We arrived on Saturday night with approximately an hour to spare before sunset, so we immediately took to the trails. We hiked the North Plat Loop Trail to Fire Tower Trail to stay close to the campground.
It was an easy hike with some beautiful views. Because the trails hugs so closely to the campground, it is a good hike to do if you do not have much time or have little ones that may need to abandon the hike before completion.
On the return, we passed by the Monte Sano Railroad landmark. From 1888 to 1896 a railway ran from the Huntsville Depot to the Sante Mano Hotel to bring patrons the eight miles to the "Mountain of Health". Prior to the building of the railway, you would have to travel four hours by horse and carriage up the mountain. This would be a very difficult journey for a person suffering from Yellow Fever, Cholera, or Diptheria wanting to travel to the Monte Sano Hotel to seek wellness. So in the summer of 1888, 500 workers were paid $1 per day for 12 hours of work to build the railway. In just three months the railway was completed and patrons could ride the Steam Locomotive for just 25 cents each way. Instead of four hours, the trip took only 20 minutes. However, shortly after completion an accident frightened potential travelers and the Railway went bankrupt in 1896.
The Monte Sano State Park is home to the Von Braun Astronomical Society Planetarium. A fun little trail showing the relative distance of the planets leads down to the planetarium.
Every Saturday evening at 7:30pm the VBAS puts on a program that is open to the public. The cost when we attended was $5 for adults and $3 for students (children under 6 were free). The program we attended was on the life of Astronomer William Hershel, his discovery of Uranus, and the telescopes he made. The program ended with a show of common constellations in the night sky, and on a clear night would have been followed by outdoor viewings through the telescopes. Our 8 year old daughter was glued to the entire presentation and has not stopped talking about it. Or younger children hung in there for a while, but fell asleep. I would still highly recommend attending if you have the opportunity.
We arose early the next morning to get in some hiking before checkout (which is 11am for the campground). Stone Cuts was rated as a difficult trail with bouldering required, but it came highly recommended so we decided to give it a try. To access, we hiked down Sinks Trail and then connected to Stone Cuts Trail. Be sure to bring a trail map with you because there are a few short connections you need to make on other trails and it is easy to get confused. The trails were well maintained and blazed. Although there is quite a bit of elevation change on the hike (which was approximately a 3 mile loop from our campsite), our 4, 5, 7, and 8 year old all managed the hike just fine. Our 2 year old needed just a little bit of help on the returning hike up the mountain, and of course I carried our 4 month old the entire way. The trails are multipurpose and there were a few mountain bikers on the trails, but all riders were very courteous.
Our kids thought Stone Cuts was "the coolest thing ever". Our daughter said she felt like she was on Johnathan Park, a creation adventure audio drama we love to listen to. We almost took the bypass because the "bouldering / mountain climbing" label made me question if we could manage it with all the kids, but we decided we could always turn back if we needed to and to give it a try. I'm so glad we did! No mountain climbing is required, although if you are skilled in that area and would like to explore more it could add some adventure. Our kids hiked the trail like champions.
We were slightly past peak fall foliage, but there was still a lot of color. Monte Sano is definitely a park worth visiting in autumn.
Saturday evening we had accidentally stumbled upon a Bamboo forest while returning to our campsite, which upon further exploration Sunday morning we discovered that there is an entire Japanese Tea Garden in the State Park. Robert Black designed the gardens in the late 1980s when he closed a garden center in Huntsville. The gardens were recently restored and provide a unique cultural experience. It would make a great field trip to go along with our study of Japan for World Heritage.
Before leaving we had to check out the playgrounds! The play structures we found in the campground were very old and dilapidated - great for imaginary play but not so much for use as a playground. However, by the entrance to the State Park there is a very large playground complete with swings, slides, monkey bars, see saws, and pretty much everything a child hopes for in a playground. There are also several large fields and pavilions.
Monte Sano State Park is a fabulous park that we would love to visit again.