If you live in Huntsville, you already know how lucky you are to have a state park not just in the immediate area (like Oak Mountain is for Birmingham) but right in the heart of town atop the Monte Sano Mountain. You’ve done a few birthday and graduation celebrations at the rustic Civilian Conservation Corps cabins and have no doubt enjoyed any number of events at Burritt Museum and the State Park pavilions.
But other than knowing they are there, do you have the cred to get out on the trails?
Monte Sano Mountain rises about 900 feet out of the surrounding topography; it is the only thing in north Alabama more visible than the Saturn V towering over I-565 at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.As such, all of the routes and trails that connect the perimeter trails with interior features can be pretty vertical. But if you choose a route that makes use of the perimeter trails that travel around Monte Sano, you may be surprised in multiple ways: The trails are flatter than you thought, the distances can be longer than you thought, and you take in much more of the town than you thought.
Don’t be dismayed by the full parking areas you might encounter. The Mountain has a distinct ability to absorb human beings, and it's very possible that you may not see another soul around during your hike.
Huntsville photographer and outdoorsman Roy Simmons is something of an authority on Monte Sano trails, as he walks them an astounding 28 miles a day and sometimes much more. Roy has created the website, MountSanoTrails.com, to house his passion for the mountain, including a helpful map (please note that unlike the map, the trails west of Monte Sano Boulevard are not color coded but have signs to act as identifiers. Also, note that most of these trails now appear in Google Earth).
Roy's map offers hikers the advantage that it treats all Monte Sano trails as if they were managed by one entity, and are not split up among the Alabama State Parks, Huntsville Land Trust, and the City of Huntsville.
March features an around-the-mountain loop that begins and ends not at the far reaches of the trail system but in the heart of town. If you get out soon, you’ll enjoy the bonus of the unclothed bluffs before the leaves obscure them again.
This 4 to 6 hour ramble will begin in the tiny three-vehicle parking area across from the Fagan Springs Apartments. From the parking area, go left on the Toll Gate Trail (it runs parallel to Bankhead Parkway) which leads to the large Land Trust Parking Area where you will connect with the Dummy Trail a short way past the parking lot on the left. Follow the Dummy Trail for just over a mile to the closed-off hairpin on Bankhead Parkway.
From this closed-off section are multiple entrances onto the Cold Spring Trail. In about a mile up Cold Springs Trail, at the top of the mountain, turn right onto the North Plateau Loop. Cross Nolan Avenue and follow down to McKay Hollow Trail. This descent will take you beneath high bluffs and among several waterfalls, more prominent after a recent rain. As McKay Hollow Trail nears the bottom it tightens into switchbacks down to the stream crossing.
At the crossing, pick up the Natural Well Trail to the right (west). Natural Well Trail soon becomes a solid mile of flat terrain with an endless display of wildflowers that changes weekly.
Natural Well Trail connects with Trough Springs Trail for a short distance (right) to the Land Trust Parking area on Monte Sano Boulevard across from the Burritt Museum. Cross Monte Sano Boulevard and go 100 yards on the lane into the woods, passing to the left of the large green equipment shed. Just past it, pick up the Bluff Line Trail as it returns you to your car at the Fagans Springs Apartments parking area in three miles.
Once back at your vehicle, look around to consider the other trails out of the parking area. Railroad Bed Trail, Wagon Trail, and Toll Creek Trail are accessible from here. And Wildflower Trail and Alms Trail lead to beautiful waterfalls and wildflowers, and both deserve a hike of their own before spring is gone.