Hiking Huntsville Alabama is a little slice of heaven with over 150 named trails and 200 miles of hiking. There are dozens of Huntsville hikes within the city limits or just outside. Monte Sano State Park has over 25 miles of hiking and is only six miles from downtown Huntsville. The Land Trust of North Alabama has over 70 miles of trails, with some even closer to town than the state park. This guide also covers Nature Conservancy and Forever Wild preserves and some Madison County parks too.
With all of these options, how do you choose? Don’t worry. We have you covered. As locals, we’ll tell you all the deets you need to get out and explore the best Huntsville hiking trails.
Introduction to Huntsville Hiking
What Huntsville hiking lacks in top-end trails, it makes up for with options, variety, and accessibility. We are not including walking on greenways in this guide, but you can find that information in our Huntsville bike trail guide. In general, you ‘may’ mountain bike on most of these trails, with a few notable exceptions. However, only about 80% of these trails are really suitable for riding. We break those down in more details in our Huntsville mountain biking guide.
This Huntsville hiking guide is broken down into five major sections: Monte Sano State Park, Monte Sano Nature Preserve, trails north of Monte Sano, trails south of Monte Sano, and other Huntsville hikes. These sections will highlight a couple of featured hikes from the area and provide links and resources to keep you exploring. The table of contents above is hyperlinked if you want to skip ahead to the section that interests you.
This piece is a local Huntsville hiking guide, written by locals, for locals and visitors alike, about our local trails. Truth in advertising, I am an engineer by day like so many Hunts-Villians. With that noted, this guide might be a bit techy, but that’s not always a bad thing. Of course, everybody is welcome here in the Rocket City, so come on down, ya’ll!!
Map to Hiking Huntsville Alabama
Below is our interactive Huntsville hiking map with all layers enabled. All of the trails, trailheads, and points of interest featured in this guide are on this map, but you might have to zoom in a bit to see everything. There’s a loose color scheme where the regions are colored as follows:
- Monte Sano State Park – Shades of purple
- Monte Sano Nature Preserve – Shades of blue
- Trails north of Monte Sano – Orange
- Trails south of Monte Sano – Yellow
- Other Huntsville Hikes – Red
We tried to import native Google pins whenever possible, which come with pictures, and we added photos to points of interest where we could. We put parking information on the trailhead pins and trail information on the trail objects. Long story short, there’s a lot of information here, so all you visual folks might like clicking around and seeing what you can find. At a minimum, hit the refresh button if the map doesn’t appear. It’s worth it
Hikes Contained in the Huntsville Hiking Guide
Below is a table of the hikes called out in the Huntsville Hiking Guide. Note the hyperlink in the ‘Section in Guide’ column if you want to fast forward to what interests you 😉 These hikes are great places to start, but we will also include our interactive trail maps, regional descriptions, and detailed trail maps as we go as well as links to detailed trail descriptions.
|Stone Cuts Short||2.4||Logan Point / Stone Cuts|
|Stone Cuts Long||2.9||Logan Point / Stone Cuts|
|South Plateau Loop||3.3||Monte Sano Plateau to O'Shaughnessy Point|
|Moutain Mist Loop||3.8||Monte Sano Plateau to O'Shaughnessy Point|
|McKay Hollow loop||4||McKay Hollow|
|loop around Monte Sano Park||10||McKay Hollow|
|Monte Sano Flat Loop||6.4||McKay Hollow|
|Land Trust Loop||5.1||Bankhead Trailhead|
|Bankhead and Dummy Line Loop||3.6||Bankhead Trailhead|
|Wildflower / Alms House Loop||1.6||Cleermont Trailhead|
|Waterline Trail||1.7||Three Caves Trailhead|
|Alms House / Wagon Trail Loop||3.6||Three Caves Trailhead or Bankhead Trailhead|
|Bankhead and Dallas Branch||2.6||Oak Park|
|Natural Well||3.6||Monte Sano South Trailhead|
|Rock Bluff to Monte Sano Cross||0.7||Monte Sano South Trailhead|
|Cold Springs Loop||0.5||Cold Springs Trailhead|
|Legacy Loop||2.8 / 2.0||Hiking at Trailhead / Legacy Loop|
|Chapman Mountain Preserve Loop||3.1||Chapman Mountain|
|Chasco Trail and Diskell Trail||1.2||Chapman Mountain|
|Devil's Ractrack||3.4||Wade Mountain|
|Bill and Marion Certain Trail||4.1||Blevins Gap|
|Alum Hollow Trail||2.2||Green Mountain|
|Madison County Nature Trail||1.5||Madison County Nature Trail|
|Walls of Jericho||6.4||Walls of Jericho|
|Rainbow Mountain Loop||1.6||Rainbow Mountain|
|Lost Sink Trail||3.9||Keel Mountain Preserve|
|Falling Sink Loop||1.3||Bethel Springs Nature Preserve|
Huntsville Hiking Weather
Weatherspark says, “In Huntsville, the summers are hot and muggy; the winters are short, very cold, and wet; and it is partly cloudy year-round.” (If you happen to be some kind of engineer reading this, click the link for all sorts of cool Huntsville weather infographics.) Muddy trails are an issue here, especially during the winter and spring. Unfortunately, this is also when the waterfalls are really flowing.
