When the day-to-day pressures of life seem overwhelming, it’s sometimes nice to take a long walk. In Huntsville, there are those who forego a walk around the block in favor of something more scenic and challenging.
The Huntsville-Madison County area is home to multiple scenic greenway trails, but it also boasts several hiking destinations popular with residents and visitors alike. The most well-known is Monte Sano State Park, which has many scenic views of rolling hills and valley below.
“Huntsville offers a wide variety of properties with public trails, but what makes Huntsville hiking so unique is the proximity of these spaces to the City center,” said Marie Bostick, executive director of the Land Trust of North Alabama. “Hiking trails are easily accessible within just a few miles of downtown without venturing too far out.”
There are plenty of other trails worthy of exploring, most of which are maintained by the Land Trust. Bostick said the maintenance of existing trails and the forging of new ones wouldn’t be possible without local collaboration and cooperation.
“We work closely with governments, other nonprofits, businesses and individuals to keep trails in good condition and add to the existing inventory,” she said. “With a small staff, without this support, it would be impossible to try and keep up with the increasing demand for trails.”
Off the beaten path
While most people are familiar with Monte Sano State Park, the Land Trust offers another 22 miles of hiking trails adjacent and connecting to the state park at Monte Sano Nature Preserve. Other Huntsville nature preserves maintained by the Land Trust include Chapman Mountain, Green Mountain, Blevins Gap and Wade Mountain.
Outside the City, there are nature preserves at Rainbow Mountain in Madison, Harvest Square in Harvest and Bethel Spring in New Hope.
“Huntsville is an amazing place uniquely situated between the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Smoky Mountains and the Sipsey Wilderness, located in the Bankhead National Forest,” said Eric Artrip, a Huntsville attorney and avid hiker. “Not only do we have a great state park in Monte Sano, but we have a robust and active Land Trust that actively protects and enhances lands for hikers. Between the two, we have great stewardship of some really fantastic hiking trails.”
Not only do we have a great state park in Monte Sano, but we have a robust and active Land Trust that actively protects and enhances lands for hikers. Between the two, we have great stewardship of some really fantastic hiking trails.”
Artrip got into hiking and backpacking in the early 1990s as a college student. He said one of the great things about local trails is they all offer a unique experience.
He highlighted the Stone Cuts trail at Monte Sano State Park, the Stone Fence trail at Wade Mountain Nature Preserve and the Walls of Jericho on the Alabama-Tennessee line.
“They are all fantastic hikes offering unique features,” he said. “They are all ‘payoff’ hikes involving out and back to a particular feature, and they are all well worth the effort to get to the end.”
For the uninitiated, an “out and back” trail is one that takes the hiker on a round-trip from the starting point and back again on the same trail.
Artrip does have a favorite spot, however – the Lost Sinks trail on the Keel Mountain Preserve near Hampton Cove.
“This is a 2-mile hike through the woods, up Keel Mountain with plenty of switchbacks to keep the legs fresh, finishing at a stream which ‘disappears’ through a large hold into the top of the mountain,” he said. “Totally unique and usually not crowded, this hike is well worth the short drive to get to the parking lot trailhead.”
No walk in the park
Like with most physical activity, people hike for different reasons. Some for the exercise, some for the scenery and some for both. Both Bostick and Artrip said Huntsville-area trails offer an abundance of physical challenges as well as breathtaking scenery.
Bostick said Blevins Gap Nature Preserve features stunning sunset views from the trailhead and valley views looking toward the Tennessee River.
“Because of North Alabama’s unique geology, you’ll find an abundance of interesting rock formations, pits, caves, sinkholes and waterfalls, while hiking Huntsville’s mountainsides,” she said.
In terms of intensity, there are plenty of options available, and hikers should choose one that best matches their ability and experience.
“Trails range from easy to difficult,” Bostick said. “Make sure you find a trail map and plan your route before you go. Monte Sano State Park trails are rated to indicate difficulty level.”
If you’ve never been on a hike, the upcoming fall season is an ideal time to hit the trails. Bostick and Artrip said beginners should avoid being overly adventurous, however.
“The Wildflower trail is an outstanding introduction to both the Land Trust and Monte Sano,” Artrip said. “This easy trail runs alongside a stream up the hill at a gradual incline.”
Bostick urged new hikers to be prepared before they head out, and offered a few simple tips:
- Take plenty of water and consider bringing a few other essentials like bug spray and sunscreen.
- Wear appropriate closed-toe shoes and take a hiking stick if you need some extra support. A long-sleeved shirt and pants can provide protection from the sun and insects.
- Stay on marked trails and pay attention to signage.
- Do a tick check after your hike as they are prevalent in our area.
There are a number of websites available for those who want more information, including AllTrails, a crowd-sourced hiking site. Hikers should also visit the Land Trust website for trail rules and hiking tips, as well as easy beginner hikes.