It’s known as the Rocket City, a place where, in the late 1950s, a group of German and American scientists came together to put a man on the moon. Today, Huntsville continues to move mankind deeper into space but has also become a booming center for other technology-based businesses.
The city is growing by leaps and bounds, but even with this astronomic growth, civic leaders, nonprofit organizations, and volunteers recognize that to make this a more vibrant community, green spaces need to be set aside and maintained. They have done an incredible job with that, providing a plethora of outdoor activities for visitors and residents alike to enjoy.
When visiting the Huntsville area, head for the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and the city’s incredible restaurants and nightlife, but also set aside time to experience these amazing outdoor activities the city has to offer.
1. Walking And Biking
Huntsville has an incredible network of walking and biking paths, 73 miles of paved greenways that lead you through beautiful landscapes and past shimmering lakes and rocky, rushing streams. The city’s goal is to add an additional 40 miles by 2023. All of the trails are easy to walk and bike and are ADA accessible.
One of the outstanding paths you should really check out is the Aldridge Creek Greenway, a 5.5-mile one-way walk (or ride) that takes you along a beautiful, rock-strewn creek, includes a view of Green Mountain, and ends (or begins, depending on your starting point) on the wide Tennessee River.
The path is an easy walk or bike ride, and there are painted lines to keep you and the cyclists in the correct lanes. There are two main access points to the trail: One is at Ken Johnston Park, and the other is at Ditto Landing along the Tennessee River.
While it’s an easy walk, you may not want to do the entire 11 miles. The best walk or ride at Aldridge that provides all of the views mentioned above is the 3.4-mile out-and-back that begins at Ditto Landing and follows the banks of Aldridge Creek to Green Cove Road, where you’ll turn around and head back. Plan on a good 2 hours for this walk.
Another beautiful paved walk in the woods, especially when the fall colors are at their peak, is the 2-mile one-way Flint River Greenway. The path provides beautiful views of the river and the surrounding Huntsville mountains.
The northern trailhead is located just off of Old Highway 431. The southern trailhead is located on Hays Preserve Trail. The full out-and-back trip takes about 2 hours. You can also connect the trail to the Big Cove Creek Greenway, another peaceful walk along a feeder to the Flint River, to extend the length an additional 2.9 miles one way.
One organization that is making sure that the Rocket City maintains plenty of green space and hiking trails as the city continues to grow is the Land Trust of North Alabama. Currently, the nonprofit protects and maintains more than 7,500 acres of land, with networks of amazing hiking trails veining through its nine preserves, including two of the most popular: Monte Sano Nature Preserve and Bethel Spring Nature Preserve.
Monte Sano is one of the largest urban preserves in the country, covering more than 1,100 acres and featuring 22 miles of moderately difficult hiking trails that weave through a rugged, rocky landscape along rushing springs and waterfalls, past historic sites such as the abandoned Three Caves Quarry, and through a brilliant array of wildflowers. Visit the Monte Sano Nature Preserve’s website for a trail map so that you can pick your own route.
Monte Sano State Park is the hub of outdoor activities in Huntsville. As we’ll see in a moment, it offers some great mountain biking adventures and camping options, but it also has some awesome hiking trails -- 22 miles of trail, to be precise, all interconnecting in one way or another so that you can create your own beautiful, fun, and sometimes challenging hikes.
One of the most interesting is the Stone Cuts Trail, a difficult little 1.6-mile out-and-back hike with steep, rocky descents and ascents, but the reward for all of your hard work is a remarkable walk through deep cuts in the tall limestone rock. The trailhead is located at the park’s northern scenic overlook.
Before visiting Monte Sano State Park, download a copy of the park’s detailed trail map.
3. Mountain Biking
For mountain bikers of all stripes, the place to go in Huntsville is Monte Sano State Park. There are several fun and challenging single- and double-track trails you can choose from. For families or just an easy bike ride through the woods, try the Bucca Family Trail, a flat and wide 2.6-mile dirt path that is easy enough for everyone from six to 60.
If your family is up for something a little more difficult, then saddle up and take a ride on Monte Sano’s Plateau Loop. This 7-mile loop around the top of the mountain is an easy, narrow, and relatively flat dirt path with a couple of paved road sections that take you to some incredible views of the surrounding Huntsville mountains. The only reason I say it’s more difficult is because of its length. The trail combines two trails: the white blazed North Loop and the red blazed South Plateau Loop.
Both the Bucca Family Trail and the Plateau Loop begin at the park’s Hikers Parking Lot.
Diehards looking for something with plenty of technical challenges can try the Mountain Mist Trail, a 2.8-mile one-way single track. It will really put your skills to the test with its steep declines, ascents, and rocks and roots, but it culminates in a spectacular view from O’Shaughnessy Point. The easiest way to access the trail is by starting on the South Plateau Loop at the Hikers Parking Lot and then taking the extremely steep Sinks Trail to connect with the Mountain Mist Trail. The Mountain Mist Trail will rejoin the South Plateau Trail near the point. A trail map is available on Monte Sano State Park’s website.
When you ask someone from Huntsville where to kayak, odds are that the answer will be the Flint River. The Flint is actually 50 miles long, flowing from just north of the Tennessee state line to the Tennessee River, but one of the best paddles for kayakers of all stripes is the 5.4-mile stretch from Rube Robinson Road to Brown Bear Canoe and Kayak Rentals on Michael Drive, a paddle of about 2.5 hours. This section flows through beautiful green forests and past an old grist mill, and there are some fun Class I rapids to shoot.
If you have your own canoe or kayak, you can put in at the kayak launch on Rube Robinson Road. You would have to leave a shuttle vehicle at Brown Bear to get back to the put in. Better yet, pick up a shuttle or rent your boats from the fine folks at Brown Bear.
After a hard day on the trail or floating down the river, you’ll need a place to rest your head, and once again, Monte Sano State Park has you covered. When it comes to camping, the park has 59 improved tent and RV sites complete with water and electricity and 15 full hookup RV sites. If you really want to rough it, they have 21 primitive campsites.
If you’re not into roughing it, then how about spending the night in one of their beautiful rustic cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s? All but three of them include fireplaces, one is ADA compliant, and two are pet friendly.
Visit the park’s website for the latest pricing and to make reservations.
One of the most fascinating and unique amenities at Monte Sano and a real treat for campers is the Wernher von Braun Planetarium. Conceived by the famous German rocket scientist and operated by the Von Braun Astronomical Society, the planetarium opens to the public every Saturday evening with informative presentations on astronomy and maybe even a guest appearance by an astronaut. They then open up their telescopes for the public to view the heavens firsthand. Check out the latest schedule of events on the VBAS website.