Alabama is one of the most geographically diverse states in the South. Depending on the zip code, the surrounding terrain could be lowlands, swamplands, or highlands. Monte Sano State Park is located in the highlands of Alabama just seven miles outside of Huntsville.
In the 1880s, people came from all over the United States to see the mountain that gives the park its name. Monte Sano, meaning "Mountain of Health" in Spanish, was a refuge for those hoping to escape diphtheria and cholera outbreaks. Today, many visitors still come to visit Monte Sano State Park, but this time they come seeking fresh mountain air and a relaxing break from the busy city life.
The Civilian Conservation Corps made significant efforts to beautify the Park, and many signs of their labor are still evident today, mostly in the hiking trails and other structures that they built. The park facilities include some of the nicest RV campsites in the state. Campers will want to make sure that they try out the spacious disc golf course and also pass by the planetarium, which is packed full of fun, educational activities for all ages.
From Huntsville, it is a short 15-minute drive to the park. All roads are paved and well-maintained, so even larger rigs should have no trouble getting to the campground. Visitors can also enter the park on a bicycle or on foot and explore its many trails. During stormy weather, visibility can be low, so drivers are urged to drive slowly and with caution.
Parking is generally available in the developed center section of Monte Sano State Park and nonexistent in the not-as-developed northern and southern sections. Almost all of the campgrounds, trailheads, and points of interest are near parking areas, leaving the rest of the park largely undisturbed.
Enjoy a mix of culture, wildlife, and relaxation with a visit to the Decatur/Wheeler Lake KOA and its surrounding areas. This KOA gives visitors access to the beautiful Wheeler Lake for an assortment of water activities. Amenities at the campground include pull-through sites that can host up to 75-foot rigs, 50-amp electrical hookups, an on-site dump station, Wi-Fi, and a convenience store. On-site kayak and canoe rentals and a boat ramp provide easy access to water recreation and fishing. Head to nearby cities like Huntsville for a visit to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center and the lush Huntsville Botanic Garden, or visit Decatur and tour the many museums and historical sites around the city.
The Monte Sano State Park Campground has a total of 95 campsites available by reservation only. Twenty-one of these campsites are primitive sites reserved for tent-only camping. Of the remaining campsites, 15 are equipped with full hookups, while the rest have only water and electrical hookups. Most of the sites are back-in, although a handful are pull-through sites.
The campsite itself includes a fire pit and is shaded by tall trees that help keep the site cool in the summer as well as maintain a sense of privacy between the sites. Campers should be aware that several of the sites are considered "double sites" and are positioned in a V formation, meaning the two sites are very close together. Campground amenities include a dump station, play area, large pavilion, two bathhouses, and a camp store where campers can purchase firewood. A maximum of two vehicles is allowed per campsite.
There are 11 beautiful and historic stone cabins available by reservation only. These cabins were originally constructed by the CCC as part of their first efforts to beautify the park in 1930. They are located on a bluff that gives guests stunning views of the countryside below. Each cabin has a studio layout and is equipped with all common appliances and basic kitchenware for up to four people. Additionally, all of the cabins are set up with heating and air conditioning.
Amenities include a picnic table, fire ring, and screened-in porch so that guests can enjoy the cool, mountain air without the annoyance of common insects. Select cabins also include an indoor fireplace. One of the cabins is specially designed to be ADA-accessible and includes a wheelchair-accessible shower.
The Disc Golf Course is the first thing that guests pass in the park when entering on Nolen Avenue. This 18-hole course opened in 2009. It’s rather hilly and densely wooded, providing a challenging game for avid disc golfers. The course is designed with carpeted tees and DISCatcher holes, six of which are shorter than 300 feet, but the course plays much longer since the fairways are so narrow. Watch out for fallen limbs on the course, especially after a bad storm.
Monte Sano State Park has 22 miles of scenic trails that are perfect for hiking and biking. These trails take visitors deep within the woods of the park to reveal beautiful overlooks like O’Shaughnessy Point, natural bogs, ancient rock formations, and much more. The trails range in difficulty so campers should have no trouble finding the trail that is best suited for their needs. One of the most popular trails, the Bucca Family Trail, is ADA-accessible. The three-mile route is mostly straight and flat and the path is relatively free of branches and roots, making it an appealing choice for those with strollers or wheelchairs.
The playground at Monte Sano State Park is a popular destination for many guests due to the large playground equipment and surrounding open fields. These fields are relatively flat and free of trees and bushes, making them the perfect place to strike up a game of soccer, tag, or flag football. Additionally, the playground and field are surrounded by large trees that provide ample shade for those who just want to watch instead of play. With plenty of room to spread out, it's not a bad place to have a picnic either.
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Museum is the perfect place to learn more about Monte Sano State Park's history. Though it may seem rather small at first, this building hosts a plethora of information and fun facts about the park. Visitors can view the many different displays shown inside, or attend one of the museum's events or lessons held in the classroom-like facility behind the museum. When class isn't in session, it also serves as a great place to relax and listen to the peaceful sounds of nature, as well as watch for the many species of birds that frequent the area. Another great way to learn about the park is by taking a stroll through the CCC Memorial Garden which is under the museum's care and located close by.
The Japanese Garden at Monte Sano park is one of Alabama's hidden treasures. Originally started in 1988, this garden was just a hobby that Mr. Robert Black enjoyed doing with his children. His hobby grew into a picturesque landscape that many visitors enjoy today. Paths within the garden are shaded by large Japanese Maple trees and lined with brightly colored azaleas. Small Japanese structures and signs have been placed throughout the garden to remind visitors of the foreign heritage that the plants share. In 1991, the Tea House was constructed, and in 1992 the first annual Japanese Spring Festival was held.
During the months of May and October, guests can attend the annual spring and autumn festivals where visitors come together to celebrate Japanese culture and the changing colors of the Japanese maples through activities such as a tea ceremony, Japanese dance, Karate, and much more.
The Wernher von Braun Planetarium is a planetarium located inside of the park boundaries that is operated by the von Braun Astronomical Society (VBAS). The facilities include a telescope, planetarium, observatory, and an astronomical library. The VBAS regularly offers shows to the public that cover a variety of topics ranging from an in-depth discussion on black holes to a Harry Potter-themed program. At the planetarium, guests will be able to take a digital tour through the night sky, and then, weather permitting, they will have an opportunity to use the powerful telescopes to look at some of the wonders of the night sky with help from the VBAS Observing Crew.