Monte Sano State Park

Date: Friday – Sunday, May 13 – 15, 2011
Location: Monte Sano State Park, Huntsville, Alabama
Members: Gary, Larry, Mimi, Owen

If one should look at our hiking trip reports over the past five years, a couple of destinations repeat more than others – and with reason. Balsam Mountain in the Smokies may own August but Monte Sano has emerged as a candidate for May.

Mimi and I braved late morning showers and arrived about 1:30. The rain slacked off long enough for us to get set up and for Gary who arrived an hour later. He opted for the primitive camping area, site #2. We paid for less distance to the bath house (and water/electrical hookups which we barely used) at site #26. Both were adequately spacious and level.

Before dinner, we all had a short hike to the Japanese Tea Garden and the Monte Sano Lodge. Though the sun only managed to shine briefly, the rain held out for the rest of the day, oddly until about two minutes after all of us had just retired to our tents for the night.
Monte Sano State Park

The rain continued all night, never very hard, and had stopped by breakfast time on Saturday. With only three of us hiking, we elected for a more difficult hike starting from the South Monte Sano Trail Head, following the Natural Well Trail and then the McKay Hollow Trail north back to the park's picnic and playground area.
Natural Well Trail
We drove to the trailhead. The start was well-marked but we soon encountered serious obstacles in the form of fallen trees, washed-out trails, and eroded gullies. Though much of this pre-dated the recent EFing tornadoes, green-leaved blowdowns suggested new debris. After climbing through about four of these deterrants, we were beginning to reconsider our plan for the day but then things improved. At least, the white-blazed trail became easier to find, though finding one's footing was another story.

In all fairness, the park rangers do post these signs that warn against hiking after a rain. Every time we have been here, it has rained the day before if not longer. Yeah, we know about the slippery mud. And yeah, Larry once cracked a rib for not paying attention to such notice. Today, we all walked real cautious and, in spite of a few slips, no one sustained anything worse than mud-stained pants. This is not to minimize the situation. Wet limestone rocks and clay soil can take your feet out from under you without any warning.

After a couple of miles, we arrived at Natural Well, a quasi-fenced-in deep hole in the ground. Were you not interested in hiking this trail for other reasons, I cannot imagine walking all the way over here. But the hike is somewhat of a challange with numerous rock piles to climb over and some fairly steep slopes. The surrounding scenery is exceptionally pretty in May I might add.

The Natural Well Trail ends at the McKay Hollow Trail. Not wishing to push our luck with the mud, we headed north back toward the campground. Mimi and I had hiked this trail about four years ago and it all came back like a bad dream – steep switchbacks up maybe 400 feet, then another 200 feet of altitude with a lesser grade but still no fun.

The weather held all morning in spite of a suggestion of rain for a few minutes. We returned to camp for showers; the park's bath houses are excellently maintained with more than adequately pressured hot water showers.
Natural Well

We drove to town for some disappointing shopping and returned for more successful naps. We were delighted to have Owen join us for the evening. We had always been aware that the park houses a Planetarium and that they have some sort of events. Well, this time we took advantage. The Saturday night program ($5 each) was well worth it.

The Von Braun Astronomical Society ( puts on a show that anyone even vaguely interested in astronomy could enjoy. Afterwards, the skies were too cloudy for star gazing but we were given a geek-guided tour of the telescopes in the observatory; one could not possibly ask for more. Highly recommended.

Spigelia marilandica Another chilly night with yesterday's rain still falling off the fully leafed-out trees. Such noise served as an excuse to sleep in. Nonetheless, all of us were on our way home before 9:30.

Monte Sano State Park is not exactly a bargain. The primitive campsites are $15 a night plus the usual not-trivial tax; our developed site cost six bucks more, though I am happy to report that senior discounts are still available.

We love this place. The facilities are well-kept. The hiking options are numerous and exceptionally varied, ranging from an easy stroll to our choice and worse – some people actually ride these trails on bicycles. The campground store is adequately stocked and not exorbitantly priced.

These and more photos at our Picasa Web Album

Submitted 18 May 2011
Text: Larry
Photos: Mimi

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