Since we have been on all of these trails, we’ll give you some boots-on-the-ground information about their mud potential. Who knows, there might be more information about fall leaf peeping, winter views, and even a poison ivy report or two worked in. If you think we missed something, drop us a line, and we’ll figure it out.
Monte Sano State ParkHiking in Monte Sano State Park is one of the extraordinary perks of living in Huntsville. This 2,140-acre park nestled on the summit of a 2000′ mountain is only 6-miles from downtown. There are even campgrounds and cabins for out-of-town guests or stay-cationers. People have been traveling to Monte Sano for healthy living for over a century, and I don’t see that ending anytime soon, even with the $5 day-use fee. However, the park hiking page is a bit on the short side, like only two sentences. Sure, there are pictures and videos of people enjoying the park, but the engineer in me wants data. They do have a good trail map with over 25-trails listed, but with an average length trail length of less than a mile, it’s hard to plan an afternoon of hiking. This map has every trail labeled and color coordinated with the color scheme of the blazes. We’re including a table of the park’s most significant trails, mainly so you can see the blaze color scheme, which helps out while you’re hiking. Note, we retained the purple color scheme on our included map for consistency between sections. What’s even more confusing is that the published trail lengths are only the distance they travel in the park and don’t include any additional trail miles once they leave the park boundary. For instance, one of the most popular trails in the park, Bankhead, is listed as being 1.0 miles long, while the trailhead-trailhead length is closer to 2.0 miles, with half the trail sitting on Land Trust land. And don’t get me started on the debate whether the Flat Rock Trail actually exists or is a cartographic memory. Don’t worry. That’s why we’re here to tell you our favorite hiking routes and loop in Monte Sano State Park. We divide the park into three sections: Logan Point / Stone Cuts, Monte Sano Plateau, and McKay Hollow and include some of the best hikes in each area.
|Bucca Family Trail||2.6||Dark Purple|
|Fire Tower Trail||1.6||Dark Red|
|Logan Point Trail||1.3||Orange|
|McKay Hollow Trail||2.2||Yellow|
|Mountain Mist Trail||3||Pink|
|Natural Well Trail||2.6||Lite Purple|
|North Plataue Trail||1.9||Sky Blue|
|Panther Knob Trail||0.4||Sky Blue|
|Rocky Nightmare Trail||0.8||none|
|Sinks Trail||1.5||Dark Red|
|South Plataue Loop||3.4||White|
|Warpath Ridge Trail||1.1||Orange|
Logan Point / Stone CutsLet me get on my soapbox for a minute here. There’s an honor box to pay for hiking in Monte Sano, even if you come in from the Bankhead hairpin parking, and it theoretically applies to everybody in the park from any entrance. So, you do you, boo, but I bought a year pass. Why? Because it’s worth it, and Stone Cuts our favorite trail in the park. There’s also the trail karma thing. Now, on to Stone Cuts, which sits on the point of land call Logan Point. To be clear, Stone Cuts is a short trail in the middle of the trail system, but it’s also a cool karst feature. You hike about a 1/4 mile through a narrow rocky ravine on the Stone Cuts Trail (as long as you DO NOT take the Stone Cuts Bypass). To actually reach this formation, you need to patch in other trails like The Sinks and Mountain Mist, and we always prefer loops. The most popular route on AllTrails is a 2.4-mile loop that has you hiking back through the blacktop and buildings of Monte Sano Park. We prefer the 2.9-mile loop where you come back on the Sinks Trail because you have more time in the woods and less time on blacktop.
