Monte Sano State Park

Date: Friday–Sunday, May 14–16, 2010
Location: Monte Sano State Park, Huntsville, Alabama
Trails: South Plateau Loop, North Plateau Loop, Sinks, Logan Point,
            Stone Cuts, Panther Knob, Goat, Warpath Ridge, Mountain Mist
Members: Doris, Gary, Keith, Larry, Mimi, Owen

SWHC at Monte Sano, 15 May 2010 Monte Sano State Park is located just a few miles east of Huntsville, Alabama, easily accessible from US 431 as well as the more scenic Bankhead Parkway. The facilities include a medium-sized campground (about 100 sites) and a variety of hiking and mountain biking trails, all signed and well-marked.

Mimi and I tent-camped at the campground both Friday and Saturday nights with Keith joining us the first night. Monte Sano is a well-kept facility with a variety of camping options ranging from primitive to full RV hook-ups.

The primitive sites, at $15 a night plus higher-than-usual tax, offer plenty of space but not especially convenient access to water or the bath houses; a fire ring is provided but no picnic table. I just note this for future reference since all these sites were reserved by the time we arrived on Friday.

For $6 more a night, you step up to the next level which gives you water and electical hook-ups and puts you no more than 50 yards from one of the two bath houses. (The sites with full sewer hook-ups cost another $3 but that's really overkill unless your tent is a whole lot more complicated than ours.)

All of the sites are adequately spaced from the others. Some are a little more level than others. We had site 28 with Keith across the way at 29. Both were satisfactory.

Some people balked at the prices for the developed sites, feeling it too much to pay for services you know you won't use, such as electricity in our case. We appreciated the conveniences this time but might think twice about doing it again. For a club outing (with more people camping), one of those big primitive sites with multiple tents on it might be the way to go. I think people take too many showers anyway.

Indian Pink
Owen at Stone Cuts
On Friday, Mimi and I set up camp and had time to walk almost all of the South Plateau Loop. The walking was pretty easy (Mimi had on sandals) and the birding not too shabby.

At 9 AM on Saturday, the campers and day hikers gathered outside the Campground Country Store – a well-supplied little enterprise though not exactly in the vanguard of discount shopping. No one had any trouble finding the place.

Since some of us had hiked here several times before and some never, we opted for a loop hike which incorporated a mix of the familiar highlights along with some new-to-us paths.

We began across from the park office, heading north on the North Plateau Loop. At the Scenic Overlook (also accessible by car), we followed a closed road about one-tenth of a mile to the Sinks Trail. And sink we did, with a winding descent for almost half a mile. A quick jog up one end of the Logan Point Trail brought us to the western end of the Stone Cuts Trail. We headed east.

The southern end of the Panther Knob Trail connects in about the middle of the Stone Cuts Trail. A steep climb brings you to an outcrop of boulders where the views are good (but admittedly better in winter without all the foliage in your way). The northbound descent immerses you between large boulders which must be climbed over. The route is well-blazed – like most of these trails – especially in the areas where the trail twists and turns unexpectedly.

We rejoined the Logan Point Trail and followed it east and south and finally west again to its termination back at the Stone Cuts Trail. A short walk east brought us to the Stone Cuts. This section is easily the most interesting hiking spot in the park with its stone wall canyons and tunnels stretching for about a tenth of a mile or more – not to be missed.

We continued on the Stone Cuts Trail to where it briefly joins the Sinks Trail again, taking us south to the Three Benches junction where we picked up the southbound Goat Trail. This was a new one for all of us. It proved to be a quite pleasant 2+ mile walk in the woods along a narrow path. The only objection to this trail might be that, unlike most of the more northerly routes, there are fewer connections with other trails. So once you're on the Goat Trail, you're on it for a while. Hardly the worst of circumstances.

Break time on Mountain Mist Trail
At the southernmost point of the Goat Trail, we cut over to the Warpath Ridge Trail. A quite steep quarter mile ascent brought us up to O'Shaughnessy Point where we stopped for lunch.

After food and photos, we followed my personal favorite, the Mountain Mist Trail, with its rock bluffs to one side and the forest falling off the mountain on the other. At the junction with yet another segment of the Sinks Trail, we scooted mostly uphill, coming off the trail at the Biker's Trailhead parking lot, not far from the park office and, more importantly, the campground store with its cooler of ice cream.

The weather forecast had put the probability of rain at 60% but we came in on the 40% side though with the occasional dark cloud to keep us on our toes. It was basically just a beautiful early summer day though the temperature by the end was well into the lower 80's Fahrenheit.

Actually, Mimi and I had been following the weather all week and were very concerned about Friday night and Saturday so we were quite relieved that the weather had cooperated so nicely. Unfortunately we then let our guard down and got fairly well soaked on Sunday morning, though we did manage to perk coffee and scramble eggs between rain drops.

We think Monte Sano is underappreciated as a hiking spot. The mountain bikers certainly know about it. Most of the trails are open to both uses. We ran into only about a dozen bikers during the day and everyone was very polite, accommodating each encounter in the most expedient manner. We saw only one other hiker though the campground appeared to be over half full.

None of the trails is particularly difficult though my hat's off to anyone who can ride a mountain bike up the Warpath Ridge Trail. Many are easy and with numerous connections, making it simpler to deal with any distance or time constraints. It is advantageous to obtain the more detailed Trail Map and Guide from the office even if they charge you a couple of bucks. I'm sure we'll be back.

Mimi at Panther Knob
To view more photos (in better resolution), please see our Picasa Web Album Monte Sano State Park 2010.

Submitted 27 May 2010
Text: Larry
Photos: Doris, Mimi

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