Huntsville hiking is possible with trails right near the city!
Finding green space is easy in Huntsville, Alabama. I’m used to driving far outside any city limits to go hiking, in order to be surrounded by nature. In Huntsville, you won’t have to search very far for the forest. In fact, the trails aren’t far from the downtown core.
When I visited Huntsville for TBEX, the travel blog conference, I had the option to take a day trip somewhere in the city. These “pre-BEX” excursions are to familiarize bloggers with the destination, and there are a wide variety for every interest and writing niche. As I adore outdoor adventures and eco-friendly tours, I opted to go hiking. Little did I know that the hiking trails were right in the city of Huntsville!
Our small group of hiking enthusiasts met with experienced guides from the Land Trust of North Alabama. On our tour, there was a trail expert from the area, a botanist, and two ornithologists (bird experts/bird watchers). As we hiked along the trail, we stopped at points of interest to discuss the native species of trees, wildflowers, and birds.
On the hike, I was happy to finally meet Ashley of A Southern Gypsy, a longtime online friend through the travel blogging community.
LAND TRUST OF NORTH ALABAMA
The Land Trust of North Alabama provides the public with seven nature preserves in the Huntsville region. These preserves are perfect for hiking, biking, and birding. Back in the late 1980s, a community formed Alabama’s first land trust to protect a portion of Monte Sano. Now, the Monte Sano Nature Preserve is a massive 1,107 acres and one of the largest urban nature preserves in the country.
In total, the Land Trust of North Alabama takes care of 6300+ acres of territory. There are over 65 miles of free, public trails throughout ten counties of North Alabama.
Their mission statement:
Reconnecting people with nature and finding a healthy balance between development, as well as the need to protect scenic beauty, critical habitat, and historic places.
MONTE SANO NATURE PRESERVE
Our group of travel bloggers embarked on this Huntsville hiking adventure. We took a leisurely stroll through a small section of the Monte Sano Nature Preserve. The group started at the Three Caves Loop, moving on to the Alms House Trail, and then hiked a section of the Young Kennedy Trail. We looped around to finish at the Three Caves, near where we started. You can find trail maps of every nature preserve at the Land Trust’s website.
THE INTRIGUING THREE CAVES
What if I told you that Three Caves isn’t actually a cave at all? It’s a little deceiving. However, it has a very interesting backstory.
Three Caves is a former limestone mine called Hermitage Quarry. While mining efforts were popular here throughout the 1940s, the Hermitage Quarry closed in 1952. It simply became too expensive to operate. Furthermore, the large dust clouds from crushing rocks, as well as the noise from the trucks near the mine was aggravating to Huntsville residents.
In 1989, the quarry was donated to the Land Trust of North Alabama and named “Three Caves”. The Land Trust forged paths around the area and operated summer cave tours. However, there were issues with rocks inside the cave becoming unstable and falling. The interior, unfortunately, closed to the public in 2007.
The quarry bowl is currently used for summer concerts, educational activities, and a popular annual dance.
Interestingly enough, nature is taking over this man-made site. Three Caves now has some qualities of natural caves. It maintains a temperature of 55 degrees Fahrenheit all year long, much like a cave. There are some fast growing formations appearing inside the cave, once thought to take hundreds of years to grow. There are stalactites, stalagmites, and cave pearls. It’s brilliant that this cave is being reclaimed by nature, and it’s constantly evolving to resemble a natural cave.
WILDFLOWERS AND GREENERY
As we hiked around, the experts showed us plants to admire…some closer than others!
Even though I’m a frequent hiker, I really don’t know that much about those important leaves…as in, the ones that can hurt you! I’m talking about poison ivy. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “leaves of three, let it be.” Yes, but there are some leaves that look just like poison ivy. Virginia creeper, for instance, looks a lot like poison ivy. It has five leaves per stem, but the younger plants might only have three leaves.
Confused yet? If you’re a little confused like me, you probably don’t want to roll around in anything that has three leaves.
Did you know that poison ivy can climb up trees?
Yep, those leaves are poison ivy. We also saw poison ivy growing in several places on the ground, right beside Virginia creeper.
It’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to the plant world. Actually, it’s quite the opposite of that. We saw so many beautiful plants and trees on our journey through the forest.
And of course, we were on a trip with a bunch of bloggers. When we spotted wildflowers, that particular wildflower had its moment in the spotlight when 10-15 of us all stopped to take photos of it.
ADMIRING THE BEAUTY
Huntsville hiking meant exploring a beautiful forest, just moments from an urban development. You would never know it from these pictures. Here are a few more captures from our nature hike through just one small portion of the Monte Sano Nature Preserve.
LUNCH AT THREE CAVES
For our pre-BEX tour, the Land Trust of North Alabama arranged lunch at the perfect location – at the bowl of Three Caves. After wearing a tank top all morning, I actually had to put a sweater on. They weren’t kidding about the temperature changing near the caves!
There were tables set up near the mouth of a cave, decorated with sunflowers. We enjoyed a delicious lunch that hit the spot after a morning of hiking. It was a beautiful setting to relax and chat with the organizers and fellow bloggers. I felt truly grateful that I traveled to partake in this Huntsville hiking experience.
The Land Trust of North Alabama hosts events, such as guided hikes, trail clean-ups, concerts, and more. Their popular “Tuesday on the Trail” program runs throughout June and July. It’s an educational series for kids (and adults!) to highlight the unique biodiversity of Alabama. You can also donate to the Land Trust or become a member.
Although my Huntsville hiking experience was limited to a day, I’d love to return sometime and explore more of the region. I know if I lived here, I’d immediately become a member. I’m a member of my local, beloved Bruce Trail, after all!
Check out more photos from my Huntsville hiking experience! Here’s my entire Huntsville Land Trust Hike travel photo album.
Thank you so much to the Land Trust of North Alabama and the TBEX organizers for making this trip happen!
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