Rising over 1600 feet above downtown Huntsville, Alabama is the southern Appalachian peak of Monte Sano. One of North Alabama’s natural treasures, thousands of acres are preserved for nature and recreation thanks to the Land Trust of North Alabama and Monte Sano State Park.
Monte Sano State Park offers 14 miles of trails contained inside the park for hiking, running and mountain biking of varying difficulties, plus facilities for other outdoor activities like picnicking, rock climbing and disc golf. Monte Sano, in my opinion, also offers the best views of Huntsville.
Entering the park from the main entrance on Nolen Avenue, the first right turn leads to a large parking and picnic area with an adjacent playground – and a beautiful panoramic view toward the south of Hampton Cove and Owens Crossroads. This parking lot is also a great place to start a tougher hike down McKay Hollow Trail (2 miles) by first crossing the waterfall. The trail drops off the western ridge and eventually climbs back up to the South Plateau Loop trail (3.5 miles) leading to O’Shaughnessy Point. Although this is not an overlook maintained by cutting down the trees and foliage, the mountain drops off steeply at an outcropping of weathered limestone rock.
Most of the hiking and biking trails at Monte Sano lead to O’Shaughnessy Point, so for those seeking a less vigorous trail, there are several options that stay on top of the plateau. Parking in the “Hikers” parking lot is recommended to access these trails. The western half of the South Plateau Loop runs along the ridge, affording occasional glimpses of the view to the southwest, without the difficultly of McKay Hollow.
Hikers can mix and match trails out to O’Shaughnessy Point and back to build a custom trail for their outing. For hikers seeking a moderate trail, Mountain Mist is recommended, taking a left at Sinks Trail to climb back up to the “Bikers” parking lot. This section of the trail runs approximately 2 miles below the eastern bluff and provides excellent views of the layers of stone that make up the mountain, springs seeping out of the mountain, and a greater range of native plants and animals. Don’t be surprised if you glimpse Monte Sano’s strangest wild residents, a group of feral goats.
Finally, no trip to Monte Sano would be complete without a stop at the North Overlook. Looking north, the view reaches almost to the Tennessee state line and is bisected by Panther Knob. It’s another excellent spot for a picnic, or just a quick view before heading back toward downtown Huntsville.
Moderate hike: Mountain Mist
Tougher hike: McKay Hollow Trail
Best view: North overlook
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Nicole Castle Brookus is a local food systems consultant, writer, photographer, avid gardener, lover of all things geeky, and the Executive Director of Southern Foodscapes, an organization that advocates for healthy, resilient and sustainable local food systems.
In her spare time, she studies the traditional herbal medicine of the southeastern United States and spends time hiking in the woods and foraging for wild foods.
You can find a roundup of her content from around the web at www.brookus.com.