Monte Sano Plateau to O’Shaughnessy Point
Another ‘must-do’ hike on Monte Sano is the 3.3 mile South Plateau Loop. You head out the Monte Sano Plateau to O’Shaughnessy Point. This is the driest part of the mountain because it drains well, and there’s no water flowing in. There’s also very easy hiking with fantastic views, especially in the fall when the leaves are most colorful.
The return leg is my only knock on this hike. The plateau’s eastern edge has marginal views, and you’re hiking on a gravel road for a bit. Still, this is one of the best hikes for muddy days, and the wide road gives you more places to step.
If the weather permits, you can consider dropping 150′ below the rim and take the 3.8 Mile Mountain Mist Loop back. You’ll see some of the wettest spots on the mountain and a rock overhang. I would avoid taking the Bucca Family Bike Trail because of the bike traffic and the meandering nature of the trail that bikers love, but maybe that’s just the rider in me speaking. There is also a North Plateau Loop that runs behind the Monte Sano Campground which is nice enough, but doesn’t have the views or features of O’Shaughnessy Point.
McKay HollowMcKay Hollow is the most remote part of Monte Sano. In fact, so remote that you walk off the edge of the park property and take trails that (as of yet) don’t show up on Google Maps. Plus, with trails called Rocky Nightmare and segments called Death Trail Climb, you might wonder why you’d ever come here. The forest service even posts signs warning you that you’ll be at least two hours away from the nearest exit if you head out. To paraphrase JFK… We choose to go to McKay Hollow this decade not because it is easy, but because it is hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win. You’ll get to see a deep and dark karst valley that few people get to see. You won’t want to go if it has recently rained because it’s slippery enough on the Death Trail, and it’s pretty soggy down in the hollow. If you’re doing this hike, you’re hiking a loop. The shortest loop is the 4.0 mile McKay Hollow loop with an ominous 666′ of elevation gain. You could upgrade to a 10-mile, 1312′ loop around Monte Sano Park. Although, to be fair, there is a much flatter 6.4-mile route around the park that avoids McKay Hollow altogether if you’re willing to measure the second-best of your energies and skills.
Monte Sano Nature PreserveIf you’re looking for just one reason to support or join the Land Trust of North Alabama, look no farther than the Monte Sano Nature Preserve. This preserve is one of the largest urban nature preserves in the US, and more than half of Monte Sano State Park’s size. Like all the Land Trust properties, it’s free to enter. This individual preserve contains more than 22 miles of trail on its trail map and is even closer to downtown than the state park. What’s more, hiking here is always free, but you can still earn trail karma by donating your time or money to the Land Trust. On the subject of karma, we’re throwing it out into the universe that this parcel at the end of Valleystone Road would make an excellent addition to the Land Trust as the Lower Cold Springs Preserve. It has wetlands, steep slopes, and probably caves and would provide much-needed trail access in rapidly growing northeast Huntsville. What’s more, it’s in a pocket of about 100-acres of undeveloped land that’s surrounded on three sides by Monte Sano State Park in the most critical preservation zone. Ok, that idea is out there. Let’s see where it goes—moving on. We’ll showcase hiking in the Monte Sano Nature preserve by looking at the various trailheads:
- Bankhead – 2442 Bankhead Pkwy NE, Huntsville, AL 35801
- Cleermont – 506 Cleermont Dr SE, Huntsville, AL 35801 (limited parking)
- Three Caves – 901 Kennamer Dr SE, Huntsville, AL 35801
- Cold Springs – 150 Fearn St SE, Huntsville, AL 35801
- Oak Park – 2250 Oakwood Ave NE, Huntsville, AL 35801
- South Monte Sano – 1970 Monte Sano Blvd SE, Huntsville, AL 35801
Tallulah Bankhead is Alabama’s best-known actress who starred in 56 plays, 19 movies, and scores of radio and television productions during her 50-year career. She was the hands-down-favorite to play Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind. When you picture a deep sultry voice saying -Dahling- in your head, that’s Tallulah Bankhead. The whole Bankhead family is one of the most influential families in Alabama history, so the Bankhead lineage undoubtedly plays into the namesake road, which the Bankhead Trailhead sits on. The parking lot is located about halfway up Monte Sano on Bankhead Road, but the literal Bankhead Trailhead is across the road from the parking area.
