,835 feet in the Cheaha Challenge Road Bike Race.
The 100-mile Cheaha Challenge bike race is so hardcore that the 2017 competition was chosen as the only USA Qualifier for the 2017 UCI Gran Fondo World Championship. Beginning in Jacksonville, cyclists ascend Cheaha Mountain to reach the state’s highest point (2,407 feet) and eventually tackle more than 9,700 feet of cumulative climbing. In addition to the century ride, the Cheaha Challenge includes an ultra race during which cyclists face a whopping 12, 835 feet of climbing.
Originally written for BCBS of AL.