When Alabama Governor Bob Riley signed the Gourmet Beer Bill in 2009 (raising the alcohol limit from 6% to 13.9%), the craft beer scene in the Rocket City took off like…well, like a rocket. Today, Huntsville and neighboring Madison boast at least 9 breweries, plus numerous bars, taverns and beverage stores that offer craft beer.
Just as the beer community has grown, the hiking scene has flourished thanks to the many new or improved trails that wind through land trust properties, Monte Sano State Park and local greenways.
If you love to combine a day outdoors with good brew, the Huntsville area is a great destination, as many trails lie fairly close to craft beer establishments. Just minutes after finishing your hike, you can be at a brewery sipping a hearty IPA, a tasty lager, or even a glass of cider or wine.
With miles and miles of trails in the Rocket City, there are endless options for a "trail to tavern" itinerary. To put you on the right path, we’ve highlighted a few hikes and breweries that pair well.
Monte Sano State Park — Campus 805
Covering more than 2,000 acres, Monte Sano State Park offers some 22 miles of trails. To check out one of the park’s most interesting features, begin at the biker’s parking lot, descend the Sinks Trail and head to the Stone Cuts. In this hallway of stone, you’ll wind through dark, rugged tunnels and forget that you’re just a few miles from a metro area with 400,000 people. From the Stone Cuts, complete a 4-mile loop by taking the Mountain Mist and Sinks trails to return to the biker’s parking lot.
If you’d rather bike than hike, start from the biker's parking lot and take the Family Bike Trail a couple of miles to O'Shaughnessy Point for great views. Intermediate riders can then connect the Mountain Mist and Goat trails, eventually traversing north for about 2 miles to the Sinks Trail intersection at "three benches." Then, go right onto Sinks Trail for only 50 yards or so, and turn right onto Keith's Loop. This will take you to Logan's Point and the Mountain Mist Trail, which will carry you to a closed portion of Bankhead Parkway. Once there, take a left and follow the road up the mountain back to the eastern overlook and the biker's parking lot.
From Monte Sano State Park, you’ll drive about 15 minutes to reach Campus 805, where breweries, bars, restaurants and shops occupy the former campus of Stone Middle School.
Once you’re on campus, head to Straight to Ale, which occupies 55,000 square feet and includes a brewery, taproom, and a kitchen serving burgers and wings. Founded by NASA engineers, Straight to Ale produces the popular Monkeynaut IPA, named after Miss Baker, the first monkey to survive a trip into space. After you’ve sampled the beer, wander down the preserved middle school hallways and find the set of lockers that slide sideways to reveal a speakeasy. Inside you’ll find a full bar that serves three types of Shelta Cavern Spirits whiskey.
Another great option on campus is Yellowhammer Brewing, which creates about 20 different seasonal beers throughout the year, including the popular Rebellion Red Lager. In Yellowhammer’s expansive taproom, you’ll also find Earth & Stone Wood Fired Creations, which makes delicious thin-crust pizzas and serves them impressively fast, even on busy nights.
Monte Sano Nature Preserve — Downtown Breweries
For a vigorous hike that stretches a little more than 4 miles, begin at the Bankhead Trailhead and follow the Bluff Line Trail, crossing small streams in a beautiful hardwood forest. The trail eventually climbs to meet the Waterline Trail where you’ll scramble down a boulder-strewn drainage that includes a 20-foot seasonal waterfall. Near the end of the Waterline Trail you’ll reach Three Caves, an impressive limestone quarry that operated from 1945 to 1955. From Three Caves, take the Alms House Trail for a moderate 1.7-mile walk back to the parking lot.
From the Bankhead Trailhead, you only have to drive about 2.7 miles to reach downtown Huntsville, home to the city’s "craft beer trail" that includes about 10 breweries and shops. If you’re hiking with your family and favorite pet, make the Old Town Beer Exchange your first stop, as kids and pets are welcome in this** **very laid back tavern. With two-dozen beers on tap, wines by the glass and games for kids, there’s something here for everyone.
If you work up a big appetite on your hike, head to Below the Radar, where you’ll find a wide assortment of craft beers and ciders brewed on site, plus a hearty dinner menu with shrimp & grits, grilled trout, a seriously stacked cheeseburger and tasty fish & chips.
Indian Creek Greenway — Old Black Bear & Blue Pants Breweries
Located near the border of Huntsville and Madison, the Indian Creek Greenway is a great place to walk, run or ride a bike. Stretching 2.9 miles, the paved path traverses an attractive landscape, with a lively creek, vast farm fields and large tracts of woods. Plus, it links to surrounding neighborhoods and Cummings Research Park, so you can access it from several points or extend your route. If you go, there is a parking area on Old Madison Pike near the intersection with Slaughter Road, or you can access the greenway in the Creekwood subdivision near the intersection of Farrow Road and Slaughter Road.
From Indian Creek’s Madison Pike trailhead, you’ll drive less than 5 miles to reach Old Black Bear Brewing Company. After a sweaty hike, you might opt for the refreshing Cave City Lager. But the real gem here is the food menu that includes delicious takes on Southern fare, including chicken and waffles and a pimento cheeseburger.
Five minutes away from Old Black Bear is Blue Pants Brewery, which produces IPAs, amber ales and pale ales year round and also makes a handful of seasonal brews. If you’re looking for entertainment, this is a good spot, because you can hang out on the 4,000-square-foot patio and enjoy live music or fun events that range from parties to trivia nights to fundraisers for local organizations.
Bradford Creek Greenway — Rocket Republic Brewing
Madison greenways have the advantage of being surrounded by more farmland than many Huntsville paths. This is really evident when you’re traveling the 2.3-mile Bradford Creek Greenway, where a paved path visits a rushing creek, spacious wetlands and thick hardwoods forests. As you walk, run or ride, you’ll come near a few houses and neighborhoods, but the greenway still feels much more remote and wild than most of the area’s urban recreation spots. If you go, there is a parking area on Palmer Road near the trailhead.
From Bradford Creek, you’ll drive less than 5 miles to reach Rocket Republic Brewing Company. Founded in part by a couple of rocket scientists, Rocket Republic serves delicious aerospace-themed brews like Peanut Butter Astronut Brown Ale and Vapor Trail Cream Ale. In the large, airy taproom, your family or your hiking group will have plenty of space to sit and relax or play Foosball, darts, corn hole, and ping pong. When you get hungry, just visit the food trucks in the parking lot.
Originally written for BCBS of AL.