Our go-to loop here is the 5.1 mile Land Trust Loop that goes out High Trail and back via Bluff Line and Railroad Bed. Signs in the parking lot tell the fascinating story of the short-lived railroad that used to run here. However, if Railroad Bed looks muddy or you want to cut more than a mile off this route, just head all the way back on Bluff Line. It has recently been reworked to be a little higher on the hill and subsequently (a little) more rain tolerant than Railroad Bed. Another loop option here is the 3.6-mile Bankhead and Dummy Line Loop that heads up the mountain to the Bankhead hairpin turn and back down.
Cleermont TrailheadTwo developed parking areas access the Fagan Springs drainage, Cleermont Trailhead, and Three Caves Trailhead. Of the two, Three Caves has more parking and a restroom, so keep that in mind on busy weekend mornings. However, Cleermont has better access to Fagan Creek. No matter what you do, don’t park in driveways because – trail karma. The world’s a better place when people appreciate public trailheads in the neighborhood. The 1.6-mile Wildflower / Alms House Loop is an excellent introduction to the area. If the creek is flowing, you’ll get better views on Wildflower Trail than Fagan Creek Trail. In either case, you will probably want to park at the Cleermont Trailhead and not the Fagan Creek Trailhead at the end of Owens Drive. The knock-on these lower trails is that they are particularly muddy being in the Fagan Creek drainage. They also have a lot of poison ivy for the same reason. Enjoy exploring all around this area and making your own routes, but watch the weather and take a good long shower when you get home.
Three Caves TrailheadThe Three Caves aren’t actual caves but an old rock quarry on the Fagan Creek Valley’s edge. You will not be exploring Fagan Creek long before you start planning routes over to Three Caves. Bear in mind that the caves are generally off-limits other than during the Land Trust summer concert series. Still, there are plenty of reasons to come to hike here. There’s ample parking at the Three Caves Trailhead and good trails beyond. The 1.7-mile Waterline Trail is one of our go-to ‘wet hikes’ because it’s basically a rock causeway built up around an old waterline (go figure). It’s probably the least muddy trail on the lower mountain, and it leads to a waterfall that will be flowing with a good shower. It’s also a great workout because you head 541′ straight up the hill and then right back. Of note, the connection from Waterline Trail to Bluff Line is almost entirely washed out. It’s steep, loose, and overgrown with poison ivy, if you can find it at all. If you want to experience both of these areas on the same hike, it’s easy to form loops between the two, like the 3.6-mile Alms House / Wagon Trail Loop. In fact, my very first hike in Huntsville was between Fagan Springs and Three Caves, which helped inspire me to move to Rocket City.
Oak Park Trailhead
Oak Park Trail is a favorite for Huntsville mountain bikers who have historically kept the trail in superb condition. However, the 2021 rainy season has been hard on this trail and it’s in need of a little TLC. Perhaps the riders will get it going again, but for now, there will be some rough and rocky spots to hike over.
Please note that park rules say you should walk bikes through the park as you cross to and from the trailhead located behind baseball fields. There are very few low spots and little exposure to poison ivy. Oak Park is one of the first trails to dry after a rain, and there’s even a lovely little waterfall (Buzzard’s Roost) that’s just off the Dallas Branch Trail.
