Five Day Road Trip in the Tennessee Valley – Huntsville to Chattanooga
Second Stop – Monte Sano State Park
In Alabama, both Republicans and Democrats celebrated upon hearing the 2016 election results. I rejoiced with them from my cozy cabin room at Monte Sano State Park near Huntsville, Alabama. In the past five years, the Alabama State Legislature had reallocated some $15 million in state park funding, using the money to finance other initiatives in the state’s general fund.
No more! Voters overwhelmingly cast their ballots for Alabama’s beleaguered state park system. As a result, government officials are now prohibited from redirecting designated state park funds.
Early History as Mountain of Health
Known as the Mountain of Health, Monte Sano is a naturally beautiful mountain with rugged rock formations, towering trees, and scenic views of Huntsville city lights and beyond. In the late 1800’s, visitors gathered at Mount Sano for extended stays to heal in the fresh air and mineral springs, while enjoying the stunning natural surroundings.
The Hotel Monte Sano, opened in 1887, was an impressive resort featuring the elegant Queen Anne architectural style and more than 200 guest rooms. The resort hotel no longer exists. However, the Monte Sano State Park continues to live up to the promise of Mountain of Health with stunning views and healthy recreational activities.
About Monte Sano State Park
Located only five miles from Huntsville, in northern Alabama, the Monte Sano State Park covers 2,140 acres. Between 1935 and 1940 the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) jobs program established the mountain’s recreational area with such facilities as 11 rustic cabins, an amphitheater, and a lodge.
All of these buildings were constructed using the natural stone readily available on the mountain. In 1947, a fire destroyed the original lodge. The current lodge, opened in 2004, is popular for both weddings and conference events. The park also has three more cabins, a playground, a museum and scenic overlook areas.
Hiking and Biking
Intrigued by towering bamboo stalks, we ventured into the Japanese Garden Trail.
Consistent with the season, there were no flowers in bloom, but the trail was an easy walk on flat terrain. We crossed a couple of small bridges, but no water flowed underneath due to the severe, extreme, and exceptional drought condition ratings affecting almost 90% of Alabama. During our short walk, we noticed that the Japanese tea house was in disrepair, and cordoned off due to safety restrictions. Building materials nearby indicate that restoration efforts are underway.
While we enjoyed the gentle early morning walk in the tea garden, more adventurous hikers can find suitable challenges on more than 14 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails. The Old Railroad Bed Trail seems to be a local favorite. When the Hotel Monte Sano was in operation, a carriage ride from the Huntsville Depot to the hotel consumed four hours of travel time.
A railway route was established to reduce the travel time to only twenty minutes. The popularity of the train route was short-lived when the train derailed within the first three months of operation. Soon, those train cars were relegated to hauling supplies. Within eight years, the train system was bankrupt. However, portions of this original train route were revived in 1990 as a hiking trail. This trail is honored among the first of the “rail to trail” hiking systems in the United States.
Monte Sano State Park offers an 18-hole disc golf course. Combining the challenge of traditional golf with the fun of Frisbee®, the sport of disc golf offers entertainment for visitors of all ages.
This course spans across the mountain top, with a mix of short and long distances between the metal basket targets (holes).
Our mountain-side cabin offered sprawling views of twinkling city lights in the valley below. In harmony with the winking stars above, I was surrounded by glittering crystal-clear dots. What a sight! Even more intriguing, the Von Braun Astronomical Society has a planetarium inside the Monte Sano State Park. It offers evening educational programs and special stargazing events at its observatory.
Cabins and Camping
The Alabama state parks typically require two-day rentals for cabins. However, traveling by car, securing same-day accommodations for one night on a weekday delighted us. The simple, yet comfortable stone cottages, now 14 in total, feature fireplaces, furnished kitchenettes, modern bathrooms, and screened porches. The park also rents RV sites with hookups and has designated areas for tent camping.
The state park staff and local residents were overjoyed at the possibilities when adequate funding channels to this mountain-top state park. I’m likewise delighted about accessible funds for necessary repairs, adequate staffing, and innovative new programs throughout the Alabama state park system.
If You Go
Monte Sano State Park
The park opens at 8:00 am daily. Trails close 30 minutes before sunset. An after-hours system is available for cabin arrivals after 4:45 pm.
The park entry fee is $5.00 per adults. Discounts apply for seniors, children under the age of 12 years, and active duty military personnel.
Find more about Gwyn’s journey through the Tennessee Valley at Small Towns, Big Stories on MilesGeek.