Hiking up and down the trail is excellent for training, but it lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. I prefer to add in a little loop, making it a 2.6-mile loop with Bankhead and Dallas Branch. It’s a fun little loop you can do almost anytime you want. Of note, the connection on Buzzard Loop Trail is rugged, to say the least. You can hike up to the bottom of the waterfall or the top, but connecting the two will be work.
South Monte Sano TrailheadThe South Monte Sano Trailhead takes you to the least traveled parts of the mountain. The most dramatic highlights on this side of the mountain are the 74′ giant cross accessed via Rock Bluff Trail and Natural Well Pit via Arrowhead Trail or Natural Well Trail. Natural Well is a 185′ deep pit cave that will make you pucker when you look down the gaping entrance. Luckily, there’s a fence up to keep you from doing anything stupid accidentally. Just don’t do anything stupid on purpose. The route to Natural Well begins at the Monte Sano Nature Preserve South Trailhead by the road to Burritt on the Mountain. It’s a 3.6-mile out-and-back hike to the cave. Don’t start on the Natural Well Trail because it’s a rocky, muddy mess for the first mile. Take the Arrowhead Trail from the parking lot about 1.1 miles until it joins up with the Natural Well Trail and then continues to the cave. Along the way, you’ll pass through a neat little karst feature that’s like a miniature Stone Cuts. Arrowhead is a bit rocky and muddy, but it’s better than being super muddy on Natural Well.
Cold Springs TrailheadIn many ways, Cold Springs Trailhead feels like a bit of an anomaly in the Monte Sano Nature Preserve. The state park almost entirely surrounds it, leaving you with about a 1/2 mile of hiking before entering the state park, which would be no big deal if you have a yearly pass or don’t care about trail karma. For either of these folks, you could hike Cold Springs Trail to Mountain Mist Trail to gain access to the trails on Logan Point and not have to trek on the blacktop on the old Bankhead Road leading off from the hairpin turn. It adds extra elevation gain and about 1/2 mile to any given hike as opposed to starting from the hairpin turn, which could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it.
Trails North of Monte SanoHuntsville is in a valley, with a series of mountains all along its east side, with Monte Sano as the prominent peak. However, the ridgeline extends both north and south of Monte Sano. This section describes the trailheads and nature preserves north of Monte Sano: Trailhead, Chapman Mountain, and Wade Mountain. Each of these locations provide much needed hiking and trail access for northeast Huntsville. They also preserve key tracts of land, migration corridors, and provide the infrastructure of a series of future greenways. It’s vitally important to recognize these areas for what they are now, as well as the legacy that they preserve for the future of Huntsville. We have a choice in how we develop our city, and I for one, favor more preserves with public access than a few million dollar homes that I’ll never set foot in.
Hiking at Trailhead / Legacy LoopTo keep things interesting, Legacy Homes built a community called Trailhead that has a trailhead that accesses the Legacy Loop Trail. I hope that makes perfect sense to you because it feels a bit like Joseph Keller’s Major Major Major Major to me. However, this is the only trail access for the communities off 72 East, at least until we get that aforementioned Lower Cold Springs project going…so I love this place. I mapped out a 2.8-mile loop that combines the Legacy Loop hiking trail and the Trailhead Greenway. To start this hike, go to the Trailhead Community and take the Trailhead Greenway to the Trailhead trailhead (take that, Mr. Keller). You could easily make this a 2-mile loop by not taking the long way around the greenway. However, most days, I use this trailhead as an alternate access point to the Monte Sano trail system because it connects with Dallas Branch Trail, just below the junction with Bankhead Trail.
Chapman Mountain Nature PreserveChapman Mountain Nature Preserve is a recent addition to the Land Trust preserve system with a fabulous education pavilion and a lackluster disc golf course (despite the beautiful baskets). However, this is a hiking guide so let’s talk about the trails at Chapman Mountain. AllTrails describes a 3.1-mile Chapman Mountain Preserve Loop, but I wouldn’t bother with the 1.2 miles Chasco Trail and Diskell Trail portion of the loop. That leaves about 2-miles of hiking to enjoy. What this loop lacks in length, it makes up for in luster. You’ll see the lovely Moonshine Spring, but the highlight has to be the Big Tree Tour on the Terry Trail, which identifies 48 large to champion trees on the trail.
Wade Mountain Nature PreserveWade Mountain Nature Preserve exists, and you can always find parking at the Spragins Trailhead. It’s a great place to go to get away from the crowds at Monte Sano, with a trail network of over 15-trails. I drew up a 4.6-mile loop on my map, but you could easily cut a mile and a half off by not doing the Piney Loop or the Upper Devil’s Racetrack Loop and not miss a thing. The highlight is a lollipop loop formed with Lower and Middle, Devil’s Racetrack, Shovelton, and Rockwall Trails. The cliff band above Rockwall keeps most of the mountain bikers off the hill if you’re looking for a hike where you don’t have to share the trail.
Trails South of Monte SanoSouth Huntsville is a city unto itself as much as Madison is. They each have their own set of stores and entrances to Redstone Arsenal and their own local hikes. Madison has one obvious choice – Rainbow Mountain, while South Huntsville has three: Belvins Gap, Madison County Nature Trail, and Green Mountain. These three preserves are the most diverse set of parks in all of our guide to hiking Huntsville. Belvins Gap Nature Preserve protects a karst ridgeline. Madison County Nature Trails surrounds a mountain top lake, and Green Mountain Nature Preserve is on a rare sandstone plateau covered with oaks and pines. These locations are each beautiful in their own way.
Blevins Gap Nature PreserveMonte Sano isn’t the only mountain on the east side of Huntsville. Blevins Gap Preserve, between Lover’s Peak and Huntsville Mountain, is the next trail system south. There are trails in both directions, but there are houses on top of Huntsville Mountain, and Lover’s Peak has better views, so let’s go south. There are many neighborhood entrances into the system, but the only trailhead with reliable parking is Blevins Gap, where Cecil Ashburn Road comes over the mountains. The Bill and Marion Certain Trail heads up the ridgeline from the parking area at Blevins Gap. This trail has a little of everything from 550′ of climbing to small waterfalls and rock overhangs to a plateau trail with epic views in both directions. You’ll get your money’s worth with this 4.1-mile out and back trail. Of course, there are several other hike options in the Belvins Gap trail network.
Green Mountain / Alum Hollow Nature Preserve
The trailhead is about 4-miles down the ridgeline from Blevins Gap. It has more of everything than Blevins Gap with 300′ less climbing. The only reason it isn’t more crowded is that it’s a little bit farther away. That’s no reason you shouldn’t go.
Much like Blevins, you can form loops, but why? The 2.2-mile out-and-back trail takes you to a decent waterfall and a massive shelter cave (Alum Cave). Also, since this is almost exclusively a plateau trail on sandy soil, it doesn’t take on much water after a rainy day.
Madison County Nature TrailThe Madison County Nature Trail is right next door to Green Mountain Nature Preserve. I am remiss in including this beautiful park in a hiking guide. But you would have come across it on your own, given its name and location. Maybe, like us, you’ll pull in thinking you’re heading to Green Mountain Preserve / Alum Hollow. It’s only a 72-acre park with a 1.5-mile walking trail around Sky Lake. What the park lacks in size, it makes up with luster, including the state’s largest and oldest Champion Winged Elm Tree, a covered bridge, and a plethora of chairs to sit and escape the stress of the city. It’s a wonderful park, with plenty of planned activities, but it’s hard to qualify a visit as hiking.
Other Hikes Around HuntsvilleThis section was a little hard to write because I couldn’t come up with a clear distinction of what was a hike around Huntsville and what wasn’t. Keel Mountain, Bethel Springs, and Rainbow Mountain were obviously on the list. Hikes in neighboring Tennessee like Lula Lakes were out. Same with Georgia’s Cloudland Canyon, although you could make a day trip from Huntsville to either one. In fact, I excluded other day trips like seeing natural wonders in Bankhead National Forest and chasing waterfalls around Little River Canyon. However, I felt compelled to include Walls of Jericho because it’s probably Huntsville’s signature hike, even though it’s an hour outside of town. Does it make perfect sense? Maybe not, but it’s a start, so let’s go with it for now.
Walls of Jericho Forever Wild Land TrustWhy do we call the Walls of Jericho Forever Wild Land Trust Huntsville’s premier trail? What makes it outstanding is a combination of beautiful creek crossings and a remarkable canyon ending in an impressive waterfall. It’s the canyon walls that impart the trail’s name. It’s also the only hike in the region with over 1,000 ratings in All Trails. You want to start the hike from the hiker’s trailhead and not the horse trailhead. This trail is popular, so parking is scarce on weekends. Wall of Jericho Trail goes 6.4 miles out-and-back down to the creek and up the canyon to the falls. It’s one of the steepest trails in the region, gaining 1,341′ along the way. It also earns its reputation heading downhill first and having a rugged last quarter mile of hiking to get to the bitter end. It’s no wonder so many people use this trail as their backpacking training hike.
Rainbow Mountain Nature PreserveRainbow Mountain Nature Preserve is the best hiking in Madison. It’s also the only hiking in Madison, which might lead to its 500+ ratings on All Trails, making it the second most popular Huntsville hike. Although my northeast Huntsville pride says a better metric for popularity might be to combine the rankings for all the possible trails from any given trailhead. But I’ve been an engineer long enough to know that I’m going to lose every popularity contest when I start talking metrics. The Rainbow Mountain Loop is the way most navigate the Rainbow Mountain trail map. It’s a short 1.6-mile loop. You can make it a little longer and not so steep coming back on the Ja Moo Ko Loop Trail or shorter and steeper coming back on the Spring Trail. Either way, you have options but be sure to check out Balance Rock on the aptly named Balance Rock Trail, which is very close to the parking area by the water tower.
Keel Mountain Nature PreserveThe Nature Conservancy manages the Keel Mountain Nature Preserve located twenty minutes east of Chapman Mountain off Highway 72. It’s a bit of a drive to get here, but you’ll see Lost Sink Falls that perfectly epitomizes hiking in Huntsville because it’s a waterfall that disappears into a cave. You need to be careful navigating here. The Lost Sink waypoint in Google takes you to the falls, stopping randomly in the road and hiking through private property. Navigate to the Keel Mountain Preserve. Also, remember, you’re going to ‘Lost Sink‘ not ‘Falling Sink‘, which is just down the road at the Bethel Springs Nature Preserve and has a remarkably similar route description. Maybe Lost Sink refers to navigating here and not the disappearing waterfall after all . Once you find the trailhead, you reach the falls via the 3.9-mile out-and-back Lost Sink Trail. The trail itself is straightforward, other than it gets really muddy. You have to plan a window where it’s dried out enough that you can hike, but the falls are still flowing.
Bethel Springs Nature PreserveBethel Springs Nature Preserve is the final entry in our Huntsville hiking guide. Some might say we saved the best for last. There are 1.8-miles of mapped trails on this 200-acre preserve that has three caves and another disappearing waterfall. The 1.3-mile Falling Sink loop takes you to one of Huntsville’s largest waterfalls that drops into Paul’s Cave. It’s recommended that you take Carpenter and Falling Sink Trails up and Mill Trail down because it’s a little less steep on the uphill. However, it’s probably just a little easier to take Mill Trail both ways, unless it’s muddy, in which avoid it and take the high route up Carpenter and Falling Sink both ways. This route is also a great option if you get caught in the mud at Keel Mountain Preserve and want to do something drier, since it’s right around the corner.
Final thoughts on Huntsville Hikes
Are you ready to take a hike yet? Getting on trail is just the start of Huntsville’s fantastic outdoor scene! Here’s a resource list you might find helpful from like-minded organizations:
- Huntsville REI
- Land Trust of North Alabama
- Alabama Trails Association
- Alabama Wildlife Federation
- Alabama Wildflower Society
- Outdoor Alabama
- The Nature Conservancy in Alabama
- Tennessee Valley Audubon Society
- TVA Native Plant Selector
- Wild South
- Monte Sano State Park
- North Alabama Sierra Club
- Huntsville Area Mountain bike Riders (HAMR)
Together, let’s keep Huntsville wild and beautiful.
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